The voices of the poor

A World Bank study wants to teach the West to listen.

A new World Bank study, published in book form by Oxford University Press, explores the causes and effects of poverty. In contrast to a large number of existing studies, this is the first time that an attempt has been made to listen to the people themselves. over 40.000 individuals in 50 countries were surveyed over a period of 10 years.

The report describes poverty as an "as a complex, multi-dimensional phenomenon". Usually described as a lack of material goods resulting in hunger, psychological factors, education, basic infrastructure problems, and the availability of goods are also taken into account. The result is that "Poverty" in the majority: there are many different forms of poverty, distinguished by the duration and severity of poverty, different local situations, family situations and influenced by the respective cultural, institutional and political context.

This may sound self-evident or even trivial, but it is not when the detailed findings of such a study are placed in relation to aid measures by governmental and nongovernmental institutions that too often measure poverty using family income as the sole factor. By giving voice to the poor themselves, the report seeks to encourage innovative forms of development work that meet real needs.

The report is unusually critical of state institutions that are supposed to help the poor. Well-intentioned assistance often does not reach its intended recipients because of institutional barriers:

"Poor women and men are often peripherally fur or even excluded from the institutions of society. As a result, poor people have often developed their own formal and informal institutions to ensure basic security and survival".

The report gives numerous examples of how the communication between the institutions of the state and the institutions or social networks of the poor does not work. It is often the case that bribery is necessary in order to receive government aid. This leads to the fact that "relatively" Poor people are more likely to benefit from these supports than "very poor", for which they were actually intended. Bad experiences with government agencies often prevent poor people, especially women, from contacting them at all.

"NGOs are bad listeners"

But non-governmental institutions (NGOs) do not get off scot-free either. They are said to be, not exclusively but often "poor listeners" The first is to be a successor to the first, which seems to be a group of companies more concerned with their own institutional agenda than with the needs of their clientele. "For many of the interviewees in this book, poverty is more than the lack of income. Poverty also means "no vote" to have a say in important decisions that affect one’s own life". Therefore, the report identifies the support of the self-organization of the poor and the demand of their bargaining power as the key in the fight against poverty.

"The rich have one permanent job; the poor are rich in many jobs."

Contrary to the stereotype that equates poverty with inactivity, many of the poor in the global economy have jobs, but not enough income to guarantee a sustainable minimum standard of material well-being.

"In Sud Africa, the poor are characterized as those, "who do not have secure jobs"; poor communities are characterized by the absence of formalized work relationships. Instead, the poor often "Numerous small, often dangerous jobs, instead of one job" (Sud Africa 1998). In Athiopia, job opportunities are seen as unreliable and the impact of unemployment is perceived as growing. (athiopia 1998) In Ghana, the urban poor report dwindling employment opportunities and an overcrowded informal sector as more and more people seek a livelihood in this sector (Ghana 1995). A poor man from Latvia reports that his family expelled him after he lost his job as a bricklayer. He now finds work for a free meal or sometimes a little money (Latvia 1997)."

Or in the words of a poor woman from Kenya (1997): "I don’t have a house, land or anything else, because I separated from my husband and he doesn’t want to know about me and my children anymore".

Poor see poverty with different eyes. "God’s poor" are, according to the interviewees, those who are completely unable to work because of old age or physical disabilities and are therefore entirely dependent on state or private assistance. Others are temporarily poor, in the time when the harvest is exhausted and they wait for a new harvest. A woman in Vietnam said:

"The government should then give us loans while we still have rice. When we run out of rice, we spend everything on food and can’t invest anything".

Poor people in big cities are often considered by the rural poor as "relatively less poor" considered because they have electricity and water. Conversely, a small piece of land may be sufficient for self-sustainability, but lack of infrastructure such as roads prevents good from being brought to market and monetized. The lack of money, in turn, makes the poor particularly vulnerable to disease and natural disasters.

Psychological effects of poverty

"The forces of poverty and the forces that cause poverty are so powerful today. Only the government and the rough churches can manage them. Therefore we feel helpless. It is this feeling of helplessness that is so painful, more painful than poverty itself. (Uganda 1998)"

The psychological consequences contribute significantly to the deepening of poverty. Cultural identity can alleviate poverty through mutual help in kinship networks, but it can also subjectively aggravate it when poor people can no longer fulfill their social obligations, for example at funerals or weddings. The psychological factor is particularly significant where poverty has come as a shock, such as z.B. in the countries of the former Soviet Union.

"The transition to a market economy, independence and democracy is equated by many poor people with unprecedented vulnerability and social injustice. Poor women and men speak of the shame, stigma, and humiliation of being poor."

Children in Latvia ashamed of receiving free meals at school. They are harassed by fellow students even when their parents do community work to pay for school meals. Students in Georgia no longer dare to go to university because their living conditions do not allow them to maintain a minimum level of cleanliness and proper clothing.

Ambivalence regarding education

While education is seen as a highly desirable commodity by the poor in many countries, and many parents would give a hand and a leg to ensure that their children could attend school, the poor in many countries do not have access to education. But schooling alone is not enough to get ahead, the report concludes, "if the institutional and economic environment" is not suitable. School children in Macedonia say, "School is no good if you don’t have connections". Particularly in the poorest countries of the former Soviet Union, the number of "educated poor" relatively high. In other countries, cultural barriers make education undesirable, especially for women, because it increases the cost of marriage and makes educated women more likely to choose, which in turn makes marriage less likely.

"It is difficult to report what the poor do not talk about."

The examples listed here are relatively random from a plethora of harrowing yet eye-opening statements in the 387-page report "Voices of the Poor" the World Bank. The report is sometimes enriched with the usual methodological self-reflections and developmental safeguards, but otherwise it comes very close to its own goal, namely to give a voice to those who are often spoken of, but who themselves almost never get a word in edgewise – the poor of the world. In its directness and abundance of quotations, the report differs pleasantly from the usual Western self-righteousness. For once, the poor are not presented as macro-economic tables of numbers, but on a very broad scale, as "normal" People visible. And that’s something, even if the many problems are far from solved with it.

The World Bank has also set up a discussion forum for development policy ies on the Internet. The volume reviewed here is the first of a series of three published under the title of "Voices of the Poor" should appear. The full title is "Voices of the Poor: Can Anyone Hear Us?". Edited by Deepa Narayan together with Raj Patel, Kai Schafft, Anne Rademacher, Sarah Koch-Schulte Published by Oxford University Press for the World Bank, 2000 ISBN: 0-19-521601-6 Order from this address

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