Sample student essay


“Poverty in Zambia”

By Cambrey Sullivan


According to The Economist (2011), the economies of many African countries are faring better than ever before.  Despite a history of poverty and stagnate growth, there seems to be an economic turnaround.  In particular, the economy of Zambia also appears to be on the rise. Since 2007 the average annual GDP has increased by 6-7.5% ("Africa’s Hopeful Economies," 2011). However it is very possible that this growth is overstated and that it is not stable due to persistent inequality and poverty.  Before praising a model of economic growth, especially in a developing country with a history of social problems, it is best to make sure the causes of economic growth are accurately understood and stable.  It is also important to investigate whether such growth benefits the whole country or just a privileged minority.

Unlike most other African countries Zambia relies on half its GDP from a single natural resource: copper.  If half of an entire country’s GDP depends on a single commodity then there is always risk of destabilization due to fluctuations in the global market ("Africa’s Hopeful Economies," 2011). This may be especially true with developing countries. Another reason that the economy may seem to be doing better is that the number of billionaires on the continent is increasing. While this is a great thing, it does not reflect the society as a whole. The high income earners are outliers and they disproportionately affect the mean income of the continent. It is very possible that the economy is doing better, however there are determinants that will prevent the development of the country.

The fact is that 64% of the population lives below the poverty line living on less than a dollar a day (CIA, 2012). These people generally live in the rural areas that comprise 64% of the country. In the interest of time, I will only discuss poverty in these areas. There are many factors of poverty in this area; however, in the case of poverty in rural Zambia: the two very preventable underlying causes are health problems and land tenure. Two major health problems that have an enormous impact on the economy of the country are malnutrition and AIDS. The cultural system of land allocation has some health problems and poverty directly. 

The Zambian government spends about 4.8% of total GDP on healthcare, as opposed to the United States’ 16.2% (CIA, 2012). Some critics might argue that America spends too much on healthcare; however the country of Zambia is plagued with many health problems that call for a more aggressive approach. Namely, there is the ever prevalent malnutrition and an increasing number of persons living, and dying, with HIV or AIDS, that add to the lack of production.

Between AIDS and malnutrition, the latter is experienced by more people in the country. In Zambia “chronic childhood malnutrition is pervasive” (Feldman, Chitalu, Murdock, Bhat, Gomez-Marin, Johnson, Mwinga, & Baboo, 2008, p.123). This is partly because people in rural Zambia do not have access to food. It makes no difference if a country as a whole has a sufficient supply of food if the people do not have access to the food, malnutrition will prevail ("Poverty and food," 2012). Over half of the population is under the poverty line and, by definition, will not be able to provide adequate nutrition to their families. The lack of sanitation is also contributing to malnutrition. 47% of rural Zambians do not have acceptable sanitation facility access and 54% of the rural population of Zambia does not have access to a protected water source (CIA, 2012). Poor sanitation can lead to diseases of the stomach that prevent proper absorption of nutrients ("Poverty and food," 2012). Other such diseases can be prevented by vaccination and breast feeding as an infant.

Malnutrition contributes to poverty in Zambia in a number of ways. Babies that are malnourished have much weaker immune systems and are at higher risk to go blind and develop anemia ("Poverty and food," 2012). This prevents the maximization of production and uses the little government healthcare expenditures on preventable diseases. According to The Economist (2012), children that are malnourished are less likely go to school, much less do well there. They also (in general) earn less, marry poorer, and die sooner. Malnutrition is extremely preventable and contributes very much to the widespread poverty in rural Zambia.

Less people are infected with HIV/AIDS than are malnourished, but it is equally detrimental.  In Zambia there is a 13.5% HIV/AIDS prevalence rate that is mostly concentrated in poorer regions (CIA, 2012). This is a staggering figure that has killed many people and forced the median age all the way down to 16.5 (CIA, 2012).  Contrary to common belief, lack of information to the public about AIDS in the country is not the real issue in Zambia (Simpson, 2008, p.107). The problem, rather, is the culture. It is not uncommon for men in Zambia to engage in casual or adulterous sex in Zambia. These sexual relationships rarely involve the use of condoms because it is not considered masculine for a man to utilize condoms.  Women, believed to be the inferior gender, do not have much influence over the sexual behavior of men (Simpson, 2008, p.114-15).

Not unlike malnutrition, AIDS contributes to poverty in a number of ways. One being that because most of the people infected with HIV/AIDS are working age adults, the prime working age is being eliminated (LaFraniere, 2005). Without the working age individuals remaining individuals often have a difficult time affording food much less thriving financially. This is also a problem at the macroeconomic level. The Economist (2011) states that employers are complaining because their expensively trained workers that are in their 30-40’s are dying due to AIDS. Another way that HIV/AIDS infection contributes to poverty is that more than 20 of every 100 children in Zambia under the age of fifteen are orphaned due to AIDS (UNICEF, 2012). These children are usually cared for by their grandparents that were already impoverished. The culture of Zambia mandates that when someone is sick or disabled they are to be taken care of. This means that every income earner in a family will likely be caring for at least one person with AIDS (Lim, 2004, p.54). AIDS is particularly detrimental to the financial state of the family affected because AIDS is a slow disease. (Lim, 2004, p.57). Unlike other diseases that cause death AIDS leaves a person sick for about ten years. This is a long time for a family to support the individual and their sickness, the family is often more poor by the time the infected individual dies. Like malnourishment AIDS is 100% preventable and is adding to the number of impoverished people in Zambia.

In addition to the health issues of malnourishment and AIDS, land tenure is another central issue in rural Zambian economy. This refers to the nature of the ownership of land, particularly the rules that are put in place that restrict and control the land. At the national level Zambia has moved more toward a more capitalistic view of land. Previous policies essentially deemed land dead capital and made it incredibly difficult to obtain land legally (Kangwa, 2004, p.127). Now the land market has been reestablished. Zambia “no longer recognizes private freehold, but classifies land as either State (6%) or customary (the rest and a category which includes forest reserves, national parks and game management areas)” (Home &Lim, 2004, p.7). Although the new implemented policy is leading to a market recovery, it does not provide enough for the poor living in more unauthorized areas. This encourages houses in these areas to be built that do not meet requirements set by governments because the land has not been inspected and the house might be demolished anyway (Kangwa, 2004, p.137). The possibility of the land or house becoming an investment for the tenants is eliminated. Often such unregulated homes and land are accompanied by unsanitary well water, lack of road access, poor facilities, and no electricity (Kangwa, 2004, p.140).

In the case of rural land in Zambia, most often the land ownership is dictated by culture.  This becomes a problem when the male head of household dies. It is not uncommon for the deceased male’s family to repossess the land from remaining family members who arguably need it most (Kangwa, 2004, p.134). Because traditionally women in Zambia are not able to be the head of the household, the practice is not looked down upon. This is particularly a problem with women who have been widowed by AIDS because of the stigma associated with the disease (Lim, 2004, p.63). For this reason AIDS mortality has been positively correlated with disinheritance from orphaned children as well (Lim, 2004, p.66). The land, most likely being squatter land is not able to be recovered legally. The land tenure system in Zambia is undoubtedly improving, but lack of provisions made for the poor by the government and culture are definitely impeding the process.

While Zambia’s economy has been growing, all is not well with this country, especially for Zambian women.  Malnutrition, AIDS, and the current land tenure system are allowing poverty to persist. A lack of nutrition and AIDS lead to a lack of production, among other things. Land tenure, on the other hand adds to poverty by failing to maximize assets and encouraging a lower standard of living in general.

While Zambia’s economy is strengthening, it still needs targeted aid, especially for women, if it is to see further growth.  The Economist (2012) reports, “Every dollar spent promoting breastfeeding in hospitals yields returns of between $5-67. And every dollar spent giving pregnant women extra iron generates between $6-14” ("Poverty and food," 2012). Aid programs that help assuage persistent inequality and poverty have the largest return of any other development program. These corrosive social problems must be taken care of or the country will not be able prosper as a whole over the longer term.



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