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July 11, 2017
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July 17, 2017

What Constitutes a Poor Country to You?

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.

Article by Kwame Twumasi- Ankrah, a siro360 contributor

  • Atsina

    Great article Kwame! It’s important to know the different forms of poverty and find sustainable ways to address them all. I’m curious to see how Ghana is doing in that regard.

    • Many thanks, Atsina! The positive news is that between 1992 and 2013, Ghana’s national poverty level declined by more than half (from 56.5% to 24.2%), enabling the country to meet the Millennium Development Goal 1 to “half poverty by 2015” (from the UNICEF, 2016 Report). To track progress, a good starting point could be looking at changes in poverty levels over time for the few indicators I mentioned in the article. Here are a few examples from the WDI data set:

      – Life expectancy at birth (total years) in year 2000 was 56.987 and 61.49 in year 2015.
      – Improved sanitation facilities, rural (% of rural population with access) in year 2000 was 5.9% and 8.6% in 2015. That’s a problem.

      The not so positive news is the high level of inequality in the country, shown in several studies. One of them indicates that about a decade ago, the richest 20% held almost half of Ghana’s income, with declining results for the poorest groups. I can only imagine the difference now.

      With regards to specific interventions aimed at reducing poverty, there are quite a number of them like the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP), Labor Intensive Public Works (LIPW), School Feeding Programme – each programme targeting poor people and addressing specific needs.

  • Priscilla Antwi-Baidoo

    Great piece there!…. I haven’t even looked up the dictionary meaning of poverty but I really believe poverty got to do with state of mind. Let’s get some practical examples here. In our villages, people with more farmlands, livestock and sometimes even offsprings are deemed most successful. But that’s definitely not how urban folks view success. Also a ghc200 earning individual who now earns ghc700 sees himself as have passed poverty whereas another earning ghc1500 sees himself as poor because probably his goals have not been attained, his cost of living is high or cannot really manage his resources. So in this case poverty isn’t measured with what one has but how grateful first of all you are as Kwame said already and your mental view about your situation. The poor mentality of Ghanaians is causing us to retard in development and not that we are poor, never..because we have all the resources. But we see ourselves as lacking the expertise, whiles we could’ve concentrated on building upon our expertise and that makes us poor. And so every individual who thinks of himself as poor, I think is generally poor.

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