The element of poverty can be defined differently, depending on the context in which it is used. Nonetheless, according to the World Health Organization, the phenomenon of poverty can be defined with regard to income. Therefore, the lower the income of an individual, the greater is his or her level of poverty. World Health Organization considers any individual or families spending less than US$2 each day poor (‘World Health Organization’ WEB). Poverty has many effects, including poor health, among others. Nonetheless, poverty is a social phenomenon, which is experienced in all countries, including the developed and developing countries.
The social phenomenon of poverty is not as simple as it might appear. This is a complex phenomenon, which is complicated. Therefore, it is has proved challenging to provide a universal definition of this phenomenon. In addition, it is also complicated and challenging to discover the real causes of poverty. Different scholars studying this phenomenon have identified differing causes, and most have disagreed on which ones to term as the main causes of this phenomenon (Lusted 12). Nonetheless, some of the main factors considered to cause poverty include unequal distribution of resources in the society, and environmental degradation. Unequal distribution of resources makes some people to be termed rich, and others poor. Therefore, the group of people with limited access to resources will experience poverty. On the other hand, environmental degradation will affect those people who solely rely on the environment for natural resources. Farmers, anglers, are affected negatively by environmental degradation, therefore, making them poor (‘Fight Poverty’ WEB).
Nonetheless, the phenomenon of poverty is important in the world today, as through tis, the distribution patterns of wealth and resources can be traced. This would therefore, help most sociologists understand other social issues in different countries, with regard to their poverty levels. Sociologists and Anthropologists argue that poverty is a phenomenon that has existed throughout history, even before the recorded history. This is because the element of social stratification is inherent in the human society. Therefore, status, wealth, and power are all unequally distributed in society, even in the prehistoric times.
Poverty is real and has been existent in the world over the past centuries. According to the records of the United Nations, poverty exists in most continents. In addition, Anthropologists and sociologists have traced poverty to the ancient eras, including the early periods of civilization. In addition, poverty is evident during the colonial era, according to sociologists. Today, the phenomenon of poverty is more prevalent in the third-world countries. Most African countries are stricken with poverty as shown by the increased deaths due to hunger, as well as increased immortality rates. Most poor African countries have therefore, benefited from considerable amount of aid and relief from the West (‘WHO’ WEB). On the other hand, in most developed countries, the government supports the few poor countries through financial assistance. Homelessness in both developed and developing countries is an evidence of poverty in those countries. Poverty is a problematic phenomenon, considering it is among the social phenomena that humankind has failed to address. Poverty is detrimental, but no strategy over the years, has been instrumental in eliminating it. Nonetheless, between environmental degradation and unequal distribution of resources, unequal distribution of resources in society is the most valid cause of poverty. If all people in society would access wealth in the same measure, then there would not exist the phenomenon of poverty (‘Fight Poverty’ WEB).
Environmental degradation has existed for the past few decades, and there has been awareness about this aspect, which generally bears negative consequences for human beings. It is argued that environmental degradation leads to depletion of natural resource in the environment. In addition, environmental degradation is considered to have negative effects on the poor people in society and lead to the increase of their poverty levels. Throughout history in the world, the poor people are known to rely solely on the environment and the resources in the environment for their basic needs. Most poor would practise farming, hunting, and gathering for food. On the other hand, they get their fuel from firewood, and some use wild herbs for medication. This is because they lack money to purchase such like needs from the market. Therefore, the more the environment is degraded, natural resources get depleted, putting the poor, who depend on them at a risk (Duraiappah 3-5).
Environmental degradation makes the poor people more poor, since the natural resources they rely on are depleted, leaving them with less natural resources to use. Therefore, the aspect of environmental degradation fails to explain the aspect of initial poverty. It then seems poverty cannot result from environmental degradation, since this does not come out as a primary cause of poverty in the society. This only makes the already poor people poorer, and it does not result in fresh cases of poverty in society. This causal factor would have been considered more valid, if it made the previously rich people in society to be poor, or if it automatically, made a part of the society to be poor, while another is rich. Therefore, environmental degradation as an aspect causing poverty, lacks the right framework or mechanism of explaining the phenomenon of poverty in society.
On the other hand, unequal distribution of resources is a valid and effective factor that explains the causes of poverty in society. This mainly is associated with the culture in society. Different societies shave varying cultures, therefore, will experience the elements of culture in different ways. Unequal distribution of resources might exist in two states, including the ascribed state, and the acquired state. In the ascribed state, if a child is born to poor parents, or a family background belonging to a lower social class, it is more likely that this child might grow up to be a poor adult. The family might lack resources for the child’s education, health and proper nutrition. On the other hand, a person might acquire poverty due to unequal distribution of wealth. If a once rich person is forced by circumstances to move from his or her country to another country, this person might lose their economic status, depending on the nature of the country they move into. If the country is racist, or has policies, which do not allow employment or investments by foreigners, this immigrant is likely to become poor. Therefore, unequal distribution of resources results in different classifications of people in society, including the rich, the middle-class, and the poor. The rich have the most resources, while the poor have the least resources (‘OECD’ WEB).
Unequal distribution of resources is evident in society, and has existed in all human eras. This aspect is responsible for social classes and social stratification, an aspect that well defines poverty. People with fewer resources are poor while those with abundant resources are considered rich. This dates back to the ancient days, and today there are tales about kings and paupers, which prove social stratification and unequal distribution of resources, existed even in the ancient days. Therefore, unlike environmental degradation, which is a phenomenon of the past few decades, poverty can be appropriately explained with regard to unequal distribution of resources in society, which is an inherent aspect in society.
Comparing the stance of environmental degradation and unequal distribution of resources in society, only the latter succeeds in explaining the cause of poverty. Environmental degradation fails to offer conclusive evidence to show that it causes poverty. It also lacks the mechanisms of explaining how it results in poverty. Poverty, as seen, is a historical phenomenon. On the other hand, in historical and ancient times, environmental degradation was unheard of. Therefore, there seems to be no strong relationship between environmental degradation and poverty. This is mainly because poverty was existent when environmental degradation was absent. Therefore, there is no strong causal relationship between these two elements. Nonetheless, it is not right to disregard the importance of environmental degradation, and its contribution to poverty. As seen, the poor rely on natural resources for survival, therefore, environmental degradation limits their resources, making them more poor. Therefore, although environmental degradation does not solely cause poverty, it only contributes to the increase in poverty among the poor.
In conclusion, poverty is a social phenomenon that is complicated and hard to explain. In addition, different scholars have differed in terms of what really causes poverty, as these have identified various causes of poverty. Nonetheless, between environmental degradation and unequal distribution of resources, the former is a weaker explanation of the cause of poverty. This is because poverty was a problem even before environmental degradation surfaced. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to claim that this factor is a sole cause of poverty. Unequal distribution of resources in society is as old as poverty, and causes social stratification, which is a basis of poverty, as poverty is a characteristic of the lower social class.
Fight Poverty. “Causes of Poverty.” Viewed 19 March 2013
OECD. “Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries: Income
Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries.” London: OECD Publishing, 2008.
World Health Organization (WHO). “Poverty.” Viewed 19 March 2013
Das, Ratan. “Poverty and Hunger: Causes and Consequences.” Mumbai: Sarup & Sons, 2006.
Duraiappah, Anatha. “Poverty and Environmental Degradation: A Literature Review and
Analysis.” New Jersey: IIED, 1996.
Lusted, Marcia. “Poverty.” New York: ABDO, 2010.
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