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Poverty in Africa and elsewhere

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Poor people are poor because markets fail them and governments fail them.  That markets fail them is well-known.  Failures in capital markets mean that young people cannot get loans to finance their education; imperfect or nonexistent insurance markets mean that poor people will not get decent health care if left to unfettered markets; economies of scale as well as the simple fact that basic services such as water are necessities mean that markets will not ensure that poor people will get the services they need to survive.  As Roy Radner, a former professor of mine once put it, “When you allocate resources by market prices, you discriminate against poor people.”

To overcome these failures—that is, to protect the poor—governments step in.  They finance and provide primary education and basic health care; they subsidize water and electricity so poor people can afford these services.  Unfortunately, these well-intentioned government interventions lead to failures of their own.  In Ugandan public schools, teachers are absent 27 percent of the time; health workers in primary health centers are absent 37 percent of the time.  Only one percent of the money allocated to non-salary spending in Chad reached the health clinics.  These “government failures” are sometimes as pernicious as the market failures they were intended to correct.  They are also difficult to overcome because various interest groups who benefit from the status quo may resist reform. 

One way to overcome them may be to create a debate around these failures, to amplify the voices of the poor, so that political leaders will listen to them. Today is Blog Action Day 2008, and the topic that bloggers worldwide are writing about is “Poverty.”  Let us hope this global movement, that is based on information-sharing, debate and discussion, will eventually help overcome both market and government failures so that poor people around the world can escape poverty. 

 

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on

Rural communities that have sustained themselves for millennia on their land, now they are being measured with global development indicators hence they are failing, undeveloped and in western terms, poor. The infrastructure to help them develop socially and economically in line with how they are being measured has not been put in place. The Millennium Development Goals have very aggressive targets and indicators.

With the lack of infrastructure, these goals would not be achieved. Why don't we just look at how these communities have survived and help them be better at whatever it is they are doing? It is obvious that global development is a Eurocentric concept and would not address the development challenges of the African nations.

Submitted by anonymous on
There is a need to advance the socioeconomic security of Africans through a compassionate and vigilant leadership. The African Governments must immediately implement a workable model of Social Policy Programs in Africa that will combine efforts, reduce duplicity, and adequately serve both the people and governmental needs. This is most pertinent now that world attention is on Poverty Eradication by way of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) as a part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In essence, we can mitigate poverty by categorizing them into defined sectors and I propose that we start with our disabled. There are known methods and strategies used by developed Nation that we need to employ in managing time, resources, and recourse to the advantage of Africa. Africa has what the world needs and the world has what Africa needs. It is time for African to plan its future and request assistance from the world; not the reverse.

Submitted by Thomas M. on
Bonjour, une réponse à votre article ici : http://www.etreenafriquenoire.com/reagir/QuestionsDeFond/2008/PauvreteEntraideAdministrative .

Submitted by Hassane Moussa ... on
Poverty in Niger is very recurrent and it has to faces,first rural and second urban.I would like to remain you that only development aid can't reduce poverty in Africa in general anr in Niger in particular because of lack of the implication of the poor in this process.So think about this....

Submitted by Anonymous on
Niger is one of the richestest country in Africa. a country with only 14 million people and all kinds of natural resources from uranium, charco,gold, petrolium, and many others. a well management of these resources is enought to provide good infrastructres, education, health, and inproving their agriculture sectors. Africain should stop pointing fingers and stop counting on exterior aid, they should star taking advantage of a changing world.for exemple in a nation like niger, why they can't lease all the heavy equipment needed to the exploitation of their own natural resources? after all they had invested billions to provide education in the mining sectors.

Submitted by Dave H on
Poverty in Africa // economic growth, natural resources, educated leadership, diverse leadership// africa's problems is due to policies and lack of interafrican state development or regional coordinated development// all the African states need a constitutional charter // a university must be created and funded by African states and the international community that will address the technical, environmental, government , economic, and cultural issues in the development of Africa. Education from primary to university is key to Africa's modernization.

Submitted by Anonymous on
It is the application of Technology,Technological skills,know how and wisdom and Intelligence of all African great minds to Identify what solutions are required to create Rural based employment .If you read the most dynamic and fact file by the world bank on Pan African Highways wps4097 you would appreciate a true African perspective of poverty eradication.The benefits are so wide for each Nation and promote regional Intergration.The choice is us Africans to be proactive in economic decision making at grassroots level and start by education which reflects the future economic brains and leadership whose curricular is inline with the development of a Nation.Technology has to be upgraded and the way Industry and Infrastructural development in Government departments has to identify suitable equipment which creates employment in Rural Areas and allow communities to develope by themselves.

Submitted by Bernard on
I find your posting very interesting. Can you give me the reference to "Pan African Highways wps4097"? I would like to read it. Do you live in Africa? In Nigeria? I would like to get some on-the-spot information about education there.

Submitted by Austino on
The current situation in Chad is indeed appalling. Poor people are dying from diseases due to lack of prevention and treatment. I have left my feedback about this after reading this post here http://africacan.worldbank.org/les-d%C3%A9penses-publiques-perdues-au-tchad . Indeed, the overall effort needed to rise a wave of public discussion of issues and to ensure that politics and government people have started to pay attention to this.

Submitted by grunt on
The attention of global organizations such as World Bank and UN focused on the African continent is quite intent. Some western political leaders often call for a return to the practice of soft-colonialism: because there is a wide diffused view that any budgetary funds granted to the authorities of African countries, will be immediately stolen. In any case poverty cannot be overcome if not to include centers of poverty in a global network of international trade. And this is very difficult when the various African regions are geographically too distant from the ports.

Submitted by Mike on
Thanks Thomas for your comment, I hope that the problems in Africa will be solved.

Submitted by Josh on
Nicely presented article I must agree. The problems in Africa will one day be solved.

There is a need to advance the socioeconomic security of Africans through a compassionate and vigilant leadership. The African Governments must immediately implement a workable model of Social Policy Programs in Africa that will combine efforts, reduce duplicity, and adequately serve both the people and governmental needs. This is most pertinent now that world attention is on Poverty Eradication by way of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) as a part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In essence, we can mitigate poverty by categorizing them into defined sectors and I propose that we start with our disabled. There are known methods and strategies used by developed Nation that we need to employ in managing time, resources, and recourse to the advantage of Africa. Africa has what the world needs and the world has what Africa needs. It is time for African to plan its future and request assistance from the world; not the reverse.

Submitted by Morandi on
Well, this is a good move. There are 14,053 blog posts on BlogAction 2008. 13 million people should have read the posts overall, I wonder if there was any Governments reactions since October the 15th. I wish there was every year's Blogaction raising the topic of poverty for everyone reading in order to initiate social movement.

Submitted by Brian on
Hope that country and all Africa will develop fast to become a power continent in the near future.

Submitted by Anonymous on
I totally agree they need to pull there self together (: and become a good country for everyone

Submitted by Atita on
I read this article. I think about my birth place, Thailand. Thailand has some problem like this article. Poor people cannot get loans for their education. I hope this problem that been solve some day.

Submitted by Higherluv on
Not sure if it will be a power continent in the future. Loss of direction and faith is the primary reason for many African countries failures. If the people and especially the gov't don't correct themselves, these problems will continue no matter what. Awareness AND aid is the key

Submitted by BeeReg on
Poor and do not have enough money to have a better education make them poorer and they can not help their country develop, a nightmare circle.

Submitted by Tamasong on
These countries are very difficult to develop because they do not have any nature resources, the only resource is people but people is not well educated, how to change? No one know now.

Submitted by Alvin on
It is always sad to see the environs on those poverty stricken areas especially in the African continent. Whenever I see on television photos or footage of malnourished children and babies from affected regions, it saddens me more. I hope the whole world would exert some massive efforts to come up with highly viable solutions in order to end poverty situations.

I think the reason for poverty is the way parents don't raise their child with good financial values. The government is not to blame. The government however, is to blame for poverty of the whole country. Take US for instance, they should bring back labor jobs from companies who outsource to foreign countries.

Submitted by Jessica on
I think governments should instill good financial values into our children. Its the only way to learn(when your young that is).

They are also difficult to overcome because various interest groups who benefit from the status quo may resist reform.

This has been a long standing problem whose solutions are long shot. There are just so many strong factions in the African continent.

Africa's economic malaise is self-perpetuating, as it engenders more of the disease, warfare, misgovernment, and corruption that created it in the first place. Other effects of poverty have similar consequences. The most direct consequence of low GDP is Africa's low standard of living and quality of life. Except for a wealthy elite and the more prosperous peoples of South Africa and the Maghreb, Africans have very few consumer goods. Quality of life does not correlate exactly with a nation's wealth. Angola, for instance, reaps large sums annually from its diamond mines, but after years of civil war, conditions there remain poor. Radios, televisions, and automobiles are rare luxuries. Most Africans are on the far side of the digital divide and are cut off from communications technology and the Internet. Quality of life and human development are also low. African nations dominate the lower reaches of the UN Human Development Index. Infant mortality is high, while life expectancy, literacy, and education are all low. The UN also lowers the ranking of African states because the continent sees greater inequality than any other region. The best educated often choose to leave the continent for the West or the Persian Gulf to seek a better life; in the case of some nations like South Africa, many caucasians have fled due to employment bias. Catastrophes cause deadly periods of great shortages. The most damaging are the famines that have regularly hit the continent, especially the Horn of Africa. These have been caused by disruptions due to warfare, years of drought, and plagues of locusts. An average African faced annual inflation of over 60% from 1990 until 2002 in those few countries that account for inflation. At the high end, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo both saw triple-digit inflation throughout the period. Most African states saw inflation of approximately 10% per year. There are incomplete numbers for unemployment in most African nations, but it is an important problem. Major cities like Lagos and Kinshasa have large slums of the unemployed and underemployed. ---- Pioneer pro-111fd Hoodia Gordonii

Submitted by Shalini Sinha on
The few millionaires you are referring to are a base to start off off with. Have been working for over a year here in Mauritius along the same lines. Can go far with some determined leadership, concise thinking and right implementors. Have worked in Africa also- and the continent is not short of any of these type of people I am referring to. In fact, they know how to fine tune it to the local context.

The poverty in Africa is a real shame, especially in today's world. At the end of the day it is the fault of the African government for being too afraid to take any real action to solve the problem.

There are many good thoughts on poverty in Africa and how to fix it. But what good does it do to just think about rather than actually do something about it?

Why Africa keeps lagging behind in a time where some Asian countries in the same economic position 40 years ago have progressed a lot? Where have all the efforts gone?

In Africa, you will find dozens of little children playing with one another in the dust. Looking over them in the shade will be the grandmothers or other elders, ready to intervene when things get out of hand. If a child is hurt in the squabbles that inevitably arise, they run to soothing arms of their grandmothers. However AIDS, famine, and war have brought to Africa an entirely new concept, children with no family members, no blood relatives, no extended family members. No elders to care for them, they are lost and forgotten in a cruel world, and no one seems to care.

Its only after reading such carefully thought out and planned articles that one realises how fortunate we are here in the West. We have clean water to drink, healthy food to eat, fresh air to breath, manier times we take all this for granted. Articles like these bring us back to the ground and force us to be grateful for what we have.

You know... I've gotta be honest. When I read your first paragraph, I thought I was going to be irate and want to rip your head off, but I think, if I understand you correctly, that you have a valid point. Often our government tries so hard to protect and help the poor people, that they just make the problem worse. I'm continually in a debate with myself as to how much the government should in fact help the poor and those less fortunate.

Thank you for your comment, and for not ripping my head off. Indeed, the problem is that, despite the best of intentions, governments sometimes end up hurting the poor. The reason is that incentives within government are not always geared towards performance. So a public school teacher gets paid whether or not he shows up for work; the result is a teacher absenteeism rate of 25 percent. Another reason is that certain policies get captured by the elite, who are sufficiently powerful politically to block their reform--even though reforms would benefit the poor. The real question is not "how much the government should help the poor," but how we can help the government help the poor. This is where a public debate, including in blogs like this, comes in. By bringing the evidence on unproductive government interventions into the open, I hope we can create some consensus for reforms that governments will listen to.

It is not the failure of the government to provide for the poor. When we rely on the "government" to do it, it becomes too easy for us to just turn away and ignore the situation. We let the government "provide for the poor" and we go about our daily lives. We, as individuals, should take on more of the responsibility and quit trying to designate the "government" in our place as a means of relieving ourselves from what should be done.

Submitted by kira on
I disagree, if you decided to cut the government's contributions and just rely on ourselves, we'd probably see a drastic decrease in aid going to those countries. Instead, we should be discussing how to improve how the government intervenes in these countries. Kira

Submitted by Anonymous on
Local District councilors in Rural areas should be elected on Qualifications and ability to participate in the Economic development of their districts not by choice of chieftainship or ancestral spirits but capability issues like profession and technological skills to develop the district are more crucial than being partisan in culture.A civil Engineer would identify what needs to be done and will question the district council decisions and contribute to well being of community in economic development than a cultural councillor with no clue of concrete or water pumping station,power generation, road culverts,building construction.If all levels of community leaders are upgraded to these qualifications then better judgement and decision making standards will rise and disctricts will benefit.

We can be spending money much more intelligently than our current allocation strategy. With all of the corruption in the African nations, it is hard to make sure our money is put into the right hands though.

Submitted by Robert Frank on
In any case poverty cannot be overcome if not to include centers of poverty in a global network of international trade. Whenever I see on television photos or footage of malnourished children and babies from affected regions, it saddens me more. I hope this problem that been solve some day. Robert Frank, http://pdflost.com

Submitted by Tom on
I feel for all the poor and underfed people, but what I can't understand is how the governments that rule these poor continue to steal from them, diverting aid and food and then reselling it and pocketing the money. How long is the rest of the world going to tolerate this behavior?

Submitted by Patrick Mwendwa on
I think Africans should come to the understanding that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Instead, a price-tag is often attached and needs to be paid in full. Our leaders need to cultivate a sense of committment within the society and show that it is the only way to "pitch-in" towards paying the price. It is only after becoming committed towards a common goal that Africa can start moving forward and its people begin to reap the fruits of their labor. African Native

Submitted by Anonymous on
If we realise all the socioeconomic solutions for Africa lie in the very choices we make at grassroots level due to remote areas out of touch with development and media and civilisation.A simple example is there is no reason why people in Rural Areas should have a Headman to manage their Infrastructural development when he has no tertiary education and understanding of the required needs of Infrastructure.The time has come to take Africa to the next 21st century and qualify to be a super power with the talent and skills education has developed.Local District councilors in Rural areas should be elected on Qualifications and ability to participate in the Economic development of their districts not by choice of chieftainship or ancestral spirits but capability issues like profession and technological skills to develop the district are more crucial than being partisan in culture.A civil Engineer would identify what needs to be done and will question the district council decisions and contribute to well being of community in economic development than a cultural councillor with no clue of concrete or water pumping station,power generation, road culverts,building construction.If all levels of community leaders are upgraded to these qualifications then better judgement and decision making standards will rise and disctricts will benefit.

Submitted by Anonymous on
I think this is a very telling point, and it's unfortunate that opinions like this are not more prevalent. Reading through this blog and others like it, you wonder why so many people are spending line after line describing how bad poverty is. POVERTY IS BAD. We got it. It leads to disease and death. We understand. Aid needs to go to the right people who will do the right things and cause the right reforms while at the same time respecting the national and cultural sovereignty of the people and elevating everyone to an equal footing while providing everything the country needs to become self-sufficient. Yeah, right. Is anyone that naive? Do you expect the wealthy of any nation to just hand over their power just to "do the right thing" as you see it? The powerful in these nations did not become powerful by being such idealistic rubes. The truth is that there are no easy solutions, and that true reform will likely come at the expense of cultural heritage and autonomy. Force will be needed and used. Traditions will need to be reformed and demands and conditions placed on aid. It is unfortuneate, but just throwing money at the problem and expecting people to do the right thing by western standards will not work any better than it has to this point.

Submitted by piese auto online on
I know poverty because poverty was there before I was born and it has become part of life like the blood through my veins. Poverty is not going empty for a single day and getting something to eat the next day. Poverty is going empty with no hope for the future. Poverty is getting nobody to feel your pain and poverty is when your dreams go in vain because nobody is there to help you. Poverty is watching your mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters die in pain and in sorrow just because they couldn't get something to eat. Poverty is hearing your grandmothers and grandfathers cry out to death to come take them because they are tired of this world. Poverty is watching your own children and grandchildren die in your arms but there is nothing you can do. Poverty is watching your children and grandchildren share tears in their deepest sleep. Poverty is suffering from HIV/AIDS and dying a shameful death but nobody seems to care". " Poverty is when you hide your face and wish nobody could see you just because you feel less than a human being. Poverty is when you dream of bread and fish you never see in the day light. Poverty is when people accuse you and prosecute you for no fault of yours but who is there to say some for you? Poverty is when the hopes of your fathers and grandfathers just vanish within a blink of an eye. I know poverty and I know poverty just like I know my father's name. Poverty never sleeps. Poverty works all day and night. Poverty never takes a holiday

Submitted by Jimmy on
COMMUNISM IS THE SOLUTION. Communism will lead to an equal society

Submitted by Berio on
Its only after reading such carefully thought out and planned articles that one realises how fortunate we are here in the West. We have clean water to drink, healthy food to eat, fresh air to breath, manier times we take all this for granted. Articles like these bring us back to the ground and force us to be grateful for what we have.

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