Poverty manifestations amidst a wealth of resources Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
June 3, 2002

Related Links: Articles on poverty
Letters Menu Archival Menu

IT IS a question that has bothered thinking Guyanese for decades. How is it that the manifestations of poverty are so pervasive in a country that is so blessed with a wealth of natural resources?

Schoolchildren in the 1950s were often told by their primary school teachers that they must strive to become educated so that they could help in the great task of transforming this country’s tremendous natural wealth into sources of prosperity for the Guyanese people. Those schoolchildren, who are now approaching their formal retirement years, were told back then that: Guyana has sand, which could be used to produce glass and glassware; bauxite, which is used to produce aluminum; various clays, which are suitable for manufacturing ceramic wares and fittings; semi-precious stones, which are useful for the jewellery industry; and manganese, which is used in steel-making. Of course, these resources are in addition to the country’s renowned exports of gold; diamonds; rice; sugar and other sugarcane by-products such as rum and molasses; forest products; wildlife and seafood.

Undoubtedly, there were great efforts directed at developing these resources with the use of both local and foreign investors over the last five decades. Yet, the reality is that Guyana still possesses vast possibilities, which remain either untapped or under-exploited. As a result, thousands of persons are forced to resort to low-paid menial jobs or petty, itinerant vending of food or toiletries to eke out an existence. With a population of only 706,116 Guyana has a gross domestic product (GDP) of US$1.6Bln and a per capita income of US$2,000.

A look at the vital statistics of some other countries at this time is instructive. For instance, the United Kingdom with a population of 59.5M has a gross domestic product of US$1,423.8Bln and a per capita income of US$23, 947, while Switzerland with a population of 7.26M has a gross domestic product of US$262.6Bln and a per capita income of US$36,166. The Republic of Portugal has a population of over 9.9Bln, a GDP of US$116.2Bln, and a per capita income of US$11,000. Ecuador with 12.1M people boasts a GDP of US$44.6Bln and a per capita of US$4,100; Barbados has more than 257,000, a GDP of US$2.5Bln and a per capita income of US$9,800 and Haiti with 6.6M people, has a GDP of US$6.5Bln and a per capita income of US$1,000.

Some development experts are wary of assessing a country’s state of development and its standard of living through the mechanism of per capita income. And this view is understandable since per capita merely indicates what each person of a country hypothetically earns or is given when the gross domestic product is roughly divided by the number of citizens. In many societies, the monetary wealth is concentrated in the hands of a class of persons or a group of mega companies. Yet, this process is useful in giving a broad indication of the general condition of a populace. Other indices employed to measure a country’s progress, or lack thereof, include: infant and maternal mortality rates, the number of doctors per thousand persons, nutritional status of persons, access to potable water, access to primary education and electricity consumption. For more advanced societies, the trends looked for would include available university places, energy consumption, and access to modern communication technology such as cellular telephones and computers with Internet connections.

In the late 1990s, there was a Reuters story about Luxembourg, a European nation, which economists said was suffering from an embarrassment of riches. The story was based on a World Bank Report, which placed Luxembourg, with a per capita income of US$39,850 above Switzerland with a per capita income of US$37,180. The United States with a per capita of US$25,860 was deemed the sixth richest country, while Britain was placed below the first 15 countries on the same scale. Ethiopia with US$130 and Mozambique with US$80 were located at the very bottom of the scale.

In studying the primary economic features of advanced societies, Guyanese can find useful lessons on the intelligent exploitation of resources for banishing poverty and bring about the ultimate prosperity of the nation.