The central challenge of he 21st century is to create governance that include and respond to the priorities and concerns of the poor.

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, Islamabad
Apr 03 - 09, 2000

A new research report on poverty released by the World Bank last week has revealed causes and effect of global poverty. The report titled "voices of the poor" presents detailed personal accounts from over 60,000 men and women in 60 countries about the realities of living with poverty, and what the poor need to improve their lives.

From Georgia to Brazil, and Nigeria to the Philippines, the new book chronicles the daily struggles and aspirations of the poor, and how their lives are shaped by common hardships such as hunger, powerlessness, social isolation, state corruption, gender inequality and the rudeness of local officials. According to many of those interviewed in the book, poverty is much more than a lack of income. Poverty also means having no 'voice' in influencing key decisions that affect their lives, or representation in state and national political institutions.

What poor people stare with us is sobering, "write World Bank President, James D. Wolfensohn and British International Development Secretary, Clare Short in the foreword to Voices of the Poor." We commend to you the authenticity and significance of this work....our core mission is to help poor people succeed in their own efforts, and the book raises major challenges to both our institutions and to all of us concerned about poverty. We are prepared to hold ourselves accountable, to make the effort to respond to these voices.

The new study, the result of ten years intensive consultation with the poor on five continents, was to gather first-hand research about the line lives of the poor, what whey wanted to improve their lives, and drive innovative new Bank policies to reduce poverty, for its upcoming annual World Development Report, which this year addresses the theme of 'Attacking Poverty'.

Based on the thousands of discussions with communities throughout the developing world, the book offers a number of key findings which the poor themselves say greatly affect their daily lives.

The persistence of poverty is linked to a web of recurring factors. First, while poverty is rarely about the lack of only thing, the bottom line is that the poor constantly live with hunger; second, poverty has important psychological dimensions, such as powerlessness voicelessness, dependency, shame and humiliation; third, the poor lack access to basic infrastructure, such as roads, transportation and clean water; fourth, people realize education offers an escape from poverty, but only if the quality of education and the economic environment in the society at large improve; fifth, illness is especially feared because of exorbitant health care costs and not being able to work; and last, the poor rarely speak of income but instead focus on managing assets physical, human, social, and environmental as a way to cope with their vulnerability.

While recognizing the role of government in providing infrastructure, health, and education services, the poor feel that these government interventions should go much further. Too many interactions with state representatives are marred by rudeness and humiliation as the poor seek services such as health care, education for their children, social and relief assistance, police protection or justice from local authorities.

Poor men and women often do not trust government officials. This is based on their daily experience with corrupt civil servants, their attempts to get teachers to educate their children, trying to get medicines from health clinics even after they have paid for them, seeking justice, or trying to get police to protect them.

Households after disintegrate as men, unable to adapt to their "failures to earn adequate incomes under harsh economic circumstances, after turn to alcoholism or domestic violence, leading to a breakdown f$ the family structure, In contrasts women tend to swallow their pride and do demeaning jobs or anything that puts food on the table for their children and husbands.

Gender inequity remains remarkably stubborn; economic empowerment for women does not necessarily lead to social empowerment or equality within households.

Social insurance — the bonds of reciprocity and trust which the poor depend on in the absence of material assets — is unravelling. Difficult to reverse, the breakdown in social solidarity and social bonds leads to increased lawlessness, violence and crime, to which the poor are most vulnerable within a society.

The central challenge of he 21st century is to create governance system from the local to the global level that include and respond to the priorities and concerns of the poor. This requires investment in their organizations so they can negotiate directly with governments, NGOs, traders, and international agencies. In a sense, 'Voices of the Poor' is a wake up call for all people and organizations concerned with poverty" the author concludes. The World Bank report has invited its partners — countries around the world to hear the voices of poor and initiate programme to alleviate poverty. Nothing specifically has been mentioned about Pakistan in the report but the conclusion is that most of the causes listed in the report persists in all the developing countries including Pakistan where over 40 per cent of the population is estimated to be living below poverty level. It is an couraging to note that the present government under General Pervez Musharraf has already taken note of it and the government of Pakistan has promptly responded to the call of the World Bank. Apart from numerous steps to ensure good governance, the government has announced Rs. 40 billion 3 year programme for waging a war against poverty despite financial constraints.

Making the beginning the federal cabinet has set a reasonable and confidence-inspiring time limit for the utilization of Rs. 15 billion, as earmarked for various development projects under the poverty alleviation programme during the current year. While synchronizing the completion of the various schemes with the local bodies elections toward the yearend, it has rightly decided to involve local communities at district level administration, along with the army monitoring teams to create an ideal environment of participatory development, so vital to an effort of truly national importance. It will thus be seen that a marked departure has been made from the past strategy of leaving everything to the bureaucracy, which has its own way of dealing with matters of public importance, keeping the people for away from planning and implementation. No wonder, then, in most of the cases the projects remain wide of the mark, ending up in haste of enormous resources. There can be no denying the efforts, as made from time to time, to associate the people, through their representatives at the local bodies level, but preponderance of the bureaucracy in such matters hardly makes such participation serve the desired purpose. This, again, may be attributed to the too weak institutional framework of the entire local bodies system, which also calls for drastic reforms in order to strengthen the democratic dispensation at the grassroots level. The new proposal of district government will fully take care of this aspect.