The concept of poverty means different things to different people although there are standard ways of measuring it. People have an intrinsic idea of what it means to be poor, through either experience or observation. Ask any young person today who is poor and you will most likely get some of the following responses:
- “A person who cannot earn enough money to live on is poor.”
- “A refugee, usually a mother with children who roam the streets with maudlin faces begging for food.”
- “A person living in starvation, severe drought, malnutrition and famine.”
- “A homeless person who cannot work to afford a meal in a day, buy medicine when sick and has to sleep in the open.”
- “Countries whose indigenes are in despair because of a protracted war and civil conflict.”
The definitions could be endless, but it only goes to show the immensity of the term, “Poverty.” For the much older generation, the mid-80’s was a dreadful time for many Ghanaians – perhaps the closest any person could come to terms with economic hardship, evidenced by the severe shortage of food. Regardless of these perceptions, one thing is certain: poverty is all about deprivation. It goes beyond the lack of material or monetary resources necessary to live as a person. People living in poverty express severe emotion. They go through depression thinking about how to pay off a debt, the absence of family, the lack of work, and ill health. Its manifestations include hunger and famine, lack of access to education and basic social services, social discrimination and inequality.
According to the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF, 1988), poverty levels increased in Ghana during the decade 1973 to 1983. This period saw the decline in average wages, real earnings from wage employment, and the real value of payments available to cocoa farmers.[i] There were also huge declines in real government spending on education and health. Economic indicators such as infant mortality and malnutrition all rose. Those who were most affected by this period of decline were urban dwellers, although rural households had better coping mechanisms to protect themselves from the high food prices and inflation due to subsistence farming.
According to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI), the standard ways of measuring poverty can be both economic and social. Economic measures of poverty look at a person’s access to physical needs, typically the basic human needs for survival, such as food, clothing, shelter, and safe drinking water, as well as measures of income or a measure of wealth. Social measures of poverty comprise of access to education, healthcare, information, or political power. To reinforce these measures here is an example: someone living in economic poverty may be a homeless beggar with no work, while someone living in social poverty may be a complete illiterate. The following are some of the WDI used to measure poverty:
- The percentage of total income held by the top 10%
- Under-five mortality
- Access to improved water source
- Skilled birth attendance, i.e. life v death during birth
- Prevalence of stunting
- Improved sanitation
- Vaccination coverage
- Net primary school enrolment
The Sustainable Development Goal 1 is to “End poverty in all its forms everywhere”. While there have been significant achievements globally, still 1 out of 5 people live on less than $1.25 a day” (United Nations). In perspective, that is living on less than GHS 5.50/day per the current rate. For some, poverty simply means, “not having a peace of mind or peace within oneself.” That is not to say that money is not important and that we can ignore the distinctions between rich and poor, first and third world countries. The whole well-being of an individual may not necessarily be all about money or the lack of it but rather being content. Do you agree or disagree?
This week’s discussion is “How would you define poverty and what constitutes a poor county to you?”
[i] Amoako-Tuffour, J., & Armah, B. K. (Eds.). (2008). Poverty Reduction Strategies in Action: Perspectives and Lessons from Ghana. Lexington Books.
WRITER: KWAME TWUMASI-ANKRAH | firstname.lastname@example.org