Poverty in the OECS - Issues and Challenges Issues and Challenges in Reducing Poverty Poverty is a complicated issue touching on various areas. In a review of various poverty associated organization across the globe it was found that their definitions of poverty varied considerably, each including or leaving out different aspects related to the topic. With a fifth of the planet's people living on less than $1 a day1, poverty remains an important issue impacting not only those effected but society as a whole. Whilst poverty is often reduced to income or hunger it is in fact a relative phenomenon with multiple facets. Absolute poverty can be defined as the minimum basic needs necessary to survive, such as adequate food, drinking water, clothing and shelter. From a broader perspective, poverty touches on many social and economic areas including employment, sufficient income to afford a basic basket of goods and to participate in consumption or afford material well-being. Further concerns in regards to poverty are education, social exclusion, a long life expectancy and low child mortality to be obtained through the ability to maintain good health determined through such factors as malnutrition, access to clean drinking water and hygiene. Moreover, HIV/Aids, drugs and the disproportionate risk for woman and minority groups to experience poverty or social exclusion due to unequal opportunities has become a focal problem when with regards to poverty/when considering successful strategies for eradicating poverty. Additionally, poverty can be said to also reflect: 1. Vulnerability and exposure to the risk of negative shocks to their income and welfare; and 2. Voicelessness and powerlessness These points are of particular interest to policy makers in poor and small island countries that are affected by powerlessness and a unique vulnerability in the global market economy within which they must function. For the coming century the United Nations and its quasi-independent agencies (such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund [IMF]) have set the fight against poverty as a matter of the very highest priority. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the main guiding principle for the work of UNDP. MDG Goal 1 which seeks to achieve a 50% reduction in those living in absolute poverty by 2015 is a principle goal which al agencies, including UNDP, is working with partners, governments and communities to achieve. Smallness and Vulnerability Small island countries, like those in the Eastern Caribbean, with limited natural resources, poorly diversified economies and limited access to larger markets are more likely to experience poverty and consequently have every right to request appropriate support to help deal with their extreme vulnerability. Due to the limited opportunities for profits afforded by their own small domestic markets, world market prospects for trade are crucially important in the investment decisions of small island states. Accordingly, small countries are also much more vulnerable to shocks from the global economy. Moreover, the Caribbean in particular, is often faced with shocks from natural disasters such as hurricanes, which further disrupt economic activity and reinforce poverty. Recovery from such situations is much more difficult for smaller countries. Characteristics of Poverty in the OECS Over the last 10 years, the average growth rate of economies within the OECS sub-region have experienced, a decline to approximately 2% in 2000, from 4.5% in the late 1980s. .2 In the Human Development Report of 2004, 5 out of the 10 countries covered by the UNDP Barbados and the OECS office were in the top 50 in the Human Development Index. Though the region has recorded significant progress in human development particularly with regard to literacy, access to education, reducing child and maternal mortality, there remain areas of significant concern including relatively high level s of poverty as can be noted in the table below. Poverty Profile in OECS Countries Country % Gini Co- Below efficient the Poverty Line Anguilla n/a 0.31* Grenada 32 0.45 St Kitts 31 0.40 St Lucia 19 0.50 St Vincent and 33 0.56 the Grenadines Dominica 33 0.49 Antigua n/a 0.53 BVI n/a 0.23 Source: *UNDP Draft Report ' Follow-up to High-level Meeting on MDGs 2004 **OECS HDR 2000 Poverty is often only recognized when associated with mortal outcomes. Yet, poverty in the OECS has a different, less obvious face. Although people may not be starving, their standard of living is poor and caught in the viscous circle. Oftimes, low education, low skill, low income jobs have characterized slow human and social development in some countries. Access to services remain a challenge in some remote and poor communities where, for example, monthly telephone and Internet access costs remain high. http://www.caribank.org/downloads/poverty_oecs.pdf. Thus, in order to realize the Millennium Goals and eradicate poverty, these issues must also be addressed. Other Contributing Factors to Poverty in Small Countries Financial crisis: It has become clear that financial crises can spill over national borders to inflict severe social and economic damage, even when governments have been managing their own budgets prudently and have had little prior indication of deficient macroeconomic conditions or economic mismanagement. Sometimes volatile private international capital flows can impact significantly on small economies. Poverty as Voicelessness: In relation to global issues, small, as compared to large or medium sized countries, have only a very weak voice and limited power. Due to their small governmental scale, small countries are often unable to attend all meetings and participate effectively within multilateral decision-making and the implementation of systems that may affect their welfare, development, rights or other socio-economical areas. Shifting International Trade Patterns and Arrangements: For small countries membership of major trade agreements raises important economic and political issues. Economic integration of this kind reaches far beyond trade effects. Precipitating further liberalization could engender significant early economic and social losses, in the form of increased unemployment and underutilization of existing capital before gains can be realized. Moreover, these countries' fiscal systems, heavily dependent upon trade taxes, must adjust slowly in order to reduce the destabilization of public finances and thus the macro- economy. Poverty Reduction at National Level Domestic measures of poverty reduction are severely constrained by the performance of the overall domestic economy and its own financial situation. The new concern over voicelessness offers the possibility of remedial measures in the sphere of empowerment of the poor, even in the most strained economy. To address poverty problems directly, it appears only logical to involve those who are directly affected by it. So-called 'Poverty Reduction Strategies' can be put together in an inclusive and participatory fashion, and the inputs, processes and results of attempts at their implementation carefully and independently monitored. Based on the major contributing factors to poverty - the impoverished state in which a person lives and the lack of real opportunity as a result of social constraints and personal circumstances - UNDP and the OECS Secretariat have sought to implement initiatives to facilitate poverty reduction and social policy formulation. Many of the problems concerning poverty in the OECS have been listed as important goals to achieve within the scope of the millennium goals (MDG). UNDP has thus adopted the MDGs within its support framework to Barbados and the OECS and countries have committed to achieve the MDGs as part of the national, sub-regional and global commitments. OECS countries have, in practical ways, sought to meet these goals for development in areas such as: literacy and numeracy capacity reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases advocacy for HIV/AIDS awareness for a positive impact on economic and social development the potential social impacts of changing trade regimes which require assistance at both the national and sub-regional levels Conclusion Poverty reduction requires more than improvements in material income. It calls for increased protection from external economic volatility beyond the control of small island states, for empowerment and recognition of the voice of the poor. Small countries are uniquely vulnerable to external shocks and therefore require internationally supportive measures to buffer them more effectively against such shocks. Special funds and arrangements are urgently needed for this purpose and should be integral elements in any future global financial or trading agreements. There needs to be a provision for special legal and technical assistance as well as flexibility in the application of universal rules to permit small countries to fully realize their economic opportunities within emerging multilateral trading arrangements. At the national level reduction strategies should target problems directly by leaving room for those affected to participate in the process with their own 'voice'.
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