Poverty in The Bahamas, pt. 2
“The real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations.” — Adam Smith
Last week, in part one of this series, we advanced the idea of the complexity of addressing poverty in The Bahamas because of the need for current empirical data about this subject. The last data accumulated on poverty in The Bahamas was reported when The Bahamas National Statistical Institute produced the Household Expenditure Survey 2013 Report.
We also noted that the complexity of this subject is further exacerbated by the fact that we are an archipelagic nation of several dozen inhabited islands, bathed by and spanning more than 100,000 square miles of water from Florida to Cuba. This is an important consideration because any definition or discussion of poverty must consider the demographic, socioeconomic working conditions and living habits, and practices of different islands, each of which may engender a variation of a generally accepted definition of poverty.
We defined poverty as the chronic lack of basic human needs, including adequate nutritious food, clothing, housing, clean water, and health services.
Finally, we noted that the 2013 Household Expenditure Survey concluded that the total poverty line for 2013 was set at $11.64 per day.
This translates into an annual poverty line of $4,247 per person as of 2013. In the absence of any more recent data, it is reasonable to assume that, given the recent scourges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Dorian, the number has significantly increased.
Therefore, this week, we will continue to Consider This … in the absence of recent empirical data, what can we say about poverty in The Bahamas?
This week, we will examine real-life human examples of poverty in The Bahamas.
Poverty and inadequate nutritious food
Poverty, in the context of inadequate nutritious food, can be observed in many facets of Bahamian life.
The 2013 Household Expenditure Survey concluded that the total cost of a food basket meeting the kilocalories requirement at a minimum cost was estimated to be $3.82 per day, which translates into a weekly food basket bill of approximately $26.81 per person.
Assuming that the cost is double that amount in 2023, the weekly cost of food would be pegged at $54 per person. So, the all-important question is: can an individual live on an outlay of $54 per week for nutritious food?
No matter how abstemious, it is doubtful that anyone can survive on a food outlay of $54 per week. Even with the assistance of food vouchers from the government, it is highly concerning that only some – a very few — can afford to provide nutritious food for their families. It is little wonder why so many Bahamians go to bed hungry each night in 2023. This is not comforting.
One of the most sobering demographics noted in last week’s column was the 2013 Household Expenditure Survey’s observation that “people younger than 20 years were over‐represented among the poor: while their population share was 33.7 percent, almost half of the poor (49.7 percent) belong to this age group. More specifically, there were only two age groups with poverty rates that were higher than the national rate: children aged 0 to 9 (18.2 percent) and those aged 10 ‐19 (19.3 percent).”
That was 10 years ago, and it is reasonable to conclude that the situation has worsened.
Consider the adverse impact that this must have on school-age children. They go to school hungry, which must impair their learning abilities. They often do not have lunch, except in limited circumstances where they may be fed at school. Many of them go to bed hungry. This has devastating implications for their ability to advance academically, socially and otherwise.
Without access to resources and the basic needs necessary for these children to get plentiful food, sleep, and productive time for a developing, growing child, their physical and mental development can be severely impacted.
Children affected by poverty will suffer direct effects to their performance in academics, recreation, social interactions, and all other aspects of their life and shape them for the rest of their lives.
We observe thousands whose only recourse is to appeal to Hands for Hunger, food banks, and similar charitable community and church organizations. Bahamians, whose only alternative is to augment their food supplies by appealing to such organizations, overrun these critically important entities every day. This serious food deficit represents a clear and present danger to long-term personal and national development.
Poverty and clothing
Adequate clothing is a necessity for all humans. Unfortunately, many Bahamians cannot afford to clothe themselves adequately. This is obvious among young students who go to school daily with worn and tattered clothes. This reality is exacerbated by the thousands of parents who are either unemployed or underemployed.
The long lines that we frequently observe at The Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and similar organizations are evidence of many Bahamians who resort to handouts from these organizations to fulfill their clothing needs. Sadly, despite the altruistic efforts of such organizations, they are unable to satiate the mounting clothing requirements of needy Bahamians.
Poverty and housing
It has become increasingly more work for Bahamians to adequately meet their basic housing needs. Unfortunately, the cost of adequate housing remains beyond the reach of too many of our fellow citizens.
I have not been able to locate a survey on homeless Bahamians who cannot secure any adequate housing for themselves and their families. If it does not exist, a database of such individuals must be created. If it has been compiled, it must be updated, so we can have a current, realistic assessment of the status quo.
Increasingly, even Bahamians who have obtained a tertiary education and are employed continue to need help finding adequate housing.
Moreover, the cost of rent is often beyond the reach of many, resulting in frustration, depression, and emotional anxiety about their prospects of finding shelter. Accordingly, many Bahamians continue to live at home long after they have attained the age of maturity and find they must rely on their families to provide shelter well into adulthood.
In many cases, the inability to provide adequate, affordable housing becomes a longstanding source of hopelessness and despair.
Poverty and access to clean water
One of the undisputed necessities of life is access to clean water. But unfortunately, many Bahamians have to source their water from public water pumps because they do not have running water in their homes.
There are many cases where, although water is available to private dwellings, access to that clean water is not. Because of insufficient funds, homeowners have had their water turned off because they just cannot pay their water bills.
It would be instructive for policymakers and interested citizens to read a report authored by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 2004. It offers many insightful observations about the state of our finite water resources.
That report, titled, “Water Resources Assessment of The Bahamas”, provides an informative executive summary regarding the state of our water resources and the existential threat of that vital resource.
The report states, “The availability of water is a limiting factor for economic and social development.”
It also highlights that “a lack of data exists in the water resources area”.
In addition, the report sounded an alarming observation, noting, “Water losses, particularly unaccounted-for-water loss, are great.
“For New Providence, water loss is estimated at 53 percent, which is roughly equivalent to the amount barged from Andros.
“This high percentage of water loss, however, is typical for Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Undoubtedly, access to clean water adversely impacts poverty in our country. We must obtain updated data to determine the extent of the threat to our water future.
Poverty and education
As The Bahamas has developed its economy and infrastructure, our education systems have similarly grown.
However, there is an alarming disparity in the quality and access to education.
According to an observation I recently read, “The literacy rate in people over the age of 15 decreased from 98 percent in 1995 to 93 percent in 2020.
“Many have largely attributed this trend to the difference in the quality of education between private and public schools.”
That report observed that “public state-run schools have a graduation rate of 44 percent for boys and 51 percent for girls, while the graduation rate is 87.6 percent for those in private institutions.
“This variance is partly attributed to the lack of funding and resources for teaching materials, school supplies, and internet access for those in some public schools.”
I intend to devote a future column to education in The Bahamas that will address the state of education and explain the reasons for the disparity between public and private schools.
I have attempted to summarize how poverty affects our vital needs of food, clothing, shelter, access to clean water, and education.
Next week, we will address two vital and seemingly insoluble and intractable issues related to poverty: how poverty impedes access to health services and how it contributes to crime in our society.
We will also suggest how we can improve the lives of thousands by boldly and definitively addressing this debilitating scourge of poverty in The Bahamas before it does irreparable damage to our national dream of success and security.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Bahamas, Advisors and Chartered Accountants. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.