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The inability to provide the basic needs for survival, usually due to economic factors (low income) but it may also be that there is a lack of access to the needed products/services. There are two sub-categories of poverty:

Absolute poverty: refers to the inability to provide for your own survival – usually this is when we earn less than $2 a day.

Relative poverty: this occurs when we are poor compared to the average person in our country. For example, if you live in Denmark but cannot afford a fridge, you are relatively poor. This is more prevalent in developed countries.


Economic development:

Sustainable development:

Pros of development:

  • Increased incomes
  • Higher levels of consumption
  • Shorter working hours
  • Increased tax for government:
  • Provision of public goods (libraries, swimming pools etc).

Cons of development:

  • Resource depletion - sustainable for future generations?
  • Increased pollution Opportunity cost of other land use - food production/leisure activities?
  • Loss of animal habitats (land cleared for urbanisation, industrial location & resource extraction).

The Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals are targets that were set by the United Nations in an effort to reduce extreme poverty, to be achieved globally by 2015. There are 8 goals:

  1. End Poverty & Hunger
  2. Universal Education
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Child Health
  5. Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS
  7. Environmental Sustainability
  8. Global Partnership

Progress towards meeting the MDGs

Much progress has been made in reducing poverty with China halving its rate.

Hunger levels have been reduced in many countries but increasing food prices are threatening the progress. Latin America significantly reducing hunger levels.

Good progress has been made in education in most countries but the current rate is too slow to meet the goal by 2015. Tanzania scrapped school fees & saw attendance shoot to 95%.

Good progress in child health has been made in the poorest countries, with large investment in immunisation programmes but this requires ongoing investment.

Brazil halved its infant mortality rate between 1990 & 2006.

Maternal health is improving but slowly. Many women in Sub-Saharan Africa still die in childbirth often due to lack of medical help at hand. Parts of Asia have also seen very slow improvements. Target not likely to be met by 2015.

Indicators of Development

GDP (Gross Domestic Product): The total value of goods and services produced in a country in year. GDP is an indicator of how well the economy is doing and is useful for measuring changes year on year. Since countries have different population sizes it can be difficult to meaningfully compare GDP between countries.

GDP/capita: GDP divided by the population. This allows comparisons between countries of different population sizes & also takes into account population growth rates.

GNP (Gross National Product) & GNI (Gross National Income) :

Life expectancy: the average age that a person can expect to live to at birth. Countries that have good healthcare, good education and wide ranging diets tend to have long life expectancy.

Health data:

Education data:

Energy resources/person:

Employment structures: The % of the labour force working in Primary, Secondary & Tertiary industries. This gives a good indication of the level of development since developing economies are typically heavily reliant on primary industries.

HDI (Human Development Index)

This is an index that takes into account 3 factors (each is an index itself):

  • Life expectancy index
  • Education index
  • Income index

It generates a score between 0 and 1. The closer to 1 the higher the quality of life.

It is considered a better measure of overall development then GNI or GDP because it takes into account social factors as well as purely economic ones.

Comparisons of indicators

Economic indicators such as GDP & GNP are often criticised since they focus on the financial state of the country and ignore many of the aspects that contribute to quality of life (equality, justice, education etc).

They also represent the average level of income and do not reflect inequalities. This is a major issue in many poorer countries where there is often a small number of people with a large amount of the wealth, and many people living on the poverty line.

Indicators that look at a single factor are often limited is usefulness due to the narrow view that give of a country.

Index’s that take into account several different factors are generally favoured, particularly those that include a range of both social and economic indicators. The UN uses the HDI, but other ones such as the happy planet index have become increasingly used in recent years.

Difficulties of measuring some aspects of development

Some aspects of development are very difficult to accurately measure. This may because they are subjective, or because the residents of a country do not feel they can talk freely about them.

Peoples assessment of them may be relative to what they have experienced in the past and not in comparison to other countries.

Factors such as justice and freedom are examples.

Global Patterns of development

There are some general patterns of levels of development on a global scale.

At the most basic there is a general North/South divide in which much of Europe, and North America have high levels of development and South America, Africa and Southern Asia have lower levels of development.

When looking more closely and taking different indicators of development into account the division becomes more blurred. Many east Asian countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Singapore have industrialised and raised their standard of living considerably. Brazil and Argentina have also made great leaps forward. China and India are rapidly industrialising and experiencing rising incomes.

Characteristics of countries at different levels of development

Low income countries

Typically have high birth and death rates, low calorie intake per day on average and have a high proportion of the labour force employed in primary industries. Life expectancy is low and school enrolment past primary is also often low, this leads to a low literacy rate. Low GDP/capita and low energy consumption/capita.

Middle income countries

These countries are making the leap towards the characteristics of high income countries. They are often experiencing significant decreases in death rates and a steady or falling birth rate. GDP/capita is rising and the government is able to invest in and raise the standard of health and education services. They are likely to have improving but still limited infrastructure especially outside the main urban areas. Costa Rica could be considered an example of a middle income country.

High income countries

Typically low birth and death rates. Long life expectancy and high school enrolment. A high proportion of the labour force is employed in services and high-tech manufacturing. High GDP/capita and due to high car ownership along side domestic appliances (TVs, dishwashers, ovens, central heating/air conditioning) they have high energy consumption/capita.

NICs (Newly Industrialised Countries)

Secondary industries dominate these countries as they have made the shift from primary production inot manufacturing. The manufacturing that they do is likely to be low skilled and relatively low value such as textiles and plastics, although they are likely to be moving into electronic product and car/motorcycle manufacturing. Rapid urbanisation is likely to be occurring along side rapid economic growth which is largely based on exporting the manufactured goods. China, India & Brazil are current examples.

Non-Industrialised countries

These are countries that are still reliant on primary industries and subsistence farming. Many of the small Pacific Island nations are non-industrialised. They live on the resources that are available in their local environment or on small amounts of imported items. They may have some export industries based around fishing (tuna from the Solomon Islands) or agriculture (bananas) but it is likely to minimal since transport networks to larger economies are poor and infrequent.

Basic needs

There are several basic needs that humans have in order to live: enough food; clean water; housing; health Care & education. Without food and water our bodies cannot function and we are likely to become ill quickly. Without housing or shelter humans are not able to withstand the climatic variations in temperature that occur in most countries. Health care enables us to fight infections and stop epidemics spreading rapidly through populations. The list of what is included in the definition of basic needs varies between institutions.

Importance of education in improving living standards

Social issues facing low & middle income countries

The role of women in development

Gender inequality is a major issue facing many countries. In many MEDCs women officially have the same rights and opportunities as men, but many claim they are discriminated against in the workplace. It is in LEDCs though that gender inequality is the most severe and this is also a barrier to development. Many indicators of development actually include gender equality in them.

In countries where there is significant inequality for women there is usually an economic impact.

When women are excluded from the workforce it represents underused resources. In pure economic terms it represents factors of production that are not being used. This leads to lower output by the country and subsequently lost income.

Less workers also leads to less income through taxation for the government which restricts their ability to invest in infrastructure, health & education which would fuel further growth.

If women are excluded from stages of education it again restricts them from the workplace, or it makes them less skilled which hampers the output of the economy.

Innovation is a key driver of economic growth and women can play an equal role in new ideas if they are allowed the chance of education and are listened to in the workplace.

Gender inequalities in the political systems of countries can lead to a more narrow political focus and lack of support from many of the population.

Gender inequality and expected female roles as housekeepers often leads to higher birth rates which places a financial drain on families. High birth rates lead to high youthful populations which require government spending on education and health services.

Impact of Inequality and Discrimination

Whether it is gender, race, religion, or political stance, discrimination and inequality often increase the levels of poverty in a country. If sections of the population are excluded from the decision making process of the country and are unable to progress their careers they are likely to become stuck in the lower levels of society. Inequality can become socially damaging if the excluded populations group together in communities (ghettos) and these then require significant investment from the government to raise their standards of living.

Strategies to reduce poverty, inequality, deprivation & discrimination

Human rights

These are the universal rights that humans should have (naturally & legally). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is an internationally accepted declaration that is used by the United Nations. It sets out 30 basic human rights which can be broadly categorised as:

  • Right to life and the prohibition of slavery;
  • Rights of the individual in civil and political society;
  • Right to spiritual, public and political freedoms;
  • Social, economic and cultural rights.

The full list can be found at:

Institutions of Government


This is the term given to parliaments & constitutions of countries that pass and change the laws of a country. These assemblies of people have considerable power to influence the level and rate of development in a country. Through the laws they can protect workers rights, promote equality, safeguard the environment and restrict or encourage foreign investment. Legislature must be careful that they don’t hinder development through excessively complicated or restrictive laws that stifle entrepreneurship or make domestic industries uncompetitive.

They also usually have the ability to set or change tax rates and manage the governments budget. Through these fiscal tools they can influence the growth of the economy. Managing the governments budget is a very important task and can severely impact on development. Whilst borrowing money may solve short term problems it often creates longer term repayment issues. Many of the less developed countries are stuck in debt traps from which they cannot emerge, having borrowed money for projects. In countries where much of the population lives on subsistence farming tax income for the government is likely to be very low.


This is term given to the people in a country who interpret and apply the laws set by the legislature. It is essentially the court system and judges and magistrates are the common people found in this section of the government. They play an important role in the development in countries since they shape the outcomes of any trials. If members of this unit are corrupt or weak, powerful organisations and individuals may be able to influence the outcomes of trials. This can lead to unfair societies and puts MNCs off investing in a country.


This is the term for the people in government that run the day to day affairs of the government and enforce the law.

Political systems:


Capitalist systems exist in a variety of forms but the basic premise remains the same. Land and capital are privately owned and businesses are profit motivated. Production and prices are largely left to market forces with little intervention by the government.


This again exists in a wide variety of forms but the general principle is that the government owns most of the factors of production and organises the economy. Production is not based on profit maximisation but aimed at supplying what the government deems is needed. Often the government is heavily involved in the allocation of resources and the price level of goods and services.

Mixed Economies

Most of the worlds economies fall into the spectrum of mixed economies. These systems aim to let market forces determine the allocation of resources and price levels, but governments intervene to regulate them. They may impose taxes on products that have harmful effects (alcohol & tobacco) and subsidise products/services that are beneficial for societies such as education and health care. They also involve themselves in looking after the environment by fining companies that pollute or degrade the environment.


This is a form of government in which all the population have an equal say in the decisions made. Usually it is through various stages of election and local people can voice their opinions through the locally elected representative. The elected government then act as the legislature. Most developed countries political systems are democratic.


This refers to the situation when the government is ruled by one person. This individual makes the governments decisions regardless of whether the population agree with them or not.

Political actions & impacts on development


This is a problem that is present in many developed and developing countries. It is in the developing countries that it appears to be the most damaging and restrictive to development. Corruption often takes the form of siphoning public money into private bank accounts by government officials. This leaves less money to be spent on improving infrastructure and services and holds back development. Corruption of this type has been rife in many poor African countries with millions of dollars of money (from taxes, loans and aid payments) regularly going missing.

Corruption may also take the form of bribes. In these situations it is often police and officials that accept money to avoid punishments such as jail or fines. It may occur in the form of large companies paying money or offering incentives for officials to grant them certain privileges such as mining licenses.

Countries which are known to have significant corruption issues face restrictions in the loans that they can access from institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. They may also fail to qualify for aid payments and schemes such as debt relief. Corruption is also a significant obstacle to attracting MNCs to locate in the country or for investors to buy shares in domestic companies.

Global Cooperation

Many of the issues facing the world today such as environmental degradation, population increase, climate change and food supplies are global in their nature. For solutions to the problems or strategies for dealing with the effects to be effective there needs to be global cooperation and a united approach. European investment in renewable energies will have minimal impact if the large developing countries are industrialising through burning coal for energy.

The spread of diseases needs global cooperation with border controls, vaccination programmes, sharing of data and information and management to avoid global pandemics. In recent years avian flu and swine flu have spread rapidly around the world and threatened to become major issues.

Global fish stocks are another example of where international cooperation is vital. Countries need to decide upon quotas and regulations and honour those agreements if the world is to avoid a significant shortage of fish in the oceans in years to come.