poverty dominicaWomen in Layou, Dominica, learning to become self-sufficient through cooking and sewing classes. Photo: UNDP

Poverty is a complicated issue touching on various areas. In a review of a number of poverty associated organizations across the globe it was found that their definitions of poverty varied considerably, each including or leaving out different aspects related to the topic. With a fifth of the planet’s people living on less than $1 a day, poverty remains an important issue impacting not only those effected but as a society as a whole.

Whilst poverty is often reduced to income or hunger it is in fact a relative phenomenon with multiple facets. Absolute poverty can be defined as the minimum basic needs necessary to survive, such as adequate food, drinking water, clothing and shelter.

From a broader perspective, poverty touches on many social and economic areas including employment, sufficient income to afford a basic basket of goods and to participate in consumption or afford material well-being. Further concerns in regards to poverty are education, social exclusion, a long life expectancy and low child mortality to be obtained through the ability to maintain good health determined through such factors as malnutrition access to clean drinking water and hygiene.

Moreover, HIV/AIDS, drugs and disproportionate risk for women and minority groups to experience poverty or social exclusion due to unequal opportunities has become a focal problem when with regards to poverty/when considering successful strategies for eradicating poverty.

Additionally, poverty can be said to also reflect:

  • Vulnerability and exposure to the risk of negative shocks to their income and welfare
  • Voicelessness and powerlessnes

These points are of particular interest to policy makers in poor and small island countries that are affected by powelessness and a unique vulnerability in the global market economy within which they must function.

For the coming century the United Nations and its quasi-independent agencies (such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund [IMF]) have set the fight against poverty as a matter of the very highest priority.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the main guiding principle for the work of UNDP. MDG Goal 1 which seeks to achieve a 50% reduction in those living in absolute poverty by 2015 is a principle goal which all agencies, including UNDP, is working with partners, governments and communities to achieve.

Small island countries, like those in the Eastern Caribbean, with limited natural resources, poorly diversified economies and limited access to larger markets are more likely to experience poverty and consequently have every right to request appropriate support to help deal with their extreme vulnerability.

                        Poverty Profile in OECS Countries

Country % Below Poverty Line Gini Coefficient
Anguilla n/a 0.31*
Antigua n/a 0.53
British Virgin Islands n/a 0.23
Dominica 33 0.49
Grenada 32 0.45
St. Kitts and Nevis 31 0.40
St. Lucia 19 0.50
St. Vincent and the Grenadines
33 0.56

Poverty in Barbados and the OECS

Alt text for imageCARUTA: Working with farmers in rural jamaica. Photo undp

Over the last 10 years, the average growth rate of economies within the OECS sub-region have experienced a decline to approximately 2% in 2000, from 4.5% in the late 1980's. The Human Development Report of 2004, 5 out of the 10 countries covered by the UNDP Barbados and the OECS office were in the top 50 in the Human Development Index. Though the region has recorded significant progress in human development, particularly with regard to literacy, access to education, reducing child and maternal mortality, there remains areas of significant concern, including relatively high levels of poverty as can be seen in the table above.

Poverty is often only recognized when associated with mortal outcomes. Yet, poverty in the OECS has a different, less obvious face. Although people may not be starving, their standard of living is poor and caught in the viscous circle. Often times, low education, low skill, low income jobs have characterized slow human and social development in some countries. Access to services remain a challenge in some remote and poor communities where, for example, monthly telephone and Internet access costs remain high.  Thus, in order to realize the Millennium Goals and eradicate poverty, these issues must also be addressed.

Poverty Reduction at a Regional Level

Based on the major contributing factors to poverty - the impoverished state in which a person lives and the lack of real opportunity as a result of social constraints and personal circumstances, UNDP and the OECS Secretariat have sought to implement initiatives to facilitate poverty reduction and social policy formulation.

Many of the problems concerning poverty in the OECS have been listed as important goals to achieve within the scope of the millennium goals (MDG). UNDP has thus adopted the MDGs iwthin its support framweork to Barbados and the OECS and countries have committed to achieve the MGDs as part of the national, sub-regional and global commitments. OECS countries have, in ractical ways, sought to meet these goals for development in areas such as:

  • literacy and numeracy capacity
  • reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases
  • advocacy of HIV/AIDS awareness for a positive impact on economic and social development

UNDP Barbados and the OECS Poverty Portfolio supports programmes in poverty reduction, spcial development and sustainable livelihoods to substantially reduce overall poverty in the 10 programme countries by:

  • Promoting development that reaches to the poorest people
  • Promoting socio-economic development in several areas
  • Reducing vulnerabilities of small countries and the vulnerability of the poor within these countries.



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