Development Cooperation Handbook/The factors causing poverty and suffering

The factors causing poverty and suffering

B.Hoeper - What are the factors that cause poverty and what are the resources that enable development

Poverty is what prevents people from leading a long, healthy and creative life as well as from enjoying dignity, self-respect and the respect of others.

"Make poverty history" is a famous slogan launched in 2005 by a coalition of charities from Great Britain and Ireland. There is indeed merit in wanting to appeal to people's moral responsibility and pressurizing governments into taking actions for reducing poverty. Phrased in this way, however, the slogan appears to pretentious and somewhat inappropriate. "History" is not the dustbin of time! As Benedetto Croce, an Italian philosopher and writer, says "History is philosophy in motion", and "all history is contemporary history."[1]

If we see "history" as the path taken by mankind to express its humanity and create civilized institutions, then we can say that poverty removal has always been a drive for progress. With successes and failures. With small and big mistakes. And each time mankind realised a mistake, civilizations found new way to reaffirm human aspiration towards greater and more shared prosperity.

The United Nations considers the "removal of poverty" as one of its fundamental scopes. Indeed, the first Millennium Development Goal MDGs is ""eradicate extreme poverty and hunger". These statements may also sound like institutional justifications rather than realistic programmes. They expose the U.N system to easy derogatory criticisms of "see, there is still abject poverty, so you are useless!". Indeed, we cannot think of a world agenda if we do not put, at its top, the effort to help poor communities improve their lives. Let's remove the pretense of "removing" poverty, ("the poor you will always have with you" - Gospel of Mark 14:7), and let's share the commitment to reduce and mitigate poverty. Let institutions, big and small, abandon the pretense that they can act as "poverty removers". Let's establish and animate networks, locally and globally, for contributing together to more civilized, equitable and inclusive societies.

To reduce poverty, we must first understand the factors that generate poverty; then we must generate political and cultural consensus to remove these factors. And generating this consensus is much more difficult than making statements of good intentions about the "removal" of poverty.

Lack of development is often seen as the factor that determines poverty. But in fact it is poverty that also prevents development. So, here we have a chicken-egg situation (does poverty come first or under-development?) we must get out of if we want to tackle the real causes of poverty.

It is ignorance and conflict that lead to the vicious circle of poverty and the lack of development. And it is knowledge and cooperation that lead to the virtuous circle of prosperity and progress.

So, in order to create the conditions for a virtuous circle of development/cooperation, we should establish a healthy social climate of knowledge sharing and reciprocal empowerment.

"Peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind" UNESCO Constitution

In their effort to enable impoverished communities develop their potentialities, development cooperators share knowledge, skills and experiences across the world. They assist those who have been excluded from development by isolation, marginalization and conflicts. Their work is sometimes just tailored to provide urgent relief to the poor. In other cases, development cooperation is designed to give marginalized communities the capacity and resources to earn better. Besides short term targets addressed by cooperation programmes and plans, development cooperators seldom contribute to enabling that social dialogue by which people become aware of their potentialities and stand up to affirm their rights and advocate for justice.   Development cooperation, therefore, is not "resource delivery" to beneficiaries in need (as is the case for Humanitarian aid. Development Cooperation is in itself the very process that allows persons to enter in a positive-sum social game and better express their potentials.

See also


 MDG 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

 Episode 1 - Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

  in other sections of this handbook

  on Wikipedia

On other Wikibooks

  Information and Communication Technologies for Poverty Alleviation
  Investigating Critical & Contemporary Issues in Education/Challenges of Poverty



  1. Allan, George (1972). "Croce and Whitehead On Concrescence". Process Studies. 2 (2): 95–111. Allan lists the sources Croce, History as the Story of Liberty, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1941 (see Croce 1938) and Croce, History: Its Theory and Practice, New York: Russell & Russell, 1960.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)



The main factor of poverty is the poverty existing in people’s minds – for instance, a farmer with 10 acres land who says that he has no food for the next two months. People’s mind sets will need to be changed.

Dilip Kumar गरीबी के कारण मन में है    

So long as people continue to feel dependency, they will not be able to develop. We will need to uproot the cause of poverty by supporting people in exploring new ways of improving their livelihoods. We need to revive small enterprises run by craftsmen that have been displaced by modern products manufactured by bigger companies, like clay tea cups that were made by potters or ropes that are now replaced by plastic ones made by bigger companies. If we want to remove poverty in the villages, we will have to revive small rural industries, promote these products and motivate the villagers.

What are the Factors which Create Poverty? - Danièle Smadja

"The first two things which come to my mind, since i am in India is 'Inclusion'. What strikes me here is that even thought there is a very high economic growth for many years but they do not manage to make the benefit of this growth inclusive and as a result there are 400 million people under 1 dollar a day.

The second thing is education. So many people are uneducated, the illiteracy rate is quite high. In addition to this there are also so many disparities between people. There are other factors too, but inclusion and education are the most important which come to my mind."

The Factors Generating Poverty - Ahluwalia

Low productivity, low access to resource, not having education and the economy not generating productive jobs. This is what underdevelopment means.

Poverty is not to be just defined in income earning possibility, it is also access to essential service… like health, electrification, clean drinking water, sanitation. These are very important part in the efforts to remove poverty and the Government is involved in all of them.

Julian Parr, the Regional Manager South East Asia, Oxfam GB


What are the factors which generate poverty?

India's failure is around equitable and inclusive economic growth

The failure for India, although it has made advances and taken good steps forward, is around equitable and inclusive economic growth. We are seeing a massive rise in the Indian economy but that growth is very uneven. It is about the Geni Coefficiency curve. If you see, there is a dip coming in that Geni Coefficiency curve which is very worrying. If you get that dip, you move towards highly unstable societies and you start getting high unemployment, less inclusion we start moving towards failed states like Afghanistan, Pakistan that is tottering on the brink as well. And this is because there is a huge dispossessed and disgruntled element of society. So you see some of the goals being met but in terms of infant mortality, maternal mortality – the numbers are really horrifying.

What kind of knowledge is required to remove poverty?

Scaling-up workforce and giving access to knowledge and resources: A major challenge for India

One of the biggest challenges that developing economies like India have, and South Asia generally, is that they have a huge young population where half the population is less than 15 years old. So, India has got to create jobs on a large scale - challenges it has never faced before. In order to do that is has to scale its workforce up. It has got to move them from the informal low-grade economy into the formal economy. India is at the moment famous for its intellectual exports around IT, medical...but that is just a tiny tip of the iceberg... so it is going to be about vocational training, access to the internet, only just about 5% of Indians have access to internet right now. It is getting that access to knowledge and resources that is a huge challenge.

Do you think availability of resources play a role in the generation or removal of poverty?

Availability of water will be a huge challenge for South Asia

Access to resources, pro-poor policies, putting in place social services and social safety nets, etc. - make a huge difference. India is taking some steps in the right direction. Specifically concerning the MDGs, around access to water, for example, there have been positive steps. I think more people now have access to potable water in India. The wider issue, the wider problem for the future of the whole South Asia is going to be water. It is going to be a huge challenge for the region

Shiva Kumar Development economist


Importance of MDGs in redefining Poverty

Shiva Kumar - The importance of MDGs in redefining what are the poverty drivers

What is poverty? If you look at it only as income deprivation then you are missing the whole point. Because you have to look at the poverty of opportunity. We always say that income is an outcome, so if I find that this person is earning I need to know why. I have to ask the question why you are earning less and this you will always trace it back to income opportunities. Did not have adequate education, you did not have adequate command over resources, health. Examples of how development and progress is not just per capita income indicators, gdp, etc. Delhi where below poverty line is 8% but malnourishment under 5 is 33%. One of the biggest concern in Delhi is security of women (not just at night but public spaces, work place, etc.) Under 5 mortality rate is a very strong indicator of development. This depends on income but also on education. When women are literate under mortality rate drops. It depends also on the quality of water, sanitation. So when you say you will reduce under 5 mortality rate you are fundamentally talking about major changes in the standard of living. In India it is also about women position of women in society; so comes when women do paid work outside, a change in the thinking of society is created. Income gives a greater voice, changes power relations, possibility to talk to many other people. It is the opportunity that she gets with the income.

Shiva Kumar - Comparing the development in India and China

What I really like about the MDGs is that it has thrown up a lot of discussions and what you find in terms of a follow through of the MDGs, is that there is no one solution. What works in Nicaragua may not work in Mexico, may not work in South Africa. Thailand said, we have already achieved Universal Education, our Mortality Rate is very low, what do you expect Thailand to do? So they launched MDG +, which said we have to achieve more. Bhutan added MDG 9 and said “zero tolerance for corruption” and they said that by 2020 Bhutan must be free from all types of corruption. So the nice thing about the MDGs was that, the UN said that all the countries must adopt it and must adapt it and localize it. So when you localize the MDGs then the debate becomes not at a global level of ideas but much more practical in terms of policies and programs and what are you doing about it.

The news papers cannot just cover the growth story of India, you also have to look at what is happening to the lives of people. Can we confidently stand up and say the environment is better in India.? Can we confidently stand up and say the quality of schooling has improved? Can India confidently say that access of drinking water is much better? Because progress in society has to be measured by these indicators of human development. The other very important idea that is slowly gaining in is the idea of Human Right. When you talked about human rights the idea would focus largely on civil and political rights. But with the MDGs the economic, social and cultural rights gained importance and now they have to be put into the same level. You cannot say that economic and social rights are more important than civil and political rights. So what that you don’t have the right to vote, like in Myanmar, but the state is providing for everything… it is not, it is not sustainable. If you ask today why have many development projects or poverty alleviation projects suffered. They will tell you it was top-down and the community level, whose life it was supposed to influence and change, had very little say. There was no sense of ownership, there was no participation. So now with the Human Rights discourse , and saying that both economic and social rights, cultural right as well as civil and political have to be taken together, there is much greater recognition in the world of adopting a rights based approach to development.

Manoj Kumar - The factors creating poverty

Manoj Kumar, Country Director of Concern Worldwide, an International NGO

The interview was taken on December 2010 at N 2 River, Freetown Peninsula, Sierra Leone

The interview has been used in the following development cooperation stories:
 Mothers Preparing Mothers - Susan and Cline Bays  playlist
 Women as Entrepreneurs - Petifu Chain  playlist