LETTERS: Fighting poverty requires holistic approach

No one deserves the indignity of poverty. All human beings deserve, at bare minimum, the fulfilment of their most basic of needs.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics estimates that 36.1 per cent of Kenyans still live in poverty. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

BY SANTAI KIMAKEKE

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No one deserves the indignity of poverty. All human beings deserve, at bare minimum, the fulfilment of their most basic of needs.

This is the reason why, at independence, Kenya, like many African governments, set out to conquer poverty, alongside the other enemies – ignorance and disease.

Over half a century later, this still remains a mirage. Many of the basic needs are a luxury for a significant proportion of the population in rural areas and informal settlements in the urban areas. Overcoming this kind of poverty is a major aspiration for many African countries.

Kenya has set out to deliver a high quality of life for all its citizens by 2030, according to the national development blueprint, Vision 2030. However, ten years into implementing this blueprint, there is concern that poverty, which stands between Kenyans and the high quality of life, may not be eradicated by then.

The World Bank, in its 2018 Kenya Economic Update, warns that though poverty is reducing in Kenya; at the current pace, it is unlikely that it will be eradicated by the year 2030. At the moment, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics estimates that 36.1 per cent of Kenyans still live in poverty. This, despite robust economic growth in recent years.

Whereas this can be attributed to myriad challenges, shortcoming in approaches towards slaying the dragon of poverty is at the centre of the failure. Many of the initiatives that are aimed at tackling poverty are fragmented, thus hampering their effectiveness, and instead promoting inequality. Poverty has to be viewed holistically and tackled in a coordinated manner if efforts against it are to have any impact.

Poverty is not the result of one single cause. It is a complex issue rooted in a number of complex social and economic obstacles. Thus, by focusing on only one issue, regardless of the time and resources invested, the cycle of poverty persists. This is the reason why noble initiatives such as infrastructural investments to open up the entire country and facilitate development have done more to drive economic growth but less to reduce poverty, further widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Increasing access to education, healthcare and other amenities has not had much impact on the country’s poverty rates.

This calls for a change of tact in the fight against poverty. Driving inclusive growth in communities requires a holistic development approach that targets primary causes of poverty.

For example, Free The Children Kenya has since 2002 been implementing a holistic and sustainable international development model, dubbed WE Villages, in partnership with communities in the Maasai Mara region of Narok County.

This model is also being implemented in India, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Haiti, Sierra Leone, China and Ethiopia. Focusing on five pillars of impact – education, water, health, food and opportunity – this model has helped to transform communities by breaking the cycle of poverty.

Each of these pillars is a major cause of poverty and hence a critical component in fighting it, but they have to be deployed concurrently. Improving access to education facilities arms children with skills, courage and confidence to better themselves and their communities.

Availability of clean drinking water, healthy foodstuff, as well as heath care and sanitation facilities reduces incidence of disease, frees communities to focus on pulling themselves out of poverty and keeps children in school.

With financial literacy, access to credit and business training, previously marginalized communities can sustainably generate income, save funds and start a business. With all these addressed, poverty would become history.

The ultimate goal of this built-to-last, holistic model is to set the communities on a sustainable path to development, where they take charge of their individual and collective destinies, one step at a time.

This is the only way to improve the standard of living for all Kenyans, particularly in rural areas, and deliver a high quality of life, as envisioned in the national development blueprint.

Santai Kimakeke, senior director, Free The Children Kenya.

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