Chronic poverty and remote rural areas

Type Working Paper - Chronic Poverty Research Centre Working Paper No 13
Title Chronic poverty and remote rural areas
Issue 13
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2002
This paper is a first attempt at putting the case that people living in remote rural areas (RRAs) account for a substantial proportion of the chronically poor. The evidence for this will be gathered from country studies, longitudinal quantitative and qualitative micro-level studies, and the growing volume of work on spatial poverty traps. It is a substantial research exercise to identify where the chronically poor are, who they are, and why they are chronically poor. This paper will be able only to make an initial informed guess at the scale of chronic poverty in RRAs. However, there are strong theoretical and empirical reasons for the prevalence of chronic poverty in RRAs. Spatial poverty traps result from low endowments of 'geographic capital' (the physical, social and human capital of an area), with one household's poverty reinforcing another's. Out-migration leaves behind insecure asset-depleted 'residual' populations with the cards stacked against them: high dependency ratios, stigma, and low reserves of social capital. High levels of risk characterise many RRAs, and contribute to the difficulties of emerging from poverty as well as the likelihood of destitution. This is true for ill-health and injury, natural disaster, harvest failure, terms-of-trade deterioration and reduced access to work. It may also be true of violence and conflict. By definition, RRAs are the other side of the coin: while major conurbations are located in favourable areas, RRAs are distant from these. Risk degrades assets, impoverishes the most vulnerable, and, where the density of poor and risk-prone households is high, prevents neighbouring households climbing out of poverty. Social exclusion offers another perspective. While access to natural resources may be less of an issue in some RRAs, access to information, opportunities and connections goes a long way to explain persistent poverty. Exclusion is strongly linked to both state and market failures. Sources of exclusion include: physical isolation, ethnicity and religious discrimination, bureaucratic barriers, (tarmac) road bias, corruption, intimidation and physical violence, and the nature of the local political elite. Adverse incorporation is also more likely in areas remote from dynamic social change and the development of an active civil society to challenge historic power holders. We hypothesise that RRAs are often insecure and conflict-prone. Local or national elites can use the disaffection stemming from exclusion and deprivation to mobilise disgruntled youth. RRAs are sometimes deliberately left with poor governance to enable elites to cash in on illegal trading opportunities. In future research, an attempt will be made to map conflicts at a regional and national level, in order to further investigate the relation between remoteness, conflict, vulnerability and poverty. Democracy seems at first sight to have little to offer the poor of RRAs. An exception to this is the greater emphasis on the prevention of destitution in democracies compared to non-democratic regimes. Well-institutionalised democratic politics can bring benefits to the poor as a whole. But the chronically poor may be a less attractive constituent for institutional party politics, as it is difficult and likely expensive to deal with their problems within electoral periods, and the votes of the marginalized and excluded may be perceived as counting for less. It is likely to be more difficult for politicians to deliver on commitments to RRAs, which require high levels of resourcing, and may also require significant improvements to governance as a pre-condition. However, in the long term, democracy is likely to facilitate the development of greater political capabilities of poor people. The question of how to increase social solidarity at national and local level is key for RRAs. There is little evidence that devolution of power is good for the poor. However, in RRA it would seem that a strong degree of decentralisation (as opposed to devolution) is essential to adapt decisions to the different environment of an RRA. RRAs are likely to require substantial additional government capacity in order to achieve the same standards of provision, given the additional difficulties of government in RRAs. The parameters of good governance for RRAs need to be analysed afresh - they are unlikely to be the same as the prescriptions at national level.The paper argues that there has been a widespread 'policy failure' in RRAs. The focus on livelihoods development, based on successes in non-remote areas did not take account of the special risk, exclusion and marginalisation characteristics of RRAs. Attacking these causes of persistent poverty would involve a greater emphasis on human capital and security. Livelihood diversification would then become more of a possibility. Policy sequencing is therefore critical. The neo-liberal policy discourse turned to human capital development in the 1990s and the World Development Report for 2000/1 has announced a renewed and welcome focus on security, which is, however, yet to be operationalised.

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