Poverty does not have one clear definition. It is a complicated, multi-faceted concept. For this essay the term ‘poverty’ will be used to mean a lack of access to basic resources including food, clean water, sanitation, education and capital. The orthodox approach to development sees poverty as ‘a situation suffered by people who do not have the money to buy food and satisfy other basic material needs. There are many causes and effects of poverty. The most obvious effect of poverty is hunger; however hunger can also be a cause of poverty.
This is because hunger deprives those living in absolute poverty of the skill and strength to carry out productive work. Voicelessness/powerlessness is a cause and effect of poverty because people living in absolute poverty often have no political power and are subjected to exploitation by the state. They lack protection, and report widespread corruption within state education and health care systems. Poor people in many countries speak of being kept waiting endlessly while the rich of the country go to the head of the queue.
Situations like these create more problems for those already in absolute poverty, and continue to divide the rich from the poor without providing any help. The problem with a lack of voice and power as a cause of poverty is that it enforces a lack of voice and power as an effect of poverty, creating a continuous cycle that deliberately separates the poor of a country from the rich. The last major cause and effect of poverty that is covered in this essay is vulnerability. Natural disasters, economic crises, and conflict leave the poor very vulnerable, with nobody to help and a lack of resources to use to help themselves.
This idea is best expressed through the story of a poor villager from Benin, in the World Development Report 2000/2001: Attacking Poverty. ‘Three years ago was a very bad year. The flood washed away all our crops, and there was a lot of hunger around here, to the point that many people actually died of hunger. They must have been at least a dozen, mostly children and old people. Nobody could help them. Their relatives in the village had no food either; nobody had enough food for his own children, let alone the food for the children of his brother or cousin.
And few had a richer relative somewhere else who could help. ‘ This is a perfect example of the vulnerability that is both a cause and effect of poverty. The relatively poor can become absolutely poor through disasters, both economic and natural, and conflict, which causes more vulnerability that affects their ability to escape poverty. Poverty and conflict are often closely linked. In many developing countries there are huge contrasts in access to power and control of resources, leading to a sense of voicelessness/powerlessness within the poor of the country.
This unfair distribution of wealth, power and often land creates conflict, as those with the advantage battle the disadvantaged in order to maintain their advantages. In El Salvador, during the 1980s, Oxfam worked to alleviate poverty and suffering intensified by years of armed conflict. The roots of this conflict lay in the unequal distribution of power, wealth and resources. Poverty is a complex issue. The key is that we do not ignore those living in poverty but help, in whatever way we believe is best. We are obliged to try our hardest to make circumstances better for them.