A Human Rights Approach The Ultimate Solution to Persistent Poverty


Although there is an abundance of international, regional and national anti-poverty programmes and projects, spanning many decades, the scourge of dehumanising poverty persists with a stubborn vigour. Additionally, science, the foremost system for generating knowledge and solving problems, along with its attendant technologies, instead of ameliorating the problem, have made a parlous situation worse.
Accordingly, disparities between the rich and the poor have widened, leading to a weakening of the ideals of equality, dignity, respect and general charity among men. Consequently, interminable anti-social behaviour, mounting crime and inexplicable violence, as well as numerous armed conflicts over resources and power, have become the norm.
The Problem
A striking feature of today is the unprecedented prosperity of a few, coincident with the intractable and grinding poverty of many. Along with this is the fact that information and communication technologies have brought the excesses of wanton greed and arrogant ostentationness of the rich, to the daily discernment of the poor. A quiet disdain, a loss of hope, growing disillusionment and outright anger and detachment, especially among the disenfranchised young, have therefore been on the rise.
It is a sorry fact that more than half of the world today is poor, subsisting on US$1 to US$2 per day. Added to this is the projection that the vast majority of the 2-3 billion human beings that will be added to the world’s population before the end of the century, will fall largely into the ranks of poverty. This is putting alarming pressure on social cohesion, environment integrity and political stability on the planet.
The realities of poverty are apocalyptic. For example, due to poverty and disease, 10 million children unnecessarily die each year, 150 million under the age of five suffer from extreme malnutrition, and 100 million live on the streets. What this means is that every three seconds, poverty kills a child somewhere. Yet with all this, the privileged of the world remain oblivious and unmoved.
The possibilities for relief are nowhere in sight as 185 million people are without jobs and a further 550 million work in poverty, also the trade of the most needy nations is blocked by unjust international rules and regulations.
The promises of globalization, therefore instead of bringing relief, merely aggravate poverty, with scores of millions denied sanitary conveniences, clean water and education. Many have now turned to the drug trade and associated crime and violence to survive, or eke out a living by plundering the environment. This is in stark contrast to the less than 20% of humanity that live in excessive luxury, to such extremes that their health is being jeopardized and obesity is rampant.
While the media headlines and the focus of political attention are fixed on those killed by episodes of meaningless power struggles, tribal and religious genocide and aimless wars, more people die in a single day from hunger than all the political killings in the course of a year. This is so because the world glorifies the glitz, glamour and selfish hubris of material wealth and the media survives on the returns from sensationalism. The silent human tragedy of the weak and underprivileged, where millions are literally excluded from humanity, and where people are treated with less respect and given less comfort than pets, continues unseen and unabated. Small wonder then that this ethical tragedy marches on untouched by the conscience of our time and unchanged by the indifferent hypocrisy of rhetoric.
The Consequences
Recently the pressures of poverty on the environment, health and public security have surfaced as major international concerns. Characterized by hopelessness, frustration, anger, violence and crime, finding deeper roots and expressions among the poor. The phenomenon of terrorism has been able to attract ready recruits among those who live with pain, rejection, filth and squalor. Also, as the lives of the young are cheapened by the absence of family care and loss of dignity, they become ready supplicants for the murderous activities of the illicit drug trade. In this milieu of neglect, diseases find fertile ground, often spilling over to affect the rich.
It has reached such proportions that some have begun to say that the cost of poverty is too high, even for the rich. In the US alone, with one of the world’s largest prison population, the billions spent to keep coloured people in jail, could easily provide many with urgent food, medicines and shelter.
As these problems feature more prominently in the international and local media, multi-lateral institutions, such as the World Bank and IMF, have come to openly proclaim the eradication of poverty as the primary concern of development agencies. Not because the mandates of these bodies have suddenly changed, but the alarming situation forces these types of declarations. Nevertheless, the interventions of these bodies have largely been to increase rather than reduce poverty.
Since the Bretton Woods institutions were established, the per capita income gap between the rich and the poor has risen from about two to over 20 fold. Indeed, the prevailing world order expoused by these agencies has served to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich. Essentially, the rich have gotten richer, while the poor have become poorer under the watch of the development agencies. No wonder many believe that these institutions are the instruments of the rich and powerful rather than the protectors of the poor and needy.
Those who subscribe to the Washington Consensus, and exalt the ideological supremacy of the market, have been the main promoters of globalization. Their emphasis to contain inflation by boosting productivity and competitiveness, have had some positive economic benefits, but by and large, the poor have been the loser in this rampant commercialisation approach to development.
Accordingly, the poor countries have been confronted with low investment rates, insufficient technological development, low quality or decrease employment, and extreme volatility in the international capital markets, literally dislocating some economies to the extent that a few have actually collapsed.
At the local levels, significant transfer of resources from the poor to the rich, were accompanied by similar transfers from the public to the wealthy segments of the private sector. Social exclusion and poverty, both old and new, have therefore risen dramatically in recent years. Even popular forms of democracy have not helped the poor, as witnessed in parts of Latin America where people are willing to go back to the autocratic rule, if they can be assured of a better quality of life than what they have suffered under democracy. Likewise, large democracies such as India and the United States have not been able to put a dent in their poverty situation.
The boundaries of social inequality continue to expand, and the prospects for decent employment have receded. There is also concern for the retraction of public services, such as quality education, health and essential social protection, as debt payments rise and concomitantly services have been privatised, leaving consumers virtually helpless to face private monopolies, often bolstered with various types of government guarantees. In consequence, the costs of utilities continue to rise as the poor become even less able to pay.
The informal sector, black markets and various types of civil anomalies have therefore emerged, so much so that the subcultures of the poor and the informal sector are now the defining socio-economic characteristics of many developing countries. The privileged in society is in retreat, as punitive measures to stem crime and violence have proven largely ineffective.
Population growth among the poor has increased substantially making poverty even more intractable and appallingly visible. The result of all this is that there is over 2.8 billion people struggling to survive on under two US dollars per day.
The Solution
From all of this, one can honestly say that the prevailing world order, democracy and the multilateral institutions, have failed to deliver a decent life for the majority of the world peoples. With the billions of dollars purportedly spent to stem the rise of poverty, there is little progress to show. To add insult to injury, the major donors have drastically reduced development aid and technical assistance, even though they have gotten decidedly richer in the last few decades. They use corruption and mismanagement in the poor countries as excuses to reduce aid and discourage investment, while the rich are willing partners with their surrogates to these activities in the poor countries. The poor has very little to do with the long-standing corruption among the rich and privileged. Furthermore, the rich countries are no strangers to large scale corruption in both the public and private sectors.
Thus, a new way of grasping the gravity and of responding to the astounding levels of poverty must be urgently found, essentially new, more deep and transcendent measures must be formulated.
Fortunately, the world has enough skills, technology and resources to seriously tackle poverty. By making a small yearly investment of about 1% of the World’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or about 100 billion US dollars each year for about ten years, most of the present suffering can be abated. Yet the modest quantitative targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) are in danger of not being met in the poorest countries. Needless to say, even if they were attained, the fundamental causes of poverty would remain. Not withstanding this, reaching the MDGS would start to ease the pain and suffering of poverty. But without fundamental socio-economic changes, poverty will simply be put on delicate hold.
There are no options left but to place the poor in positions to help themselves. The world has a moral responsibility to provide the resources and opportunities to start the reconstruction process.
Although the current mantra is that growth in the poor countries will reduce poverty, empirical evidence has shown this is simplistic. The World’s wealth has grown some 30 fold in the last three decades, yet, poverty has hardly been troubled. It takes much more than trickle down, benevolence, voluntarism, or basic needs strategies, to rid the world of the demon of poverty. It will take enlightened courage to ensure that all humans are given an acceptable quality of life, with all their human rights respected, to allow them to become productive citizens in their communities. We should remind ourselves that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that the recognition of inherent dignity and equality and the inaliable rights of all members of the human family, is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the World.
Poverty – A Violation of Rights – The Ultimate Solution
It should be clearly accepted that poverty is not merely the result of laziness, incompetence, corruption, lack of self-reliance or the inability to compete, rather poverty is a stark denial of freedom and rights of people preventing from them expanding and selecting their own living choices and exercising their rights for work, education, health and culture.
Poverty is not just a matter of material deprivation, or the natural consequence of economic activity, rather, it is a condition that denies human dignity, justice, rights and fundamental freedoms for the majority of human beings.
Poverty surely is not an inexorable fate to be alleviated by charity or aid.
Needless to say, policies of aid do not automatically afford inclusion, because such policies do not bring the political, social, economic and cultural rights with them. The fact is that the absence of any one right prevents the proper functioning of the others.
Inequality must no longer be accepted as the natural consequence of social order. It should be seen as the greatest moral catastrophe of our time, which must be immediately abolished. Additionally, because poverty provides a few with economic gain, and boosts lagging rich egos, it must be unequivocally pronounced as an ethical travesty and on anathema to civilized man.
Accordingly, the eradication of poverty must therefore be built on the foundations of human rights and the power of law, as was slavery, colonialism and apartheid. Human rights will ensure that every person is given the opportunity of full development, and reciprocatively, allow productive and responsible citizenship. The concept of claim holders and duty-bears introduce the powerful element of accountability where rights and duties flow from the dignity of all persons, and not simply from the charity of others.
I therefore submit that poverty will cease only when it is recognized as a violation of human rights.
Thinkers in the Social and Human Sciences Section of UNESCO must be applauded for bringing to the attention of the world this powerful insight. All modern societies should inform themselves of this work, and question their own situations, as well as, the cost of continuing to tolerate poverty.
To date, no reasonable answers have been found for the decent of Jamaica and other Caribbean communities into the bowels of crudeness, crime and violence. Consequently, this approach warrants close examination by all the leaders in this region.
Irrespective of the position taken, it is obvious that an effective economy cannot build without first creating a stable society and poverty presents this from happening. Neither is economy or the market end in themselves. They are mere means to compelling human ends and when they no longer serve these purposes, deep introspection is necessary to allow orderly, instead of chaotic, change.

JIS Social