Eradicating Extreme Poverty
by Mobilizing New Resources, Approaches and Tools

By: Ramiro Valderrama--Aramayo
May 30, 2014

Extreme poverty affects 1 billion people. One sixth of the world’s population live on less $1.25 a day, which is the edge of subsistence set by the World Bank. It is no coincidence that an estimated 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity, and 1.1 billion lack access to clean water. Clearly, there is a connection between extreme poverty and lack of access to water, sanitation and electricity. While it is imperative to address the impacts of poverty through economic development strategies, at the core of any poverty alleviation program is increased access to water, sanitation and electricity. In the last 20 years, in countries with strong public institutions and an absence of conflict, great strides have been made in reducing extreme poverty by half. However, similar improvements have not been realized for the extreme poor, who typically live in inaccessible regions, and lack proper roads, transportation, basic clothing and shelter. Often problems are exacerbated as they live in geographically unstable areas subject to natural weather disasters, conditions that erode or damage crops, drain resources, and make food, water and basic necessities less obtainable. They are malnourished, often having only one meal a day, and typically have limited or no access to health and education. Given these conditions, it is no surprise that 2.6 billion people live without proper sanitation. The United Nations estimates that 1.8 million die annually due to conditions related to contaminated water and poor sanitation. Most of these victims are children under five. Extreme poverty then presents society with multidimensional health and social security risks that need to be addressed by focused efforts, mobilization of untapped resources, innovative thinking and new approaches, mobile tools and flexible technologies. It will require addressing extreme poverty in remote and often politically unstable geographies differently. It will also entail prioritization of efforts--setting goals and metrics, and ensuring there are sufficient and proper means of monitoring, evaluating, managing and coordinating progress.

Prioritization and Impact of Water and Energy

In viewing the challenges faced by those living in extreme poverty it is clear that accessible water and energy can provide the biggest impact to quality of life, provide the means of preventing the premature death of the millions who die annually as a result of contaminated water and poor sanitation, and dramatically enhance the productivity of those on bare subsistence to achieve increased agricultural production, stimulate economic development and employment, create opportunities for education, and enhance public safety in the community. Women in particular are especially affected as the tasks of hauling water, washing and cooking primarily falls upon them. The World Health Organization estimates that 40 billion working hours are spent collecting water each year in Africa alone. While most of us take water for granted, the U.N. estimates that if the proportion of people without access to safe water and basic sanitation were again halved, countries around the world would save $7.3 billion per year in health care costs, and the annual global value of adult working days gained because of less illness would be almost $750 million. Investments in water and energy will have a positive impact on health, mortality, economic development, and political stability in fragile areas. An intangible dimension is the impact it has on an individual’s ability to even aspire to an improved quality of life—and without hope and aspirations, the cycle of extreme poverty is perpetuated. The absence of electricity impacts productivity, educational opportunities, public safety, heating, cooking, and access to clean water (via pumps and chlorination systems.) Use of traditional energy like firewood also negatively impacts the health of people and harms the environment.

Mobilizing New Resources

To adequately address these problems directly in the geographically isolated and fragile remote areas (or even in inner city slums, favelas, barrios, etc.) new national resources need to be mobilized. Where can these resources of time, labor and material be found and applied? It is estimated that 4.4% of the global economy is spent on the military and public safety. The military expenditures alone in 2012 were $1.756 trillion US dollars, the equivalent of $249 per person in the world. By comparison, the World Health Organization estimates the needed minimum spending per person for basic health services is US $44 and 34 countries, even with foreign assistance, are below $50 per person. The military has the personnel and technical skills needed to address poverty and given their public safety mission are/can often located in remote and fragile locations. The key is how to mobilize, monitor, report, coordinate and evaluate these military resources to address the multidimensional health and social issues by addressing the extreme poor’s need for water and energy in fragile, remote and difficult geographic areas. Looking back in time we can see that the role of the military in providing water, sanitation and basic infrastructure in remote and fragile regions has always been intrinsic to their duties. The Roman army, when not fighting and training, were seen as unproductive and expected to be a force of construction. Soldiers were utilized extensively for public works--for drainage of land, building aqueducts, harbors, digging shipping canals, roadways, construction of town walls, and even in the cultivation of vineyards. Many of their water works can still be seen. Today, many countries utilize the military for the public good. In China, supporting the country's construction is a fundamental purpose of the Chinese People’s Army and entrusted in the Constitution to the Chinese armed forces. The US Army Corp of Engineers also provide public engineering services in both peace time and war to strengthen national security, energize the economy, work on reconstruction and relief, and reduce risks from disasters. The most visible of these services in advanced countries are: designing, building, and operating locks and dams; managing water filtration and storm water, flood control, wetland management and dredging for waterway navigation. Many countries have Military Civil Affairs units to help specific localities with assistance or when disasters occur. Chile and Colombia have worked with their operational bases to improve water and energy grid efficiencies, which can be expanded upon. Additional projects the military could work on in fragile areas are building wells, potable water, baths, latrines, irrigation and lighting and energy systems. The military services have also been applied on larger scale stabilization and provision of basic relief services as in the case of Brazil in Haiti, where under a UN Security Council Resolution, a stabilization mission with a military component was established under Brazil’s command. In 2010 a Brazilian-led Task Group was established as a means to rescue and to offer first aid care to the victims of Haiti’s disaster. An inter-ministerial group (IMG) was then created under the control of the Institutional Security Cabinet of the Presidency of the Republic with the mission to coordinate the Brazilian humanitarian aid to Haiti and to support the local needs. Relief efforts included: deploying the Air Force field hospital; providing drinking water and food systems; distributing medical kits for disaster relief; deploying 50 Fire Brigade rescue personnel; establishing a Joint Military Operation under control of the Ministry of Defense; coordinating financial support and defining the priorities according to the needs with the Government of Haiti. To help alleviate extreme poverty, a similar national inter-ministerial coordination group could be established in each country where the military is tasked to work on specific infrastructure efforts in rural and remote regions for access to water and energy. Similar localized work is already being done around the world and can be greatly expanded upon to mobilize the new resources needed to systematically fight and eradicate extreme poverty in difficult and fragile areas.

Integrated Management Systems–Monitoring, Evaluation and Coordination

As military resources are deployed on poverty alleviation work, it’s critical to have an effective way to prioritize, monitor, evaluate and report on results. Establishment of an Inter-ministerial Assessment Framework is a paradigm that has been used previously to help governmental entities, departments and agencies work together to reach a shared understanding of a country’s dynamics and obtain consensus on potential entry points for reconstruction and stabilization. The IMG in a country can utilize this approach to assess the underlying dynamics of poverty and the needs for water and energy relief in their country or region, and strategize national objectives. This framework would be augmented by taking advantage of existing tools and mobile technology for an Integrated Performance Monitoring and Management System (PMMS). PMMS is a tool developed under US AID in 1994 for tracking development assistance and results across all sectors, including all foreign assistance, grants and aid by all government agencies to all of Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union countries. Adaption of such a tool to easily monitor and report on initiatives in remote and fragile areas could ensure results. PMMS leverages mobile communications, e-mail, SMS, data bases, financial management, and schedulers, to assist IMG policy makers to identify, coordinate and act on information that is needed on a regular basis to judge the actual impact on/of projects in various program/sector areas (water, energy, health) in achievement of sector objectives, government agency objectives, and the national strategy and policies for poverty alleviation and eradication. Based upon the above experiences, eradication of extreme poverty in fragile areas can be best achieved through: prioritization of efforts on water and energy access; mobilization of new resources through systematic cooperation with the military; establishment of inter-ministerial group; creation of an assessment framework and IMG strategy for poverty eradication; use of integrated management, monitoring, evaluation and mobile reporting tools to ensure that proper coordination of resources takes place and results based objectives are accomplished.

About the Author

Ramiro Valderrama-Aramayo has worked in international development for 25 years. He has served as Chief of Party, Mission Chief and lead advisor in nearly 80 countries worldwide for the IMF, World Bank, European Community, US State Department and USAID. Mr. Valderrama-Aramayo designed and implemented the US Government Performance Monitoring and Management Reporting System to track all foreign assistance, grants and cooperation services in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. Additionally Mr. Valderrama- Aramayo has led global initiatives for such Fortune 100 Companies including KPMG, Microsoft, and Oracle. He is an elected Sammamish, WA City Council Member, where he has served as Deputy Mayor, a Board Member of the Eastside Fire and Rescue, and Chair of the Public Safety and Finance Committees. As a member of the Rotary, he leads the International Services Committee, and is a Paul Harris Fellow. He received a BS in engineering from the US Military Academy at West Point, and a Master’s of Engineering Administration from The George Washington University.


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