Developing strategies to end hunger
 

What do we mean by "poverty alleviation?"

Almost everyone agrees that poverty alleviation should be the paramount goal of development assistance. But what do we mean by poverty alleviation? Is it helping the very poorest of the poor achieve a better quality of life? Or is it enabling the largest number of people to get above the poverty line? Does it mean helping to improve people’s lives now, or laying the conditions for future improvements?

Owen Barder, of the Center for Global Development, has performed a useful service in a recent paper, What is Poverty Reduction? In it, he points out the implicit trade-offs between tackling current and future poverty, between helping as many poor people as possible versus focusing on those in chronic poverty, and between measures that tackle the causes of poverty and those which deal with the symptoms. In fact, notes the author, “poverty reduction actually encompasses many goals, some of which are contradictory.” If donor agencies do not explicitly recognize and account for these differences at the outset – unless it’s clear what measure for poverty reduction is going to be employed – confusion and disillusionment can and does ensue.

The Millennium Development Goal of “halving poverty” is a case in point. The primary standard by which progress is measured is the percentage of the population below the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.25/day. But that is a static measure – it says nothing about further poverty reduction over time. A large-scale redistribution effort could, theoretically, help countries meet the goal without really laying the conditions for long-term poverty alleviation. The author observes a strong institutional preference among donors (and their political leadership) for describing development assistance as a temporary measure aimed at catalyzing economic growth. This leads to pressure to design programs which can be presented as “transformational” or “financially sustainable” within a relatively short time horizon.  Even the U.K.’s focus on poverty alleviation as the overarching goal for development assistance and fairly precise definition of terms masks a complex set of choices and trade-offs.

The conclusion the author draws is that each individual project or program cannot meet all the objectives of poverty reduction at the same time and to the same extent:  “If the many different objectives are not recognized and valued in their own right, staff in aid agencies will endeavor to design and select programs that reflect what they perceive to be the dominant narrative of the day; or, even worse, they will attempt to meet a number of incompatible objectives at once. The resulting homogenization and compromises lead to ineffective project selection and poor project design, resulting in unsatisfactory progress towards all the objectives and a reduction in the effectiveness of aid.”

The on-going deliberations over US foreign assistance reform need to recognize the multiple objectives and trade-offs inherent in “poverty reduction” and the importance of precision in specifying poverty alleviation objectives. 

« The first move on foreign aid reform The President Gives Birth to a bouncing $3.4 T Budget »

Comments

I think i agree with this.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341d945753ef0115706d2ff4970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference What do we mean by "poverty alleviation?":

Stay Connected

Bread for the World