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Learning from Poverty: Data and ideas on Poverty
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Data and ideas on Poverty

By Bram de Vries, December 20th, 2006

Poverty Alleviation

The richest 10 per cent of adults accounted for 85 per cent of assets. The bottom 50 per cent of the world?s adults owned barely 1 per cent of global wealth (Times, 2006). The money earned by the western world with material resources that are subtracted from the third world is four times as high as the total amount of money spend on development aid (Kofi Annan; source needed). 1.2 billion people live without access to safe water and 2.6 billion without access to sanitation (UNDP 2006) The world's poorest people pay some of the world's highest prices for water (UNDP 2006). Water-borne diarrhoea kills 1.8 million children every year - 4,900 lives lost every day (UNDP). Eight days of military spending is equivalent to the missing financial gap on the water and sanitation sector for an entire year, says UNDP Report.

But money is just one thing. Recent trends in poverty thinking reveals a shift from 'not having' (deprivation of food, housing, money, knowledge, etc.) to 'lacking capabilities' (to live a long and healthy life in which own choices can be made, social relations can be maintained and in which the individual has influence) (A. Sen). Still the three major organizations in poverty alleviation have different accents in their poverty definitions. UNDP (1997: 15): Human Poverty is ?the denial of opportunities and choices most basic to human development - to lead a long, healthy, creative life and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self-respect and the respect of others .

World Bank (2000: 15) ?Poverty is profound deprivation in well-being?to be hungry, to lack shelter and clothing, to be sick and not cared for, to be illiterate and not schooled?vulnerable to adverse events?treated badly by the institutions of the state and society and excluded from voice and power in those institutions.?

OECD/DAC (2001: 42) ?In general, it is the inability of people to meet economic, social and other standards of well-being.? ?Core capabilities are: economic, human political, socio-cultural, protective.?

Demotech generally agrees with these definitions, but likes to put two major issue on top, both are related to the North ? South relation, which is or should be bidirectional.

The first issue is that Demotech does not think that the model of the 'developed world' is the direction to head for in 'underdeveloped countries'. Of course there are many good things in the 'developed world', but so much isn't good. Overconsumption, environmental deterioration, loneliness, burn-outs, estrangement and so on. People in the 'developed world' seem to be less happy and more tended to complain than people in 'underdeveloped countries' despite the malnutrition and corrupt regimes the have to face in their daily lives. Both worlds contain good and bad. It is to say that there is the poverty of richness and the richness of poverty. Both worlds can enrich the other in a mutual interaction.

This leads us to the second issue of hegemony. Development is commonly seen as unidirectional. The image of the western world as 'best of all' is put on poor people. This is not done ? with the exception of some occasions like Gulf War II ? by force but by seduction. Gramsci called this hegemony: not only justifying the position of the higher classes but make it something to strive for. This means that the worker will not molest the big car of his boss, instead he will work harder to also obtain a big car, or maybe become boss himself one day. Hegemony paralyses people because in everything they are confronted with their low state, which is in fact a constructed state. When it comes to technology, the technology that exists within poverty contains countless unique possibilities for socially, economically and environmentally sustainable designs. Normally this technology is rejected by the western aid society because it's primitive and normally 'the good western technology' is given to the local people. Besides the fact that western technology isn't the best there is, technologically speaking, the previous sentence contains two fierce humiliations to ? deliberately or not ? strengthens the hegemony. The first, clearly, is calling some one's hard effort of research and development 'primitive'. The second is less obvious and is concealed in the gift. Gifts are not bad in itself, in contrary, gifts are a good oil to keep the social machine going. Gifts, however, also contain power relations. In a normal birth day setting A receives gifts of B and C, and sooner or later A will give B or C a gift when it's their birthday. In other words: the gift is reciprocated. These are gifts for fun, but imagine that you need a gift and cannot reciprocate it ever. Although intentions of the giver might be the best, it still confirms the lower position of the receiver. This is humiliating and makes the receiver aware that he is not able to solve his own problems and becomes dependent on the giver.

Demotech approach might seem hypocrite, because Demotech also gives knowledge to local people and it's the white people that develops the technology. This is however a short term necessary evil. Soon people will forget that it was Demotech who invented it.

Demotech is also still a little organisation and yearns to grow to sincere world wide open source technology development for the benefit of all.

So what's the plan? There is no plan, but there is a quest. There are so many possibilities that one should never be fixed by a single idea or philosophy. Economist William Easterly describes the failure of development aid in a common sense marketing story. In marketing there are searchers and planners. The searchers look for possibilities with the existing, while planners want to reform the existing to the big plan. This is not a wise thing to do. He compares it metaphorically with a cow. Planners want to train the animal as long as it can win the derby. Searchers however look for possibilities and doubt if it can ever win a race. Maybe there are other possibilities, maybe we can milk it.

This is because 2,2 trillion dollar has been spend on aid, but still there hasn't changed anything. Maybe money isn't the answer, but the problem.

The Nuer: Evens-Pritchard. (Ask Bram)

The problems of poverty and environmental deterioriation are not just a problem of just one part of the world it affects everyone. It's not a voluntary act of goodness to do something about it, it's a duty to save our guts. The growing poverty gap breeds hate between the poor and the rich world. This hate is easily catalyized by terrorist organisations planting fear into human lives, leading to xenophobia and stigmatization. Fear of violence is one such indicator of human poverty. Cooperation is needed to eleviate poverty, both in the western world as in development countries but also between development countries.

Technology is one such a means because many problems are related to the non existence of proper artifacts. You can't talk water out of the ground, but you need a device and to get rid of feces in a save way one need to construct something. It's both construction and the use of technology that are very social acts.

Learning from Poverty: Data and ideas on Poverty
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