Understanding the Cry of the Poor

The true tragedy of poverty is that only those who face it can understand it .Poverty  may look like walking miles to get access to clean drinking water, living on just one square meal a day, or living in informal settlements that may break down with extreme weather conditions. 

Governments in developing countries have been working to lower the rates of poverty. Certain schemes that address poverty provide subsidized food,  affordable healthcare, rural employment, loans to micro enterprises, meals to school children to improve their nutritional status. These schemes provide direct benefit to the poor and help in their sustenance, without such schemes the poor would be deprived of their necessities. However, such schemes alone won’t solve the issue of poverty. Poverty has emerged from political and economic systems that dominated for centuries. Colonialism is one such system. European countries established colonies in Asian and African countries with the aim of economic dominance. The practice of colonialism impacted the natural environments of indigenous people causing degradation. Environmental colonialism is the term used to refer to damage caused by colonial rulers.

Environmental colonialism refers to the various ways in which colonial practices have impacted the natural environments of Indigenous peoples. Colonial powers extracted natural resources from poor countries destroying the delicate balance that was maintained between human beings and the ecosystem. These rulers controlled the political, social, cultural, and economic systems in poorer countries by imposing laws and economic policies. Before colonialism, in India subsistence farming was practiced at the village level. Colonial rulers forced farmers to grow cash crops like cotton, tobacco, indigo and opium which were exported and consumed by rich countries. Native techniques like crop rotation could not be performed thereby reducing the fertility of the soil. Commercialization of agriculture made rural communities vulnerable to  famine.

Though colonists were driven out through freedom struggles we haven’t been able to overcome the exploitation taking place. Today, environmental colonialism is seen through Capitalism. Multinationals have been successful in extracting resources from  poor countries.Without doubt Capitalism has led to substantial economic growth providing employment to a large population and creating millions of jobs thereby improving the standard of living. But it also caused pollution of air, water, and soil pollution, soil erosion, ocean acidification & species extinction. Coal mining, a largely profit driven industry, causes acid mine drainage that contaminates ground and surface water  with heavy metals and toxins. Poor people consume this toxic water for agriculture and domestic use and get affected by serious health conditions. 

Most people living in poverty are engaged in occupations like agricultural farming, animal husbandry, fishing that are interlinked to the ecosystem, any imbalance that occurs affects the yield and income of these people. The increase in carbon emissions coming from profit driven industries has led to rise in sea levels causing saltwater intrusion into crop growing areas in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Deep sea fishing and bottom trawling undertaken by large firms affect traditional fisherfolk.

The dialogue around poverty is constructed around providing relief; however very less light is thrown on providing measures that aim to rebuild the lives of the poor and provide them with livelihoods that would help sustain their lives. Governments need to frame policies that address sustainable development. We need an economy that does not intrusively control the lives of poor people through profit seeking capitalists but genuinely seeks to liberate them by creating self-sufficient economies.

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