Poor people can experience many different forms of deprivation at the same time such as poor health, a lack of education, insecurity, or low living standards.
James Baldwin, the American novelist, said, “anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.” Being poor is not just about a lack of money. Nothing it touches within life or society remains untainted by poverty. It is, therefore, imperative if we are serious about eradicating poverty, it requires a multi-faceted, integrated, and holistic approach.
In essence, we need to address the multi-deprivations that poverty brings simultaneously. As an economist, I know there are ways and means to eradicate poverty as a nation. In this article and in upcoming columns I would like to delve deeper into the scourge that is poverty.
When Baldwin spoke of the high cost of being poor, it sounds very counterintuitive, until you start to unpack what poverty actually means for people living and experiencing it in their daily lives.
Being poor means not being able to buy quality. In practical terms this means having, to replace shoes or clothes that wear out more quickly than more expensive well-made shoes or garments would. It also means not having healthcare and leaving aches, pains and symptoms for what they are, afraid of the cost or the time off needed and it having developed into something that may require major surgery. It also means not having access to internet, for education and special offers and so much more.
If you have never experienced true poverty, it is almost impossible to fathom the challenges that being poor makes you face.
While poverty has always been a blight on humanity, the last 18 months have shown that with a pandemic raging across the globe, the poor are once against the hardest hit.
We cannot simply turn a blind eye, as every human is impacted by Covid-19. If we all want to be safe from Covid-19, we cannot choose who gets to be safe. Access to healthcare has become crucial for everyone’s survival and that should include taking care of the poor in a more proactive way than ever before. This is where the Namibian government is to be admired for the initial response to the pandemic.
For a long time, Namibia was a safe haven in a Covid-19 infested world. But the cards have changed now and a more focused and resolute approach towards Covid-19 vaccination is needed. We must do all we can to ensure that each and every Namibian is vaccinated.
The Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which was recently launched, reflects both the incidence of poverty – what proportion of people are poor – and the intensity of poverty; in other words-how poor they are. As such, the measure reveals who are poor, the dimensions they are poor in and the breadth of their deprivations.
Deprivation is a harsh word, it conjures up images of torture and neglect, and without exaggeration, it is not that far off the mark. Imagine not being able to care for your children properly due to lack of food, a warm and safe house or simply giving them everything that a parent would like to, despite working a full-time job. This is where we need to focus. When the poorest of the poor are lifted out of poverty, it allows the rest of society to rise and thrive as well.
This means that we as a country need to identify and define our poverty drivers, how we can slow or even reverse these drivers. That is why the release of the MPI is so important, as it enables us to measure poverty in all its forms in Namibia.
Through identifying poverty in all its dimensions and whom it impacts the most, it quickly becomes apparent that women, children, and marginalised groups are the most adversely affected.
Knowing this allows us to put focused and effective plans, projects and a framework in place, to, for once and for all, eradicate poverty in Namibia and ultimately globally.
* John Steytler has written this opinion in his personal capacity as an economist.