Magazine article UNESCO Courier

A New Deal for the Poor

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

A New Deal for the Poor

Article excerpt

Collapsing national economies, natural disasters and political storms have dragged millions of people below the poverty line in the 1990s. Meanwhile, in many parts of the world, vast proportions of the population have been living in misery for years without any solutions yet in sight. Against such a backdrop, a new approach is emerging on ways to fight poverty. No longer are open markets, government or the poor seen separately as the key to eradicating poverty. Instead, a dominant view these days is that all three need to be brought together in a concerted attack. In short, a new deal is being offered to help the world's poor. But is it enough?

Our dossier looks at the prospects and problems in the three-pronged battle against poverty.

In a west Bucharest public housing estate that has seen better days, Liliana tries to prepare a casserole for dinner. "But without meat. Meat would be a luxury," says the 41-year-old high school teacher, who was once middle class but now counts herself amongst Romania's "new poor", part of the fallout from the collapse of the state in the former Eastern bloc.

Half way around the world, in Jakarta, where luxury cars, designer labels and sky-high aspirations once symbolized an economic boom, a recent financial crisis has overnight deflated the economy and plunged huge swaths of Indonesian society into poverty. In the middle-class Bumi Serpong Damai housing complex, for example, children scavenge through the garbage looking for used bottles and old newspapers, while adults often take to more extreme means. "They are easily tempted to steal," says a security guard at the complex.

Meanwhile, in the fishing village of Cabique on the shores of the Caribbean in southeastern Haiti, an entire community is sinking steadily deeper into poverty as a result of environmental mismanagement. Deforestation means that the pounding tropical rainstorms break up the earth and sweep into the sea tonnes of sole which choke the coral where the fish feed. As a result, the fish that once supplied a livelihood for this village have moved on. "It's been 10 years now that I've done absolutely nothing because there's nothing to do here," says Victor, 35, a former soldier and a father of two children, who picks up spare cash working in local harvests.

Elsewhere, many are locked in a vicious circle of poverty that has existed for generations and seems likely to persist. In the village of Mimetala, 30 kms from Yaounde, capital of Cameroon, 80-year-old Marie Biloa has been unable to work since a car accident 15 years ago. There is no state aid for the unemployed, but she did receive a payout from a private insurance company. When her son-in-law stole that money and ran off, she was left without a means of support. Today Biloa dreams of going Poverty is like a disease that has gone into remission but later strikes back with a vengeance back into her former business of selling snacks at a street stall, but she lacks the $18 needed as a startup investment. Neither can the rest of her family help. Biloa's daughter has been abandoned by her husband. Biloa's 20-year-old grandson is ill, with a sickness that has not yet been diagnosed because the family cannot afford to take him to hospital for tests. And so Biloa is forced to exist on handouts from villagers while a local charity gives her medical help free of charge. …

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