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Poverty Alleviation: A Buddhist Perspective

Keywords: Poverty Alleviation

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Poverty cries out for attention, so powerfully and soinsistently, that to ignore it would seem unthinkable. Andindeed, poverty alleviation figures prominently on virtuallyevery governmental, non-governmental, and intergovernmentalagenda. But in spite of this, poverty persists,and, depending on which measures are used, can bedocumented as both spreading and deepening.The generic answer to the problem of poverty has beendevelopment. Although its broadest connotation is simplythat of expanding or realizing potential, development has overthe past half century come to mean primarily the expansionof economic potential and secondarily the realization of social,cultural, and political potentials. But after five decades ofsteady, and at times extremely rapid, growth of economicactivity and development initiatives, poverty has not beeneliminated and the degree to which it has been alleviated inglobal terms is very much open to contest.For example, the United Nations Development Program(UNDP) estimated in its 2000 Global Development Report that2.8 billion people now live on less than $2 per day—a level ofincome that is marginally adequate for meeting basicsubsistence levels of nutrition, clothing, shelter, medical care,and education. Roughly 1.2 billion live at less than $1 perday—an income level that is generally used to benchmark“absolute poverty.” These figures are distressing: roughly 45%of the global population is barely able to meet its basicsubsistence needs; roughly 20% live in such abject conditionsthat they have no possibility of living minimally dignified lives.But the global situation may, in actuality, be much more dire.Statistics like those just cited can misleadingly suggest that poverty has been effectively eliminated in developed countriesand that great progress has been made in rapidly developingcountries like China where the percentage of the populationliving on less than $1 per day has dropped from roughly 45%to less than 16% over the past thirty years. According to USCensus Bureau estimates, however, roughly 20% of allAmerican children and 13% of the general population live inpoverty. And perhaps more tellingly, 35% of the populationwill drop below the poverty line for some period of time in thecourse of any given year—an indication of the precariousnature of basic economic security in what is broadly regardedas the most wealthy country in the world.The light shed by such statistics on the correlation betweeneconomic development and poverty alleviation has beeninterpreted in a variety of ways. But what they makeundeniably manifest is the fact t


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