The Causes of Poverty in Developing Nations


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The causes of poverty can be attributed to different processes and social forces including warfare, agricultural cycles, weather, natural disasters, and structure of government, corruption and environmental degradation.

Warfare: The material and human destruction caused by warfare is a major development problem. For example, from 1990 to 1993, the period encompassing Desert Storm, per capita GDP in Iraq fell from $3500 to $761. The drop in average income, while a striking representation of the drop in the well-being of the average Iraqi citizen in the aftermath of the war, fails to capture the broader affects of damages to the infrastructure and social services, such as health care and access to clean water.

Agricultural Cycles: People who rely on fruits and vegetables that they produce for household food consumption (subsistence farmers) often go through cycles of relative abundance and scarcity. For many families that rely on subsistence production for survival, the period immediately prior to harvest is a 'hungry period.' During these periods of scarcity, many families lack sufficient resources to meet their minimal nutritional needs. Being familiar with these cycles has enabled development practitioners to anticipate and prepare for periods of acute need for assistance.

Droughts and Flooding: Besides the immediate destruction caused by natural events such as hurricanes, environmental forces often cause acute periods of crisis by destroying crops and animals.

Natural Disasters: Natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes have devastated communities throughout the world. Developing countries often suffer much more extensive and acute crises at the hands of natural disasters, because limited resources inhibit the construction of adequate housing, infrastructure, and mechanisms for responding to crises.

Colonial Histories: One of the most important barriers to development in poor countries is lack of uniform, basic infrastructure, such as roads and means of communication. Some development scholars have identified colonial history as an important contributor to the current situation. In most countries with a history of colonization, the colonizers developed local economies to facilitate the expropriation of resources for their own economic growth and development.

Centralization of Power: In many developing countries, political power is disproportionately centralized. Instead of having a network of political representatives distributed equally throughout society, in centralized systems of governance one major party, politician, or region is responsible for decision-making throughout the country. This often causes development problems. For example, in these situations politicians make decisions about places that they are unfamiliar with, lacking sufficient knowledge about the context to design effective and appropriate policies and programs.

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Corruption: Corruption often accompanies centralization of power, when leaders are not accountable to those they serve. Most directly, corruption inhibits development when leaders help themselves to money that would otherwise be used for development projects. In other cases, leaders reward political support by providing services to their followers.

Warfare: Warfare contributes to more entrenched poverty by diverting scarce resources from fighting poverty to maintaining a military. Take, for example, the cases of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The most recent conflict over borders between the two countries erupted into war during 1999 and 2000, a period when both countries faced severe food shortages due to drought.

Environmental degradation: Awareness and concern about environmental degradation have grown around the world over the last few decades, and are currently shared by people of different nations, cultures, religions, and social classes. However, the negative impacts of environmental degradation are disproportionately felt by the poor. Throughout the developing world, the poor often rely on natural resources to meet their basic needs through agricultural production and gathering resources essential for household maintenance, such as water, firewood, and wild plants for consumption and medicine. Thus, the depletion and contamination of water sources directly threaten the livelihoods of those who depend on them.

Social Inequality: One of the more entrenched sources of poverty throughout the world is social inequality that stems from cultural ideas about the relative worth of different genders, races, ethnic groups, and social classes. Ascribed inequality works by placing individuals in different social categories at birth, often based on religious, ethnic, or 'racial' characteristics. In South African history, apartheid laws defined a binary caste system that assigned different rights (or lack thereof) and social spaces to Whites and Blacks, using skin color to automatically determine the opportunities available to individuals in each group.

The causes of poverty are different for each country of the world. The three groups that are most affected by poverty are children, youth, and women, although poverty affects people from all walks of life, including men.


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