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.