Addressing the root cause – poverty

In early 2016, I wrote a composite story of a boy who broke the cycle of poverty in rural Afghanistan. The story’s goal was to show how someone could break out of poverty, how long would it take, and how much effort was required.


To give you a broader picture of the extent of poverty in Afghanistan, there are around 10 million people (around 33% of the population) who live in extreme poverty. They earn less than $1.25 a day. Moreover, there are another 9 million people who live slight above the extreme poverty line. Let’s say if they earn $2 a day, they are counted above the line. In other words, almost 60% of the Afghan population, 19 million people, struggle to survive day in and day out. With that number, I wonder where would one look for the root causes of all the social ills such as corruption, insecurity and crime rates.

I know there is this argument that insecurity is the cause of poverty. I tend to disagree. There are many secure countries that poverty is as prevalent as it is in Afghanistan. India is an example. I tend to believe that insecurity contributes to prevention of interventions that could help people out of poverty. So, the first thing we need is socioeconomic interventions to help the poor. We need entrepreneurship and job creation to allow people to earn money.

One of the available income-earning opportunities for the Afghan poor is carpet weaving. According to some counts, around 1 million Afghans are working in the hand-carpet industry in Afghanistan. Carpet weaving is very taxing. It soaks all the physical and mental energy of the weaver, who sit 10 hours a day, knotting one tie at a time. Details of how a carpet weaving is published in this paper.


Although an income-generating opportunity, carpet weaving alone does not help the poor break the vicious cycle. People in rural Afghanistan have been weaving carpets for generations. Grandmother and granddaughters weave together. They need a little extra help. The immediate help can come in the form of educational and vocational training opportunities. That’s how the boy in the above stories makes his way out of poverty.

Poverty alleviation is a process and we should not expect success over the short term. However, if the following three recommendations are followed, the Afghan carpet weavers might have a chance at a better life.

First, we urge sponsors of income-generating projects (carpet traders) to consider coupling these initiatives with capacity-building opportunities. Planners should strive to make enhancement of capabilities a more explicit component of all poverty-alleviation interventions, for example, by embedding vocational training into programs that adds value to local production.

Second, the poor do not constitute a homogenous population. Important differences are manifest at both the community level and the individual level. The poorest of the poor suffer the most and live under the harshest conditions. Accordingly, policy makers should ensure that poverty-alleviation interventions reach people at the lowest socioeconomic gradient. One way to accomplish this objective is by making certain that program sponsors conduct initial assessments to identify the most severely impoverished members of target communities and to prioritize efforts that can address their needs.

Finally, the process of poverty alleviation involves multiple strategies and policies need to adopt a long-term perspective. Social entrepreneurship model entails an iterative process involving a diverse array of overlapping project components aimed at enabling poor households to overcome poverty through initiatives that acknowledge the complex assemblage of factors responsible for extant circumstances. Inflexible, short-term interventions may work as a ‘‘relief pill,” but are unlikely to have enduring effects.

Policy makers should strive to ensure that poverty-alleviation programs are dynamic and sustainable over the long term if they are to have efficacious and continuing effects in overcoming deeply structural factors that impose and reinforce poverty.


Here is a link to our article on poverty-alleviation in Afghanistan.

An excellent book on poverty by Jeffery Sachs

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