Poverty: Introduction/Overview

This is an excerpt from my essay Poverty: The Effects and a Moral Obligation to Help Others. You can find the downloadable PDF with complete citations in this post.

It was only when I became friends with a fifteen-year-old prostitute dying of AIDs and her thirteen-year-old cousin who is a thief and cocaine addict that I understood what poverty truly is.  My experience as a missionary in Las Matas de Farfán, a small village on the western border of the Dominican Republic, inspired my compassion for people living in extreme poverty and provoked my curiosity about what people like me, raised in a first world country by parents with financial security, can do to mitigate to effects of poverty on such people.  Poverty is not only an abstract concept that is difficult to clearly define and measure, but it is also a dispiriting and physically debilitating condition that developed and prosperous countries are morally obligated to address and mitigate.

The survival of humans depends on multiple resources, such as nutritious food, clean water, and adequate shelter.  Money determines the accessibility to these resources and this accessibility is often directly correlated with quality of life. Having a shortage of money needed to access the essential resources, resulting in a lesser quality of life, is a major issue for a large number of people in this world.  This shortage of money is called poverty.

Before evaluating issues caused by poverty, it is imperative to understand that “poverty” is term that has multiple definitions that significantly differ.  Two types of poverty are subsistence poverty and basic needs poverty. To be living in subsistence poverty, also called “absolute poverty,” is to be living with a deficit of means to ensure supply of resources that are required for survival.  Since physical needs vary from person to person, in regard to required daily caloric and water intake and other variables, it can be said that subsistence poverty is having access to no more than what the human body needs to continue its vital operations.

Those that live in basic needs poverty are just slightly better off than those that live in subsistence poverty.  Basic needs poverty is the access to the things needed to live, rather than just survive, such as shelter, clothing, health care, and education. This type of poverty is more comfortable than the latter, as it satisfies the “needs of a more qualitative nature.” Basic needs poverty is also known as “relative poverty,” as the criteria for this type of poverty is established by evaluating the financial situations of other people living in a designated area.


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  1. This is incredibly well written and an articulate article. It is a touching account of poverty and its effects on humankind. I appreciate your work and your documentation of it. I have worked in medical clinics in various places around the world with extremes of poverty. Everything you say resonates with my experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

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