PURSUING POVERTY ELIMINATION IN SOUTH ASIA

Introduced by Professor Geoffrey D. Wood, Professor of International Development and Director of the Institute for International Policy Analysis, University of Bath, on 15 October 1999

As an anthropologist Prof. Wood's fieldwork experience ranges from India and Africa in the 60s; through India and Bangladesh from the 70s to date; Nepal, Thailand and Sri Lanka in the 80s; South America and Pakistan in the 90s. He is author of many books, on South East Asian matters in particular, and his talk well illustrated the breadth and depth of his work.

After sketching the nature and range of his activities, Professor Wood said that social policy is now his main area of work. There is now a global focus on pooling of expertise on welfare regimes in differing situations and it is understood that social norms greatly affect institutional performances. Many billions of people are involved in South Asia, most still rural, but anticipating rapid urbanisation. For example, in Bangladesh 60% of an expected 30 million people (tenfold in India) by 2025.

In 1997, UK government policy changed from poverty alleviation to poverty elimination. This requires extensive analysis and programmes - for example on the structure of livelihoods and support for them. Dynamics must be reflected. Policies for improving, coping and declining situations should respectively provide for insurance against reversals, opportunities and social protection. Resource studies must cover not only material and individual human resources (such as income, education, skills, health and nutrition) but social factors (status, kinship, networks, etc.), cultural considerations (caste, ethnicity, beliefs, gender, etc.), political situations (parties, institutions, etc.) and access to common property (often outside state provision).

An analytic rural model links a `vulnerability context' (trends, shocks and culture) with `capital assets' (natural, human, social, physical and financial), `transforming structures and processes' (levels of government, private sector, laws, policies, incentives and institutions) with `livelihood strategies' and `livelihood outcomes' (in income, well-being, vulnerability, food security, etc.). Intervention policy becomes complex, since those factors are dynamically linked. Within communities there can be competitiveness and distrust, slum clearances remove links, young women (such as garment workers) become dependent upon multinationals policy (perhaps switching supply sources) and mobility may be enforced.

Four principal factors: state, market, community and household each pose problems. For example, within states, rights may come at a cost and from patronage. Markets are often imperfect and culturally skewed. Communities are subject to identity problems through gender and patriarchy. Within households, social interaction can involve exploitation, especially through gender, although survival may depend upon it.

Thus policy should aim to move the vulnerable from informal to formal claims on services and resources, for security and equity. This involves aspects of land reform, development of NGOs, gender action (on education, labour rights and finance), development of formal rights, "struggles" to retain rights, for the landless and women to own and sell services (such as water to farmers and in public works), to manage common property, to run micro-credit and micro-finance schemes, to create socially responsible businesses, good governance and accountability, non-formal primary education, debt relief, etc. All of these have inherent problems, but they must be tackled, it is concluded.

In discussion it was argued that our industrial revolution served us well, so why not them? Conversely, it was acknowledged that they have a social cohesion that we have lost. The speaker commented that although `liberalisation' may promote entrepreneurs, only a proportion could thus act; moreover, overseas exploitation for resources is not common in South Asia. Furthermore, cohesion as participation in such societies can be very expensive for the poor, whose efforts for survival occupy life.

Geoffrey Catchpole