CANTERBURY, UK — Standards of living are defined as the quality and quantity of services delivered to a certain population and is a reflection of the level of economic prosperity and human development that a community experiences. One can determine standards of living in aspects pertinent to trade, conflict and social services such as health care, and poverty levels significantly impact it. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Rabih Yazbeck, vice president of programs at Near East Foundation (NEF) said that “Standards of living is a science on its own.”
Development and Economic Growth
Economic growth is highly dependent on business activity, as it is capable of sustaining employment opportunities and maintaining the delivery of services. Accordingly, financial strength is detrimental to the success of businesses in particular, and the economy more broadly. The latter can be particularly showcased in small enterprises, whereby, research shows that for each $1 investment in small businesses, 68% goes back into the community.
Nonetheless, one can see the impact of poverty on small businesses in 2013 World Bank records, which stated that 48.7% of Jordanian small enterprises suffer financially, and recognizing that small businesses account for 50% of Jordan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), this shows how reducing poverty improves living standards by facilitating economic growth.
In another argument, self-reliance, employment and economic participation are pioneers of economic growth. Reducing poverty is essential to achieving economic growth, which essentially equates to improved standards of living. Mr. Yazbeck validates his argument with NEF’s own operations, in which 66% of businesses receiving financial support from NEF in the rural community enjoyed business growth. This is concrete evidence of rural areas’ ability to initiate independent growth with monetary support facilitated via organizations such as NEF, further exemplifying how reducing poverty improves standards of living by encouraging economic participation.
According to Mr. Yazbeck, trade is essential for encouraging well-being, and reducing poverty is necessary for uplifting trading opportunities. He refers to gum arabic to validate his argument, stating that 90% of gum arabic in Sudan is exported to Europe and “is [a]very important commodity internationally,” which suffering communities in North Kordofan in Sudan are nonetheless producing. Hence, reducing poverty among this population improves gum arabic’s quality, and amplifies the possibilities of success in terms of trade and economic advancement.
Through the multiplier effect, enhanced trade translates into eminent household income, and generates more choice in terms of goods and services. Knowing that the level of products available to a population affects the standards of living showcases how reducing poverty improves standards of living via strengthening trade. For instance, according to the Household Impacts of Tariff as a 2022 World Bank report issued, achieving complete liberalizing of trade would reduce poverty by 2.3% and increase household income by 3.8% on average in Nigeria.
Health Care Services
Research shows that food insecure children are twice as likely to be prone to poor health outcomes, and Longitudinal Studies in Canada demonstrate a proportional relationship between food insecurity, physical and mental health.
Mr. Yazbeck highlighted the causal relationship between food insecurity and health by referring to how health data informs NEF’s non-health programs. He stated that by not investing in people’s food security and well-being, pressure on health care services will increase, and as such, such services may deteriorate.
According to a 2021 Relief Web report, Save the Children identified that an estimated 7,342 infants in South Sudan had acute malnutrition and around 4,219 of the latter have entered hospitals to receive the necessary health treatment. This is clear evidence of malnutrition’s impact on straining the delivery of health care services, in which inadequate access to health care services claimed the lives of many South Sudanese patients suffering malnutrition, a 2021 CARE report stated.
Peace and Conflict
Increased poverty and inequality are widely known to undermine social cohesion, cause violent conflict and contribute to political instability, essentially impeding standards of living. A report that GSDRC released illustrates the mutually reinforcing relationship between poverty and conflict, stating that poverty reduces the “opportunity cost” of engaging with conflict at the individual and community level. Similarly, when conflict proneness increases, the likelihood of violence rises. Either way, increased poverty and conflict clearly weaken standards of living, as it disrupts human welfare and overall development.
In an interview with 500 former or occasionally recruited members of terrorist organizations, some have cited unemployment and economic inequality as the two most dominant incentives for joining extremist groups.
Mr. Yazbeck further attributes “nature-based conflicts” to poverty, arguing that people’s desperate need to be self-reliant is driving the violence. For instance, Mr. Yazbeck cites NEF’s operations in Mali and Sudan’s rural communities as evidence of the relationship between poverty and conflict. The primary economic activities in the latter are concerned with agriculture, which highly depends on land and water resources. Mr. Yazbeck affirms that “some of these water sources are shared,” contributing to increased demand and limited supply, which coupled with limited rules and regulations fuels conflict.
Therefore, reducing poverty improves standards of living via supporting greater water supply, and accordingly decreasing the levels and occurrence of conflict in communities, which further highlights the implications of peace and conflict on standards of living.
Poverty and standards of living have significant links and socioeconomic aspects relevant to economic development, trade, health care services and conflict can especially highlight this connection. Reducing poverty can go a long way in securing human development and welfare.
– Noor Al-Zubi