Oslo Scholars Program

enabling tomorrow's human rights leaders, today

Looking at Poverty in a Different Light

The following post is written by Carolina Cardenas. Carolina is a Junior from Tufts University majoring in International Relations. She is a 2012 Oslo Scholar and will be interning with Mauricio Rodas this summer.

Latin America has experienced a decrease in poverty over the past few years and according to ECLAC has hit a 20 year low.  However many countries continue to experience problems of marginalization and social exclusion.  Poverty has always been defined as low income, malnutrition, and lack of education and basic services. Yet despite our statistics and efforts to improve in these key areas, poverty persists.  Our new challenge, regarding the conditions of the poor, is to call for a better understanding of the root causes of poverty.  We must discover what elements are missing that might lead to creating environments conducive to the welfare of our citizens.

Organizations aimed at poverty alleviation and economic development in Latin America, such as the Ethos Foundation, have recently developed a theory wherein “conditions of the environment” are vital to understanding poverty levels within countries. According to the Ethos Poverty Index, published in 2011, conditions such as fragile democracies, political instability, gender inequality, corruption and environmental degradation negatively impact strategies of poverty alleviation.

Take Ecuador for instance. Of the eight countries analyzed in the Ethos Poverty Index, it ranked seventh, both for traditional measures of poverty and for “contextual poverty.” The main challenges the country faces in terms of basic household poverty are access to potable water, income levels and sanitation. In terms of “contextual poverty,” the index took the following factors into account: public health, institutions, economy, democracy, gender and the environment. Ecuador’s most pressing issues concern institutions, corruption, political instability, economy and democracy.

Ecuador ranks last for government effectiveness, seventh for corruption control, and fourth for political stability. These factors all fall beneath the umbrella of institutional environment.  It is paramount that governments have solid institutions capable of effectively monitoring public services and bureaucracy performance. High levels of corruption in Ecuador imply that a significant use of public power is diverted to personal gain. In the economic sector, Ecuador presents above average unemployment rates and below average competitiveness. These circumstances are essential for the overall economic development of the country as unemployment directly affects income levels, and competitiveness affects overall economic growth.  With regards to democracy, Ecuador ranks fifth for civil liberties, third for political rights and sixth for political legitimacy.

Fragile democracy tends to stagger in the above-mentioned categories of governance: political rights, legitimacy and civil liberties. Without ensuring that these standards be met, efforts to eradicate poverty and improve household conditions are likely hindered.  This study developed by the Ethos Foundations shows low effectiveness of the Ecuadorian government to guarantee public services and bureaucratic oversight. The low rankings in the economic sector limit civilian access to markets and productive economic activities.  When governments do not seek public legitimacy or approval, there is little incentive to promote efforts to raise the standards of living and decrease poverty levels.

Therefore, poverty in Ecuador, as well as in many other Latin American countries should not be viewed solely as insufficient income, but also as a lack of political liberties and human rights. This is why the work of Mauricio Rodas, founder and former director of the Ethos Foundation, is so important to the promotion of poverty eradication. Over the past year, Dr. Rodas has been promoting a model of “responsible governance” in Ecuador, through which he wishes to offer a new understanding of poverty and public policies that can ultimately work towards improving the lives of millions of Ecuadorians.

Although a lot has been accomplished for world poverty since the drafting of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, we still have a long way ahead of us. Freedom from poverty is a human right. We must begin to understand how political realities and governmental structures affect this phenomenon, and to demand that obstacles hindering progress be stopped. As future leaders we must seek solutions so that one day freedom from poverty will be granted to all, not because of some windfall of good fortune, but because we chose action over indifference.

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This entry was posted on May 5, 2012 by in Ecuador, Poverty.

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