Definitions of Poverty and Development Essay

Every human being needs a range of basic necessities, such as food, water, clothing, shelter, education, and health care, for his or her daily life. The economic condition of lacking these essential goods and services to meet basic needs of life is called poverty. An increase in poverty leads to stagnation of development, Seers (1977:3). This paper will attempt to look at the theoretical definitions of poverty and development visa a vise the definitions of a common man. This paper will further analyse remedies of poverty from the theoretical and common man’s point of view.

THEORETICAL DEFINITIONS OF POVERTY AND DEVELOPMENT This part of the paper gives sample definitions of poverty and development from the scholarly perspective. According to the World Bank (2000), “poverty is pronounced deprivation in well-being. ” Well-being in this regard is the one articulated by Amartya Sen (1987), who argues that well-being comes from a “capability” to function in society. Thus poverty arises when people lack key capabilities, and so have inadequate income or education, or poor health, or insecurity, or low self confidence, or a sense of powerlessness, or the absence of rights such as freedom of speech.

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Also Nolan and Whelan, define poverty in terms of the inability to participate in society as a result of lack of resources’ (1996:188). It should be noted therefore that there is no single ‘correct’ definition of poverty. However, as most researchers now accept that any definition has to be understood, at least in part, in relation to particular social, cultural and historical contexts. Development has been pursued since time immemorial as persons sought ways to improve on their standard of living (Kendie 2011:17). Development is the process of change through which a society evolves the values, political leadership and other forms of social organization necessary to mobilize and utilized resources in a such a way to maximize the opportunities available to the majority of its members for the realization to the fullest possible extent of their potentials as human beings” (Curry, 1973:21). Also, “development consists of a set of practices, sometimes appearing to conflict with one another, which requires – for the production of society – the general transformation and destruction of the natural environment and of social relations” ( Rist 1997:13).

According to Seers (1977:3),”The questions to ask about a country’s development are three: What has been happening to poverty? What has been happening to unemployment? What has been happening to inequality? If all three of these have declined from high levels, then beyond doubt this has been a period of development for the country concerned. ” These three things are considered the central challenges that nations battle with and try to combat or at least try to minimize. To Seers, all these 3 must be at low levels before we can declare that society as a developed one.

This invariably means that a rise in any one of these central challenges disqualifies that society from being called developed. There are a number of development theories. To mention but a few are sustainable development, modernization and dependency theories. The term sustainable development came into popular use after the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, popularly known as the Brundtland Report and the Brundtland Commission, respectively. The report was largely a response to the growing international environmental and ecological lobby.

It defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs? (WCED 1987:43). The modernization theory on the other hand, saw development as an evolutionary process in which countries, specifically those from the third world, progressed through a known series of stages to be modern. Members of the third world were seen to be traditional and are characterized by their emotional, superstitious, and fatalistic approach to the world.

Their approach therefore requires an approach in mind in order to ensure a change in attitude. Finally, the dependency theory school of thought argued that the global economic structure was an exploitative system which generated and maintained the development of underdevelopment in nations of the periphery (Wallerstein, 1979). Since the inception of the world economic system in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries enforced equitable domination on the countries of the periphery through mean such as, conquest, threat, market restrictions, and industrial protection.

INDIVIDUALS’ DEFINITIONS OF POVERTY AND DEVELOPMENT This part of the write up gives detailed definition of how the mass mostly the illiterates (Cape Coast) understand poverty and development. Responses were given from questions like – what is poverty. Who is a poor person? How do they understand development? A respondent defined poverty as when one is not assisted by anyone and that renders him incapable of managing his own affairs. Also, whereby one lives from hand to mouth and does not have enough food to eat and clothes to wear and cannot take good care of his wards. But to him God did not create anyone to be poor.

Reviewing this definition, this man sees poverty as a situation which is predetermined by close relatives. To him, isolation leads to poverty. The second respondent proposed that, poverty means not living a comfortable life – thus financial and material deficiency. To him, the beauty of money is when you can afford what you need and want. So when one is unable to purchase not only what you need but what you want the person is living in poverty. The interviewee therefore measures poverty in terms of monetary and material gains. Poverty is when one cannot afford anything at all to the extent that the family tends to see him/her as a burden. I am not even respected by the younger ones because I am poor. Look at me, am still not married not because I do not want it but I cannot afford it and the women do not like me either. To him, poverty can even lead to social exclusion. He is being gradually excluded from his extended family and he cannot have his own too. Poverty according to this man is one who does not work at the stage of adulthood. A child who does not work is not considered a poor person but he only becomes poor when he does not work at the age that he is expected to do something meaningful.

A critical look at this definition is that, poverty is synonymous to laziness. A lazy person is one who is poor. Once you are working you are well off. ‘I feel sick when I absent myself from my work though it doesn’t pay well. ’ The fourth respondent’s definition of poverty was not different from the third as he only saw poverty to be associated with laziness. Poverty is when you are late, according to this interviewee. There is no poor person in that ‘wo yo nkwa aa, wo yo adee nyinaa’ (if you have life you have everything). ‘God will not make me go hungry that is why I am alive. A poor person is the dead. Ones you are alive, you are wealthy. To this woman, no living human lives in poverty. Poverty is not associated to any living standard/condition. Material wealth and income are not the yardstick for measuring poverty. A woman summarises poverty as a condition whereby one is excluded from societal and social activities as she is unable to meet their demands. ‘Sometimes I find it difficult to attend funerals, marriages and naming ceremonies because I cannot afford to buy the prescribed cloth for those functions. To this woman poverty has crippled her to the extent she is quite excluded from the society. With the issue of development, one interviewee confessed that development is when you are able to acquire properties especially a landed property and taking responsibility of certain demands of one’s extended family after one has amassed wealth. To this respondent development therefore is when one able Also another respondent defined development as when you are able to fully invest your income into different ventures like transportation, housing, and buying of treasury bills.

In fact it is the state that one’s money works for him. This can only be achieved under strict surveillance of the other ventures you have engaged in. To this woman, development is when you are able to change your status from a good to a better condition. ‘I used to work under a shade and now by God’s grace I have my own container. ’ Development is also when you are able to expand ones business. ‘Even when I had my container, I had no source of energy but now I have power and can work throughout the night especially during the yuletide period. Reviewing her concept, development is not an event but a process. Development to this respondent is gradually moving from a good to a better state. Improving upon ones standard of living such as when you are able to access some needs – quality healthcare, education, etc which hither to you had no access to etc. This is not far from the above as he also sees development as a process. Development is when one is already established. According to this interviewee development is a privy of the wealthy.

Thus one is developed when he/she has no financial constraints. According to a development practitioner, development is the change or improvement from one state to a better state. It can be concluded from the above definitions of poverty has not an absolute definition. The theoretical definitions of poverty stated above dwell mostly on ones income and standard of living. This can be said to be a narrow definition of poverty. The individuals’ definitions measured poverty through acquisition of basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter, education etc.

Lack of ‘enough food’ as noted by Seers can lead to underdevelopment –‘as studies has shown that under nourishment of children leads to permanent impairment of both their physical and their mental capabilities’ (Seers 1960:40). Also, from both the theoretical and ordinary comprehension, development is a process of change from an undesirable to a desirable condition. It can be realized therefore that, three issues stood out in the definition of development – poverty, unemployment and inequality. MEASURES OF OVERCOMING POVERTY This section lay bare what the individuals think can lead one to overcome poverty.

Respondents responded to ‘how can one overcome poverty? ’ For this respondent, to overcome poverty, a second party will have to assist that person- find jobs, assist with a fat capital. You can only overcome poverty when one is ready to work. The second respondent could not agree more in the sense that, to her, one must be supported financially by a family associate. Even if one cannot trust that fellow with money, a venture should be opened for him. After that, the poor person should constantly pray or be prayed for and he can overcome poverty.

Similarly, another respondent thinks that one needs the assistance of relatives. ‘Wontumi ntu nsono ngu (One cannot do away with his own intestines) so it is the responsibility of the family to take care of its own. ’ Further, for many respondents education plays an integral role in overcoming poverty. One respondent conceded that he is poor because he had no higher education. ‘All my peers are now well off but I am not because I had only a little education. ’ To him education can partly help to overcome poverty, but one must be hardworking and also engage in multiple vocations.

In the same vein, the next respondent thinks that to overcome poverty, one will have to work even if it is a menial job. ‘Dabidabi ebeye yie (it can be better after a while), and that a poor condition can never be permanent. ’ Also, one should be content with his situation and should not compare himself with his peers who are well to do. With this, one will be fulfilled and also feel that he has overcome poverty. Finally, this interviewee proposed that you need to pray and always commit thy self to God in that to God all things are possible. If God does not have something better for you, you would not see the light of the day. ’ From the above measures one can realized that, individuals share somehow common avenues to overcome poverty. Also an individual’s primary measure of overcoming poverty is monetary assistance/support and education. Individuals also tackle poverty from a micro direction thus enriching their own selves.

References Curry, G. R. B. (1973), The Definition of Development. In R. Mortimer (Ed. ). Showcase State: The Illusion of Indonesia’s Accelerated Mordernisation, Sydney: Angus and Robertson Kendie, S. B. 2011), Re-claiming Development: Appreciating the Basics for Effective Local Level Development in Ghana Rist, G, (1997). The history of development: From western origins to global faith. London: Zed Books. Seers, D. (1969). ‘The Meaning of Development’, International Development Review 11 Sen, A. (1987), Gender and Cooperative Conflicts The World Bank Research Observer, 2000 – World Bank Wallerstein, E. (1979) The Capitalist World, Cambridge University Press World Commission on Environment and Development (1987). Our Common Future. Published as Annex to General Assembly document A/42/427