What does it mean to be poor?

Being poor is more than just not having money. When I was a student, there were times, when I didn’t have money and had to count my Pfennige to see if I could buy myself some plain and basic food. But I was never a poor person in the way that “the poor” are poor.

Because, even though at that moment I didn’t have a lot of Deutschmark in my purse, I had access:

If I fell sick, the mandatory health insurance in Germany would take care of my doctor bills. I attended a university and enjoyed my (nearly) free access to higher education. If times got too bad (or I had wasted too much money on my last holiday) I could always approach my family for support. Had I fallen victim to a crime, the police would have helped me for free, my garbage was collected, my tap kept running and my lights burning for affordable charges. And there were plenty of student jobs around, to increase the Deutschmark-level on my account. Yes, that’s another thing I had access to, a bank account that allowed for some overdraft, without charging exorbitantly (I thought differently at the time, but if you compare my bank to one of those private money lenders in African countries…).

I’m in Bolivia for the Inter-American Development Bank at the moment, where I will be working with a group of consultants on how to use Net-Map to understand the multiple dimensions of poverty. We will look at poverty in terms of people’s access to basic services and I think in this context it will be important to look at the two dimensions of accessibility and quality. Even the poorest might have access to some kind of water, health services, law enforcement. But it is quite likely that the more accessible the worse the quality: dirty river water, an informal healer with little equipment or medicine and the law enforcement of your own fists…

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