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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Friday, April 15, 2005

Coping with poverty coma

Daily News: "13/04/2005 By Dr. Tofail Ahmed

The architects of the poverty industry claim that there is enough food to satisfy every stomach and even to make most persons fat. There is at least 4.3 pounds of food available per person per day worldwide, writes Dr. Tofail Ahmed
The contemporary world is getting very rich in devising various sophisticated methods and means for undertaking research on poverty. 'Poverty reduction' has become a very thriving industry by its own merit.
One of the remarkable achievements of the poverty industry is its huge production of smart data on nature, extent, severity and dimensions of poor and poverty. The collection, analysis and presentation of those data in turn created a good bunch of professionals worldwide with a very high level of income prospects.
The number of crude and unsophisticated poor continues to increase and silent genocide of poverty persists in spite of the enlightened accomplishments of all these sophisticated researchers and analysis. The menaces of poverty systematically eliminate a large number of people everyday, albeit the area, volume and dimension of researches and evaluations are disproportionately increasing.
Globally collected poverty data shows that we have roughly 6.3 billion people in the world, out of which 1.2 billion live below poverty line income level which is less than one US dollar a day and another estimates reveals that 842 million regularly smell severe and reckless hunger. 153 million children under 5 in the developing world are under weight.
Worse yet, 11 million die every year younger than 5 years of age and more than half of those from hunger related causes. Thirty million people die of hunger every year.
The global revelation of the poverty industry claims that there is enough food to satisfy every stomach and even make most persons fat. There is at least 4.3 pounds of food available per person per day worldwide. Ignacio Ramonet in one of his articles furnishes more startling statistics. The total wealth of the world's three richest individuals is greater than the combined gross domestic product of the 48 poorest countries, which is almost a quarter countries in the world.
As per the UN calculation a levy of less than 4 per cent on the accumulated wealth of 225 largest fortunes would be sufficient to meet the basic needs of entire population of the world. More interestingly, the total cost of world's sanitation and food requirements come to only $ 13 billion, which is hardly as much as the people of the USA and European nations spend every year on perfume.
Tale of idiot
'Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing'. During Shakespeare's time though poverty was more prominent compared to our time but poverty as a subject of study and poverty alleviation as a profession was totally unknown.
Long afterwards George Bernard Shaw in his play Major Barbara called poverty 'the worst of all crimes' and he further said, 'all other crimes are virtues beside it'. Perhaps Shaw was also unaware about its thriving professional dimensions.
If so, I am sure, both of them would have changed the content and context for using these two words 'idiot' and 'crime'. The UN goals (MDG) are noble, achievable and bound to be achieved. There are histories of changing goal posts. What happened to the goals such as 'education for all', 'health for all', 'safe drinking water for all', etc. by such and such years? Ten more years are still in hand to reduce global poverty to fifty per cent from the existing level.
We are expecting to bring down our poverty to 20/22 per cent by the year 2015. Let us hope that goal posts this time will not be changed for covering up the failure to score.
Bangladesh is regarded as one of the poorest countries of the world. As a logical consequence, poverty reduction industry here is more prominently visible than any other place in the world. Every socio-economic development project prepared, every word spoken in every seminar and workshop, every expensive vehicle purchased with foreign aid and every trip made abroad, all are devoted to alleviate poverty. Poverty thrives, multiples and at the end engulfs the whole society.
Not necessarily the economic and human poverty as the 'poverty experts' explain and analyse. This is the poverty thinking, just coming out of the intelligent heads without much headache to solve it.
Sincere thinking of the concerned people should come directly from their hearts and get it scanned at the level of head. Thinking generated only from head and expressed as lip service is a great disservice to the cause. Bangladesh side by side with its economic poverty is also en-route to a different sort of poverty which cannot be alleviated but only be elevated with the blessings of various poverty projects.
That has been happening for pretty long time and the same may happen in future too. Long live poverty!
PRSP: The million dollar document is now in our hand. For money to flow you need some sort of pipeline.
The name and shape of the latest pipeline is PRSP. You can prepare projects. Put old wine in new bottles. Call it 'poverty focus perfume spraying projects', 'coping with poverty coma', 'survival strategy in monga stricken areas of Northern Bangladesh', etc.
Any name you give but keep few expensive vehicles, some foreign trips, air-conditioned office and fat publicity competent in the budget. The tension of fever has gone with soothing sweat. The million dollar document PRSP is full of clues for new projects. This is really a very good food for project hungry people.
Who the poor are?
We have been pondering for identifying poor from a wrong direction. Intellectuals really mislead us by providing some very complex analytical tools to identify poor and poverty such as measurement of income, calorie intake, deprivation analysis, severity analysis etc. These are some of the futile infantile exercises like searching lost camel on the roof top at night.
All the time pointing fingers towards unfed, naked, sick and homeless as poor is not giving you right picture.
Look for poor in Dhanmondi, Gulsan, Banani and other places like those. If you consider it is too big a place to find them, enter Sheraton or Sonargaon hotels and some other places like those, you can easily catch them.
I am sure you will find many of the poor people there. They are not only eating, drinking, singing and dancing wishing good health of the poor. How can you eliminate, alleviate, eradicate (whatever term you give) poverty of the country without them.
If you still think of poverty alleviation, follow a different method. Make a list of people who are not poor and still want to alleviate poverty of others. Arrange a poverty therapy course for them.
The high time is either in extreme hot summer or severely cold winter. Arrange a twenty day course for them at Rowmari of Kurigram. Keep them there in huts without air condition and running water. Feed them with ordinary local food and dress them with ordinary Lungi-Shari the villager wear.
Ask them to till land, cut wood for fuel and cook their own food in traditional earthen oven. Let them sleep on the floor in ordinary bed. No telephone and electricity connections. This is the therapy which will give them life time experience on poverty.
One should go through the poverty machine at least once in life. If some one survives the therapy, she/he is really qualified to become a poverty professional.
Mao-Tse-Taung introduced the idea in China during the period of Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. It met with havoc rather than happiness among the urbanites. Because it was punitive and compulsory. In our case it should be voluntary as sincere gesture of expressing solidarity with the poor.
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, Chittagong University. Currently working in LGED as Consultant.
Courtesy - The News Today

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