What causes poverty?
War and armed conflict has numerous effects from displacing populations to destroying
crops and removing people from their land. There are millions of internal and international
refugees throughout Africa due to armed conflicts. These people remain at the fringes
of society and most often live in abject poverty.
Some refugees have been living in refugee camps for decades with no change in sight.
With some conflicts continuing for 20 or 30 years; it makes it very difficult for
those surviving such conditions to make long-term plans which could help them find
their way out of poverty.
Another major cause of poverty in Africa is land rights and ownership problems.
Due to the history of one-crop production and the legacies it has left on the continent,
many of the crops grown are not those which are able to feed a nation. They are
instead crops which are intended for a “dessert economy” meaning that they are non-essential
crops which are destined for consumption for pleasure in the West, (tobacco, sugar,
coffee, tea, etc).
The major issue is not only that the countries cannot feed their own populations
with what they are producing but that in the trade cycle African nations have little
or no power. Since there are many countries selling, but only a few buying, the
buyers can strictly control the prices. Since the poor countries have to sell to
repay loans, etc they are trapped into going along even when they are convinced
that the prices are not fair.
With large industrial farming taking the most fertile land from those who could
otherwise be using the land for subsistence farming; it prevents the average citizen
from meeting his families needs during hard times such as unemployment. Considering
some African nations unemployment rates are over 70%, it isn’t very complicated
to understand how so many people live on less than $1 per day!
As with many causes of poverty, the lack of education goes in both directions: without
education, Africans are more likely to be poor and due to poverty, they are unable
to have equal access to education.
In many African countries children are still required to pay to rent their own benches
and desks because the schools are so poor. That does not take into account the cost
of the most basic school supplies such as paper, pencils, books chalk and small
chalkboards. So it is easy to understand why so many families are forced to choose
which child or children will have access to education in their family; while the
others remain at home to help either in the house or in the fields.
Additionally, children are often kept home so that they can care for the sick members
of their family. Many preventable diseases are ravaging Africa due to the lack of
investment in vaccines which are able to prevent the diseases, often at just pennies
per person! There is a symbiotic relationship between AIDS and poverty. Poverty
often increases the chances of being exposed to the AIDS virus (caring for the ill
with no sanitation, no education, no medication, etc). Thus, one can say that being
poor can increase the chance of getting AIDS.
For many families, poverty is caused or exacerbated by the loss of income from those
who die of AIDS. Many families are not just dealing with the extra costs and hardships
that having a family member with AIDS brings; but are forced to deal with the loss
of an income when the family member becomes too ill to work or loses his/her job
due to people finding out that they are living with the disease. In many cases,
the infected person is the sole breadwinner, so the family is left without any income.
Many AIDS orphans are left to care for themselves because their family members don’t
understand the disease and think that bringing in and caring for the orphaned children
will bring a curse upon them. In other cases, it is the simple fear that they will
be exposing themselves and those living in their household to the disease. For others
the matter is as simple as not having the resources to take anyone else in.
Finally, there is a very serious issue which needs to be noted: sanitation. Across
Africa, there are millions of people who live without access to the most basic necessities
such as potable water or toilets. It isn’t very hard to understand that even with
enough money to buy food; if one doesn’t have access to the most basic needs such
as clean water, it is virtually impossible to ever leave poverty. After all, how
on earth can a mother raise healthy children with no clean water to bathe them in,
to cook their food or simply enough to give them to drink?
Lack of sanitation leads to increased death rates of children. Contaminated water
also increases risk of illness and death due to communicable diseases. There is
a need for children to work farms and care for the family, (especially if one or
both parents are ill); because of poor or nonexistent medical care or financial
assistance to poor families by the government. Now add up those factors in addition
to the lack of birth control for women and you have the explanation for the high
birth rates in Africa. After all, between the need for children to help and the
chance that so many children have of dying before they reach their 5th birthday
explains the last contributing factor to poverty: population.
I hope I’ve been able to help you understand a few of the things which help cause
poverty in Africa. There is certainly more to say on the issue and we’ll probably
get back to most of these topics in time.