Shama Karkal, Shrirupa Sengupta
While working on poverty requires collective everyday action to achieve social and environmental justice for all, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty helps us cut through the noise and gives us a collective opportunity to acknowledge the incomprehensible struggle of people living in poverty and their efforts.
We need to partner with the poor instead of viewing them as mere beneficiaries or as part of a GDP improvement plan. The poor are the first to fight poverty compounded with a vicious cycle of illiteracy, violence, abuse and embedded within layers of marginalization as a result of complex social stratification. Poverty affects the way one behaves and makes choices – scarcity mentality is real and is detrimental to decision making. It leads to people living in poverty often continuing to make decisions that are against their well-being and therefore remain in the ill-health and poverty cycle.
With six million years of human evolution behind us, it is moral outrage that poverty kills 1.5 million people each year, more than half being babies below five. The poor lose one to two months in a year due to illness in their family, and nearly 50-60 percent live with some form of undiagnosed illness and die earlier than those better off. In India alone, about 50-60 million people in the last decade have been pushed to the brink of poverty because of health-related expenditures.
Sustainable Development Goal 2 is about eradicating poverty because it is a key determinant of whether we are able to reach our potential – as individuals and as societies. Many of us believe that our world has become better in the last few decades and India has witnessed development. While this is not untrue, the fact remains that the number of people who are achieving the minimum – food, clothing, housing and security- are just doing that – living at the minimum. Imagine living on USD 1.9 per day – that’s about Rs. 139 a day – most of us spend more on a cup of coffee! Thats living on Rs 50,735 in a year – most of us know that’s not enough for any standard of life and yet, for over 22.5% of India’s population (284.6 million people), that is life. There has been a demand to have a more practical definition of poverty and USD 5.5 per day is used by the World Bank to describe the “Upper Middle Income Class Poverty Line”. That is still ~Rs. 403 per day or Rs. 147,000 in a year – still insufficient to achieve the minimums after earning every day of the year.
Poverty is a symptom of a deeper underlying issue – that of chronic social and environmental injustice. For instance, Pavithra (25) and Chandrakanth (30) who live in a family of 6 and came to Bangalore to work as construction labourers after a drought hit their village. They live in abject poverty in a 8 X 10 feet asbestos shed with no electricity, water nor toilets.
Like them, an estimated 700 million people globally are at-risk of being displaced due to droughts by 2030. 42% of India’s land area is under drought with 500 million people severely affected The poor are at the forefront of disasters and each and we need to safeguard our environment to address this.
Social injustice in the shape of different forms of marginalization are often where poverty, violence and abuse stems from and seeps into an inter-generational cycle. This requires action at every level – micro – within families, communities and its various institutions, meso – at local governance levels, while building healthy cities, and at macro – being cognizant of discriminatory practices and finding ways to amend and re-write entire practices through policy.
To address poverty, we need to bring to fore everything we have learnt to conserve, protect and replenish our Environment, while co-creating supportive Social Norms, in partnership with the poor. It is only by acting together, across sectors and engagement models can we hope to eradicate poverty.
Shama Karkal, is a public health and community organizing specialist, with a background in management, social work and social action. She serves as the Chief Executive Officer, Swasti and Chair, Asia Pacific Alliance on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights. Shama has worked in India and in the USA, on health and community system strengthening, with a focus on helping the most vulnerable thrive.
Shrirupa Sengupta, is a Public Health & Communications Specialist with a background in Sociology, Social Work (Criminology & Justice), Art and Epidemiology. She has worked across India supporting Design, Strategy and Interventions on health and well-being with and for men, women, children, adolescents and youth from vulnerable communities. She currently serves as Associate Director, Swasti, The Health Catalyst, a global public health not-for-profit headquartered in Bangalore, India.
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