Since the World Bank laid down US$1.25/day as the minimum bar of poverty, governments across globe have made sustained efforts to reach this goal. China in this regard has done remarkably well by eliminating millions out of poverty. The latest endeavour of the governments is the Rio+ 20 Declaration, which focuses on eradicating poverty and hunger from the world. From Millennium Development Goal of the UN to Rio+ 20 Summit, a new strategy is outlined to reduce the number of poor in the world. However, the larger issue that needs focus is what poverty eradication means. Does it mean crossing the US$1 mark?
The aim of poverty eradication is to provide sustained living for a human being. With this aim, states have focused on providing minimum subsistence level to the poor and hungry. Since the late 1970s, China has targeted to providing ‘enough-to-eat’ for its broader masses, which accounts for the largest population of the world. Chinese official statistics show that it has reduced rural poverty to 2.8% (26.88 million) by the end of 2010, down from 10.2% (94.22 million) in 2000. The figure rose to 128 million due to revision in poverty standards suiting international standards. In one sense, the efforts of the state are worth applause, but looking deep into the issue forces us to think the real objectives of poverty eradication.
Chinese government goals are supported with a minimum living allowance (Dibao) that provides for basic needs. Yet, providing a minimum subsistence level to the populace will not solve the issue of poverty on a sustained level. The reason being, having enough to eat can uplift the life of a human being, but to sustain a better living it is imperative to have quality food. Many studies on poverty highlight on the minimum dietary requirements or minimum subsistence allowance to set the basic guidelines for the governments to eradicate poverty. However, the focus needs to be on how to achieve a long-term elimination of poverty from the world. It is without debate that a healthy human being can only sustain a living. Hence, in order to achieve a world without poverty, it is essential to provide clean and healthy food to the poorest of the masses. The aims of poverty eradication of the governments must be to provide a sustainable living, which requires building a healthy society at the bottom.
Minimum subsistence levels are a mark to show that the population of a country is surviving even in the worst of situation. Instead of complete hunger, the governments are able to provide some food and basic requirements to continue their struggle for living. This also means that populace in abject poverty is given due consideration and the state is performing the duties of providing a living. However, states across globe are responsible to engage in the welfare of the masses. Welfare of the broadest masses is not attainable and not sustainable through mere consideration of uplifting the basic needs of the populace. It is desirable that the intervention of the state to the bottom levels changes the overall social scenario. To which, efforts should be made in building a society that can sustain on its own. Minimum monetary assistance can provide for the basic needs of the populace, but will also nurture a society that is ever dependent on the state. Unless the governments’ monetary assistance is able to uplift social conditions and improve social well-being, the poverty eradication campaigns will remain as an unending task.
Studies on China prove that those lifted out of poverty lived at the threshold of poverty line and have fallen to lower levels due to their inability to sustain a living. Hence, even if short-term goals are achieved, long-term work for the government remains unfinished. Moreover, even if extreme hunger is resolved, it is the responsibility of the state to oversee that ample energy is infused for self-reliance. Today, as the issues of poverty and hunger come to the forefront and China projects itself as a responsible state, stress will have to be on an overall development of the society. The starting point of which is to support the poor for a sustained healthy living along with creating opportunities to maintain the development momentum.
(The writer, Dr. GEETA KOCHHAR, is Assistant Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University,New Delhi, India. Views expressed are her own. Email: email@example.com )