Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wellbeing of the poor has deteriorated over past 15 years, says Cafod

By Mark Tran, The guardian.com

The wellbeing of many poor people has deteriorated over the past 15 years as a result of factors beyond their control such as environmental degradation, rapid changes in crop prices and economic crises, says a report from the Catholic aid agency Cafod.

Often, the worst situations of poverty are caused by a combination of old and new factors, according to the report, Setting the post-2015 development compass: voices from the ground, which is part of the organisation's Compass 2015 research project.

Some issues have existed for decades: land inheritance practices, customary duty of care disproportionately burdening women and exploitative tenancy agreements. Others are new: changing family compositions because of HIV, increasing frequency of droughts and rapid fluctuations in international commodity prices.

"One factor present in nearly every story is that of gender inequality, which intersects with other issues to create new forms of social exclusion," said the report, which is based on the views of 1,420 people in 56 communities in Bolivia, Philippines, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Part of the global Participate initiative to bring the perspectives of the poorest into the post-2015 debate, when the millennium development goals (MDGs) expire, Compass 2015 aims to identify the priorities and aspirations of poor or marginalised people. Underlying themes are a secure livelihood and living without fear. Participants also put a strong emphasis on their own ability to live well, looking at the government and others as partners in their efforts.

"Some of the issues focused on in the MDGs have seen real improvements, from reducing the number of people living on very low incomes to increasing people's access to medicines for HIV," Neva Frecheville, Cafod's post-MDGs policy analyst, said. "But what this research reveals above all is that poverty is hugely complex and controlled by myriad forces. The interconnectedness of the world through globalisation means the poorest and most marginalised face negative pressures from all quarters making it harder and harder to sustain a livelihood."

Health and education are the two most important services discussed by participants in the research. Though participants acknowledge improvements in provision, they keep returning to issues of quality of services and economic barriers such as fees and hidden costs.

In Uganda, rural communities described large, overcrowded classes without teachers, furniture and teaching materials. They argued that without enough trained teachers, packing students into an ill-equipped classroom wastes their time. In rural areas, people living in poverty make considerable efforts to send their children to school rather than work in the fields, and expect this investment to be worthwhile.

Being secure and prepared emerged as a priority among participants, who emphasised the great loss caused by natural disasters and conflicts. Even when small in scale, disasters and conflicts can destroy years of progress and undermine wellbeing for years to come.

In September, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, will present a report from the high-level panel chaired by David Cameron, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian president, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian president, to the UN general assembly.

The report says the world must go beyond the MDGs, as they did not focus enough on reaching the very poorest and most excluded people, and set out a road map for eradicating extreme poverty by 2030.

"The high-level panel report gave us a huge amount to build on," Frecheville said. "But it didn't really integrate the environment and it could have pushed further on economic inequality, because without tackling extreme disparity between groups, it is only half of the job."