For the final blog in the “More than Money” series, I’ve chosen to discuss an issue that often comes to mind for people when deciding whether or not to reach into their pockets to donate to development charities. It’s also currently one of the biggest barriers to ending extreme poverty, and stands in the way of progress in the development of important areas like health and education in many developing countries.
If you haven’t guessed it already, I’m talking about corruption.
For such a small word, corruption is packed with a lot of meaning. From small bribes required to gain access to public services to government officials pocketing foreign aid money, there are many different levels of the problem and it can seem overwhelming to try and tackle it. Although its occurrence is prevalent in both rich and poor countries, the consequences of corruption disproportionately affect people living in poverty.
As the clip by the ONE Campaign illustrates, developing countries do not necessarily lack the manpower or resources to overcome their own obstacles; it’s simply that they’re being held back from doing so. According to Transparency International’s 2010 Global Corruption Barometer, people living in poverty are twice as likely to have to pay bribes for basic services like health and education and more than 20 countries have reported significant increases in petty briberies since 2006, like having to pay money to their child’s school for illegal “mandatory contributions.”
Corrupt Public Officials
Having to pay additional money for services that you can barely afford in the first place puts a serious burden on people living on less than USD$2 a day. For instance, corruption increases the cost for connecting a household to clean water by up to 30% on average in developing countries, leaving many to forego services. Likewise, the average maternity ward patient in Bangalore pays around USD$22 in bribes to receive adequate medical care. This is unacceptable when there is currently 884 million people without access to clean water and only 63% of births in developing countries are attended by skilled health workers.
People living in poverty can’t afford another barrier standing in their way to these types of vital resources and services.
It’s also extremely damaging when desperately needed foreign aid money sent to developing countries for health, food or education programmes never gets past corrupt government officials. Estimates in 2006 showed that 50% of allocated health funds in Ghana never made it to the clinics or hospitals. In that same year it was discovered that the Kenyan government had spent USD$12.5 million on luxury cars for government officials’ personal use, while almost 50% of the country lived below the poverty line.
Unlike in many rich countries, poor communities are often powerless to hold their governments accountable and lack the ability or resources to ensure these situations stop happening.
Like Erik from Mozambique says in the video, “the battle here is access to information.” Organisations like Transparency International are working to make sure people living in poverty and the global community are able to access these types of statistics and information and then equipping people with the tools to be able to battle corruption in their communities. This is so important because as Rakesh from Tanzania points out, “the way change is going to happen is that people are going to make this happen. It’s not projects, it’s not great NGOs, it’s not great leaders, it’s people themselves.”
The Movement to End Extreme Poverty
People themselves are crucial to the entire fight to end extreme poverty. As we’ve discussed throughout this series, there are many sides to poverty beyond the dollar amount and unfortunately they can’t just be solved by foreign aid and NGO assistance. Local people in these poor communities need to be empowered and enabled to create their own change in the areas we discussed over the past few weeks; health, education, gender inequality and corruption.
That’s why we at the Global Poverty Project are building a movement of people who support actions like buying fair trade, putting pressure on governments to uphold their commitments to poverty alleviation measures, and staying informed on current poverty issues to support local efforts so that together we can see an end to extreme poverty in our generation.
As we’ve shown over the past few weeks in our “More than Money series”, there are many different sides to extreme poverty besides just a lack of money. This week’s topic goes even further beyond the tangible issues of health and education and focuses on the issue of gender inequality.
If you’re a girl growing up in extreme poverty in a low-income country, you are at a severe disadvantage from your female counterparts in richer countries. The inequality gap is much larger between men and women in these poorer countries, providing very little opportunity for the female population to see their capabilities realised.
As a girl living in extreme poverty, you are more likely to:
• Have a lower education. 53% of the 67 million children missing out on school are girls, and according to the Global Campaign for Education UK, there is not a single country in Africa that sends more than half its girls to secondary school. And despite the knowledge that a child born to a mother who is able to read has a 50% better chance of surviving past the age of 5, two-thirds of the 759 million illiterate adults are still women.
• Marry younger. Since girls living in poverty are more likely to quit school earlier, or get no education at all, they are often married off much younger so they are no longer seen as a burden on their family. This means that currently 1 girl in 7 in developing countries marries before the age of 15 and 38% will marry before they’re 18 (Girl Effect).
• Have children younger, and more of them. Just as girls marry younger because of leaving school earlier, they also begin having children sooner. In developing countries, 14 million girls aged 15-19 give birth each year, meaning one-quarter to one-half of girls in these countries become mothers before the age of 18 (Girl Effect). Furthermore, the majority of African countries have a crude birth rate in the range of 30-40 per 1,000 people compared to 13 in the UK and 14 in the US (World Bank).
• Earn less wages. With lower educational attainment for women in developing countries, it’s obvious that they would make far less money than men who often have more years of education. But even for educated women in the workforce, there are only 117 countries that have equal pay laws and women still earn 10-30% less than their male counterparts (UN Women).
• Acquire a deadly disease like HIV/AIDS. The World Health Organization estimates that 60% of the people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women. Women in developing countries are overexposed to the virus because of the occurrence of older men (who have numerous sexual partners) having sexual relations with younger women, the higher prevalence of violence against women and forced prostitution, and gender-related barriers to accessing preventative services, amongst other things.
• Die during pregnancy or childbirth. For girls and women in developing countries, pregnancy and childbirth are currently among the leading causes of death and disability. 99% of the 358,000 women who die of complications during pregnancy or childbirth each year live in developing countries, where only 63% of births are attended by skilled health workers (White Ribbon Alliance).
Is this the fate we want for our daughters and sisters? Of course the answer is no. So why do we allow this to happen to millions of women in the developing world? You can support organisations like the Girl Effect (who made the video below that many of you would have seen before) to help bring justice to these girls and women around the world who deserve an equal chance in life.
For the second blog in this “More than Money” series, I’ve chosen to focus on the topic of education. As the above clip notes, education is one of the best ways to break the cycle of poverty, with Nelson Mandela going so far as to say “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Yet obtaining an education remains far out of reach for many people living in extreme poverty for reasons that go beyond money.
Free for the Rich, Costly for the Poor
Rich countries – where people most able to afford to send their kids to school –provide an education at least through secondary school for free (some through university), yet poor countries that are full of people living on less than USD$2 a day charge a fee for at least secondary school if not primary school as well.
So for those of us who grew up in places like the US or UK, going to school was such a normal part of life that it was as expected as taking your next breath. Yet for kids growing up in many developing countries, going to school is a luxury reserved primarily for those living above the poverty line. For instance in Pakistan, almost half of children from poor households are not in school, compared to only 5% of children from the richest households (UNESCO).
Out of Reach
For those families living in poverty whose kids are in school, further barriers continue to stand in their way. Many rural villages lack access to schools. This leaves communities to either create makeshift schools in their homes, old buildings or in open spaces with unqualified community members stepping in as teachers, or to send their children to walk long distances to and from the nearest school each day, or to simply not send them anywhere at all.
These are just two factors that contribute to the 67 million children around the world who are presently being denied their basic human right of receiving an education, 95% of whom live in developing countries.
Not All Education is Good Education
For those lucky children who manage to make it into a classroom, many of them are still leaving without a good education. The 2011 Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report reveals that millions of children in low-income countries are leaving primary school with reading, writing, and numeracy levels far below what is expected for their age group. Overcrowded classrooms, lack of teachers, high teacher absences, and lack of teaching materials are a few of the circumstances that contribute to problems we see in places like Pakistan where nearly two in three rural school children (aged 6-16) cannot read a basic story (March for Education).
Without providing a good education for these kids in developing countries to equip them with the skills and qualifications they need to be able to get a decent paying job, we risk the chance of trapping them in a never-ending cycle of poverty.
What Can We Do?
So the inevitable question is, now that we know what the problems are, what can we do? There are amazing campaigns you can join like Send My Sister to School (who made the video above) who are putting pressure on governments to do their part to create Education For All. With less than 4 years to go to complete the MDGs, it is imperative that we close the funding gaps needed to help each of those 67 million children obtain their right to a good education.
As we mentioned earlier in the week, we will be posting a series of blogs over the next couple weeks as a follow-up to our Live Below the Line Campaign that go beyond the dollar amount of living in extreme poverty and explore the complex systems like health, education, gender inequality and corruption that contribute to the cycle of poverty.
Health is an important aspect of all of our lives, so much so that it’s a common saying for many of us when experiencing tough times to say, “well at least I have my health.” But that often isn’t true for people living in extreme poverty.
Unfortunately, the problems connected to health and poverty are two-fold: people living in these conditions are exposed to more chances of infection and then lack the access to services that can treat them.
Increased Health Risks
It all begins with overexposure to unsafe conditions for poor communities, such as contaminated water, poor sanitation, heightened prevalence of infectious diseases, or hunger and malnutrition. We’ve mentioned many times before that there are 884 million people lacking access to safe and clean drinking water and 2.6 billion without adequate sanitation, which attributes to 4,000 children dying each day just from drinking contaminated water that causes diarrhoea. Likewise, almost two-thirds of the 12,000 people who die every day from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria live in sub-Saharan Africa where infection rates are high compared to richer regions of the world (ONE).
As the World Food Programme (WFP) has stressed, hunger and malnutrition are still the number one risks to health worldwide and approximately 75% of the 925 million people who are undernourished are in Asia, the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa where the majority of the population living in extreme poverty are located.
Lack of Access to Health Services
However, these poor conditions leading to increased health risks are only the beginning of the problem for people living in extreme poverty. As we’ve discussed before, we know access to health services is disproportionately linked to more affluent regions, which currently leaves 1 billion people without the chance of ever seeing a doctor in their entire life. There is a lack of health workers and also health facilities in poor and rural communities that often forces sick individuals to travel for hours or even days to reach the nearest doctor. This means these populations are more likely to wait too long to seek treatment so that their condition worsens or becomes chronic, or to eventually die before receiving treatment.
Lack of access to health services also contributes to the 358,000 mothers who die each year during childbirth and 8.1 million children who die each year from preventable and treatable diseases and complications we wouldn’t even think were possible from the perspective of the developed world. For example, 99% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries where a woman has a one in 31 chance of dying in pregnancy in places like sub-Saharan Africa, compared to one in 4,200 in Europe (White Ribbon Alliance).
Effects of Poor Health
So it’s clear that increased health risks and lack of access to health services both contribute to poor health amongst people living in extreme poverty, but how does that affect the rest of their life? Below are just a few ways that it can have traumatic consequences for both individuals and families.
• Malnutrition can lead to lowered productivity at work resulting in loss of wages or reduced concentration for children in school resulting in decreased learning and/or performance
• Illnesses or injuries often cause missed days from work or school, again leading to loss of wages or a decrease in educational learning/performance. For instance, 73 million working days are lost each year in India due to water-bourne diseases alone (WaterAid).
• Stigmatised diseases or injuries like HIV/AIDS or obstetric fistula- an injury developed by women predominantly in developing countries from complications during childbirth- can lead to loss of status or dignity in one’s community.
Battling the health crisis to reduce extreme poverty
It’s obvious that living in extreme poverty has many health obstacles restricting human capabilities before we even consider income. So is there anything we can do to change that? Of course! You can support organisations like the ones below that are on the ground trying to make changes in global health every day so people can have one less barrier to pulling themselves out of poverty.
• PATH creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions, enabling communities worldwide to break long-standing cycles of poor health.
• WaterAid and its partners use practical solutions to provide safe water, effective sanitation and hygiene education to the world's poorest people.
• Oxfam is campaigning for an end to the global hunger crisis by putting pressure on leaders for real and lasting change, as well as working with poor communities for a better future.
With the end of our Live Below the Line campaign last month, the media, households and offices were buzzing about what life would be like living on less than USD $1.50 / £1 / AUD $2.00 a day, it’s easy to get distracted by the money and forget about the other issues that define extreme poverty. The purpose of the campaign was not only to raise awareness about poverty, but also to create a starting point for a deeper engagement of the problems keeping 1.4 billion people below this line. This blog looks at some of these issues in turn over the next few weeks.
Since the end of the 1980’s, the development sector has started to move away from defining “development” in economic terms and has instead started to use human development indicators that put people back at the center of poverty alleviation measures. Using approaches from economist Amartya Sen amongst others, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) created a Human Development Report - based on the idea of expanding peoples’ choices and freedoms rather than just their wallets. It was believed that this was only possible by “building human capabilities —the range of things that people can do or be in life”. This includes leading a long and healthy life, to gain knowledge through education, and to have a decent standard of living.
Annual Human Development Reports evaluate each country based on the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a composite of life expectancy, educational attainment and income measurements that attempt to show a more accurate portrayal of someone’s life.
This shows that not having as much money as your neighbour isn't the only defining factor of extreme poverty. Lack of access to basic needs like safe and clean water, adequate sanitation, good health services, or basic education can also restrict capabilities.
If you live in a village where your only source of water is contaminated, you’re more likely to get sick often, and if you don’t have access to a health clinic you’re less likely to get better quickly (or at all). You may miss multiple days of school or work, which will eventually inhibit your chance of obtaining an education or result in loss of wages, and ultimately infringe on your standard of living. Likewise, if you live in a city that has inadequate schools, you’re less likely to receive a good education that will qualify you for a decent paying job, which makes you less likely to be able to provide a better education for your children and further trapping your family in the cycle of poverty.
Beyond these human development indicators lie more issues perpetuating poverty such as gender inequality, corruption and governance. These complex systems led to the creation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the 8 goals created and agreed upon by 189 countries to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015, and what drives much of the development sector today.
To help paint a more accurate picture of extreme poverty following Live Below the Line, we will be posting a series of blogs over the next couple weeks exploring specific issues that are about more than just money - like health, education, gender inequality and corruption that all contribute to the cycle of poverty. Stay tuned for our first post on “Health and Extreme Poverty” next week.