(ADB) refers to poverty as a deprivation of essential assets and opportunities to which every human being is entitled | (File photo)

Unlike in the past, every country of the world has signed for human rights treaties and is fully committed for protecting human rights of their citizens. However, no country has been able to completely destroy the main human rights violator that is the poverty. Even though poverty eradication has taken a pride of place in MDGs which were expected to be achieved in this year, the world doesn’t seem to be free from poverty. When it comes to Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan situation is also not so different from that of other countries. Even if every government that ruled the country throughout the history, especially since independence, has used various and numerous approaches to poverty eradication, many of them seem to have failed.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) refers to poverty as a deprivation of                      essential assets and opportunities to which every human being is entitled. Furthermore, the Copenhagen declaration at the world summit on social development described poverty as a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. All the above-mentioned definitions on poverty clearly depicts that poverty violates human rights. Simply, people are called poor, when they don’t have an access to basic needs.

Poverty can be mainly divided up into two categories. Absolute poverty is a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water and so on. It depends not only on income but also an access to social services. Relative poverty refers to the fact that some individuals do not have access to the types of goods and services enjoyed by the majority of the population. It ought to be penned here that the relative poverty can be seen even in developed countries. It is difficult or impossible to eradicate the relative poverty, as long as the inequality of the resources and opportunities exists in this world. Hence, the world should prioritize for eradicating absolute poverty.

Sri Lanka is a middle income country. The majority of population don’t have an access to or have a poor access to basic needs. According to Head Count Index 2012/2013, urban poverty was 2.4%, rural poverty was 7.5% and estate poverty was 6.2%.  Because many people considered poor, belong to the rural parts of the country, causes for rural poverty should be looked into. Sri Lanka, being an agricultural economy, has rural population largely in agriculture. Over 70% of the rural population is involved in agriculture which can be considered an area of economic activities where technology is poorly used or most probably not used at all, impoverishing villagers. During seasons, it is easy to see a bumper harvest which has an impact on price going down. Due to poor income and higher indebtedness, their savings also go down, without enabling them to have a capital for investing in the next season.  Rural parts of the country don’t have job creating factories. Many FDIs are restricted to the capital and don’t reach to the distant areas.

The poor are more vulnerable than the rich.  This vulnerability can be physical, social and attitudinal. The poor are physically vulnerable to disease, natural disasters and many more. They live in risky places. On the other hand, once they experience a disaster, their financial inability prevents them from recovering. The poor don’t have social connections with the rich. They associate with the poor. Hence, once they are in a difficult situation, their well-wishers also cannot help them out. The poor’s attitudes are, to a great extent, negative and by nature dependent. That is why, children inherit poverty from their parents. Social stigmatization on poverty makes the poor less capable from getting opportunities as well.

Feminization of poverty
It is female community who suffers most from the poverty. Feminization of poverty can be described as the burden of poverty borne by women. Due to not only lack of money but also gender differences prevailing in the society, women have become poorer than men. Although Sri Lankan women enjoy a relatively higher status than their counterparts in the region. We cannot be so happy with the prevailing state of affairs.

Education is one of the most powerful tools that can be used to empower people and eradicate the poverty. Hence, women’s role in education should be looked into. Even if Sri Lankan women obtain primary, secondary and even tertiary education, there is a hidden story behind it. Girls have to learn subjects chosen by the society, especially subjects leading to jobs which will not clash with role as a mother or a house wife. Many women, although educated, are not allowed to do jobs, after marriage. This results in female poverty.

When it comes to rural areas, rural women equally shoulder the burden of the poverty. The number of female headed households has gone up considerably over the years, particularly, because of war and many more reasons. What can be seen in the labor market is that wages paid for the same task performed by women are lower than that of men. This also leads to female poverty.

As the poverty is a multi-dimensional thing, the approaches to poverty have to be multi-dimensional. Even if various and numerous poverty alleviation programs have been implemented so as to mitigate the poverty in the country, few of them have paid off, the reason is that many programs were politically motivated and aimed at elections. Subsidies given to the poor, are unable to support them to go beyond the poverty line. However, that is something that has been taking place over the decades.

Getting rid of poverty can be considered an individual task which should be supported by government and other responsible parties. By all accounts, though empowerment is a good solution to the poverty, there are different ways in which empowerment ought to be made. They are long term and cannot be done overnight.

Entrepreneurs can be considered builders of a strong economy. More entrepreneurs mean more jobs, more jobs mean unemployment, resulting in economic growth. Furthermore, SMEs should be strengthened and provided with some reliefs.

It can be seen that poverty alleviation projects change from time to time, thus, expected outcomes cannot be achieved. Opportunities should be equally created based on merit rather than subsidies, so that the poor can have an access to services enjoyed by others.
It is poverty that violates human rights. Even basic human rights of the poor are badly broken, when they cannot pay for it. Hence, we, as a country, should be able to eradicate the poverty, as if we eradicated terrorism. Hard working with proper planning paves the way for economic prosperity. It is when people are better off that their rights can be ensured.
(Amila Muthukutti holds a BA in Economics from the University of Colombo and can be reached at