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Poverty, What Do We Really Mean by Poverty?

We know that poverty has become, nowadays, the most persistent and pervasive of world’s economic ills. But the question that we should ask is why? and how? Through this paper, I will try to respond to those questions by first listing the causes of poverty and the solutions that come with it. I will also emphasis the relationship between poverty and growth because poverty is one of the most important tools for appraising social and economic policies as well as for assessing economic performance.

First of all, poverty is a direct result of inequality and income differences. Day after day, fewer people are becoming successful and wealthy while a disproportionately larger population are becoming even poorer. There are many issues involved when looking at poverty. It is not simply enough to say that the poor are poor due to their own bad governance or management (Jeffrey,1991). It is more correct to say that the poor are poor because the rich are rich and have the power to enforce and protect their interest more than the poor people can. Some people are born poor, others are born rich; we can differentiate between the two by looking at the environment in which they live. For instance, a poor environment is one where a strong lack of basic access to food, water, health, clothing, education and other important social services exists (Smith, 1994:134). In addition to that, the inequality and the income differences can be clearly shown by the fact that the poor people have shortage of job opportunities, inadequate access to resources such as land, capital and also limited access to credit. All those elements prevent the poorest of the country to benefit from their basic rights and furthermore, to have a fair chance for a decent life.

Unemployment can play an essential role in determining the rate of poverty. Indeed, it is more apparent when we compare the rate of unemployment or the lack of job opportunities with the increase of the population that Morocco is facing. Almost everyday, the news-papers, magazines, TV, and radio provide us with the latest rise of unemployment or population growth. Population growth, linked with a deficiency of resources, maintains poverty. Knowing that the Moroccan population grows at between 2.1 per cent and 2.6 per cent a year, this increase keeps the relationship between the limited resources and the labour market unbalanced (Macpherson,1999). As a consequence, the access of jobs becomes more difficult leading a certain proportion of the population to unemployment. Besides, with unemployment, households find themselves with a reduced income and less resources to buy their essential needs such as food, clothes; to provide water and electricity. In other words, they slowly face a decline in their standard of living which, pushes them beyond the poverty line.

We all know that illiteracy has become a harmful phenomenon in this century because it remains an essential concern in the debate on the social effects of the economic growth of Morocco. Thus, illiteracy is related to our concern since it tremendously affects poverty. Some Indian experts have challenged the view that illiteracy is the result of poverty, saying that a lack of education was the cause of economic deprivation. “The ruling elite has been successful in creating a ‘poverty syndrome’ which is an absolute myth”, Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi (2000) has told a conference on basic education. He also added, “It is not poverty that causes illiteracy, but it is illiteracy that results in poverty”. “Knowledge has been an instrument of enslavement… Universal access to knowledge is a human right, which is still a far goal…” .This young Indian boy said those words during a great conference whose aim was to press governments and institutions to raise spending on basic education. I think that all what he said has a deep meaning since he is absolutely right. Illiteracy contributes, somehow, in poverty and raises its level within the country.

In Morocco, poverty is increasingly a rural phenomenon. In 1991, 72 per cent of the poor were living in rural areas, as compared with 70 per cent in 1985 (Samuelson, 1995). Several economists relate those figures to the devastating effects of a prolonged drought. We all know that our economy relies mainly on agriculture, thereby, during long periods of drought it is not only the economy that suffers but the whole rural community is affected, especially the small farmers. This is due to the fact that this proportion of people do not have other sources of income apart from agriculture. And besides the problem of drought and low income, there is also the problem of the unequal distribution of assets and land that reinforce more poverty in Moroccan rural areas. For some farmers, in addition to their own land, they have to cultivate other farms through share cropping agreements in order to cover their everyday expenses. Indeed, the causes of poverty in rural areas are closely related. Perhaps that the most important determinant of poverty is the high fertility rates. We have observed that rural people tend to have above average household sizes and a higher number of economically inactive members in their households, since that the only result that we get is a high rate of illiteracy and underemployment. I want also to emphasise one important thing that can clarify more the link between rural areas agriculture and poverty in Morocco. In a third world country such as Morocco, even though the agriculture constitutes an important sector, it has several gaps. For instance, agriculture in Morocco is characterised by low productivity, because of lack of access to irrigation, and low use of other productive inputs and a high dependence on traditional tools. And, as Sloljie (1998) has stated, the most important reason for the social deprivation in which the rural people live is the historically low level of public spending in essential services, water, electricity, roads, schools and health clinics. And in isolated areas, income poverty is compounded by the lack of social and agricultural infrastructures such as farm to market roads, flood protection works and irrigation facilities. That is why there is a lot to do in order to eliminate, step by step, the crucial phenomenon of poverty that is more rural phenomenon that an urban one in Morocco.

On the other hand, we should not forget urban poverty. It is certain that it is not as impressive as rural poverty, even though it exists and its aspects are numerous. The risk of poverty in cities is relatively high because the strong growth of the population does not fit the growth in employment opportunities. This latter disequilibria leads directly to a high rate of unemployment, illiteracy, inflation and as a final result to poverty. Many people associate poverty in the city with the shantytowns. As far as I am concerned, it is a rational comparison because all the characteristics of poverty that have mentioned in the first part apply also in such as environment. People living in shantytowns do benefit from neither civil nor political rights. Thus, they are completely marginalised by having no access to good quality water, electricity, adequate housing, sanitation and the list goes on, as we have already seen. These conditions in which the poor people in Morocco live each day should make us more conscious about this terrible ‘ghost’ that poverty is because, after all, they are in contradiction with what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states. It is said in this declaration that everyone has the right to work, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection for himself and his family and an existence worthy of human dignity…Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care (Pilger, 1998:59).

In reality, what makes us more optimist about the future, is that the number of poor people in Morocco has decreased from 6.2 million to 3.3 million. The most intense period in the process of poverty reduction took place between 1984 and 1992. Over that period, annual growth of GDP (Gross Domestic Product – Total output within a country during a year-) amounted on average to 6.3 per cent between 1983 and 1986 and 5.4 per cent from 1987 to 1991. This performance may be attributed to the changes introduced into the system of incentives for economic sectors, but also to the climate, which contributed to an increase in agricultural production (Salterthwaite, 2000). Given that most of the rural poor depend on agriculture as their means of existence, the good performance of this sector led to less poverty.

Moreover, the Moroccan government has made several efforts to reduce the rate of poverty by setting strategies based on measures designed to promote access of the poorest to productive resources and to essential social services. One of the most well known strategy is the creation of subsidies on consumption of basic food products. Undeniably, poverty reduction call for strong growth. Economic growth expands the opportunities for participation of the poor in the benefits of the increase in the wealth produced. For instance, poverty reduction strategies must be based on sectoral policies capable of accelerating the structural changes in the activities and zones where the poor are located. Rural development cannot be conceived of without expanding agriculture, which can create conditions for growth that is broadly distributed and capable of driving back poverty (Raj,1998). And referring to what we have already stated, the agricultural growth has a positive impact on poverty, furthermore, it encourages even the rest of the Moroccan economy. That is why, the government’s success in reducing poverty is largely attributable to its ability to stabilise the economy, undertake comprehensive structural reforms and maintain high economic growth.

According to Melvin (1999), the strategies for improving the living conditions of the poor could be listed as the following: firstly, a sustaining labour-intensive growth should be created by increasing the productivity of both agriculture and other economic activities. Secondly, an improvement of the social indicators and basic services for the poor should also exist. This could be done by enlarging the access to basic social and infrastructural services to the entire population. Special emphasis need to be placed on measures to increase primary enrolment, especially for female, in order to eradicate illiteracy; and on the other side , on measures to decrease infant mortality, malnutrition, and precarious health. And finally, the government should offer all the basic infrastructures and services needed for the well-being of the population such as water, electricity and energy supply, roads, schools, hospitals and so on. For this last purpose the state will be ,somehow, requested to reallocate its annual budget, review its public expenditures as well as its monetary and fiscal policy.

For three successive years, Morocco has experienced a great and impressive mobilisation against poverty. The whole Moroccan people, either residents in Morocco or in a foreign country, from the poorest to the richest, from the youngest to the oldest, have participated. In fact, the event was a great success and it was under the effective presidency of His Majesty King Mohammed VI. This event was the famous campaign aiming to fight poverty. The Morocco’s King launched several 10-day nation wide campaign to collect funds to fight poverty, in a cautions more aiming to reduce the gap between rich and poor. During this period, an account was opened at Bank Al Maghreb to collect funds. Zoulikha Nasri, a palace adviser, said that Moroccans could contribute sums from 20 Dirhams upward to help the state in its struggle against poverty and illiteracy…The success of those campaigns was very negative since the leaders have collected a large amount of money to help the ‘economically vulnerable’ people of the Kingdom. Still, poverty is a social plague that will not disappear in few days or by limited means. There are more and more efforts to be made, more and more initiatives to be taken, but this time, people should take them by themselves and not wait till the government or others tell them to do so. We are Moroccans, after all, so we should help and hold up instinctively, by any means, our brothers and sisters who are living in misery.

As a conclusion, poverty could not be eradicated in few days, not even in few years. It is an imposing obstacle against the improvement of almost all nations, and Morocco is one of them. Development usually implies an improvement in living standards such that a person has enough food, water, clothing, a stable social environment, freedom, equitable ownership of land, basic rights etc, to have a fair chance for a decent life (Nordhaus, 1995). Despite of the small decline of the poverty rate in Morocco that has recently occurred, there are still more efforts to make differently. First, in order to surround more efficiently the problem of poverty in Morocco, we should begin from the roots and understand well its direct and indirect causes such as income inequality, illiteracy and unemployment. Then, we could look for the solutions that can help us to fight this incredible hard plague. Both the Moroccan government and some NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) have taken several brave initiatives to struggle against poverty, and since that time, significant results have occurred. Nevertheless, there is still more to do, the Moroccan people and government should be more aware of the tremendous impacts that poverty would have over our future life in case we do not try to stop it now.