Development of the poorest nations on earth has proven to be a daunting challenge for the wealthiest nations. For decades, trillions of dollars in aid have flowed from wealthy to poor nations in an effort to spur development…
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Yet development lags and some are arguing that the traditional means of attempting to spur development in these places simply does not work. The wisdom of direct relief payments and loans is being questioned. There appears to be a “giving” fatigue that is setting in amongst the wealthiest individuals, governments and organizations. The feeling that no amount of money can really spur true development in the poorest nations is disheartening, but real. Some scholars are suggesting that the root causes of the lack of development must first be addressed before real development can take place. The economic geographer Paul Collier suggests that there are four traps that developing nations fall into that keeps them in a perpetual state of underdevelopment and poverty (2007). The problem of eliminating poverty on the national and personal level then, is much more complicated as a result of these traps when considered individually or collectively. Nations that continue to struggle to meet the most basic demands of their citizens despite ample aid are hampered by conflicts and civil wars; corrupt governments, a dependence on natural resources for revenue and unfortunate geographical positioning. Conflict is the first and most prevalent trap that developing nations find themselves facing. Civil wars are common among the poorest nations for several reasons. One stems from the fact that in the poorest nations, there is always a political elite that concentrates wealth in the hands of the very few. This disparity, coupled with high unemployment rates among young men creates a situation where individuals view armed conflict as a legitimate means of accomplishing social justice (Hookway, 2000). Rebels in the Philippines were emboldened after European nations paid large sums of money to free hostages they had taken. Soon, many were scrambling to join the rebels, not because they were ideologically opposed to the current regime in Manila, but because they wanted to cash in on kidnapping tourists. As will be discussed later, the wealth of natural resources is also something that spurs conflict. Precious metals and minerals are often the target of rebel forces in developing nations. The real purpose of many civil wars in developing nations is for control of oil wells or diamond mines. The unequal opportunities for obtaining wealth in the developing world makes armed conflict very attractive to unemployed young men. The costs of warfare are felt for many years after the war is over. Some estimates state that on average, an economy shrinks at about 2.3% each year during a civil war (Collier and Hoeffler, 2005). If the conflict continues for a decade, the country will be 23% poorer than when the strife continued. With economies that grow slowly as a result of underdevelopment, the poorest nations may be looking at a decade of growth being consumed by the conflict. The propensity of fall back into armed conflict only heightens the effects of conflict on developing nations. A second trap that keeps the poorest nations poor is depending on resource extraction and exports for a large portion of national income. The more diverse the national economy, the more able the economy is to resist recession (Kirk, 1997). Diverse economies have been linked to greater political and economic stability. Depending on one commodity, such as oil or gold, is risky because it exposes the nation to boom and bust cycles. A good example of this was experienced in Nigeria. The discovery of oil in the Niger Delta was thought to be a great boon to Nigeria. Development activities began in earnest in the 1970’
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Some underdeveloped countries garner the support of a superpower as a guarantee of strength and backup in areas with the potential for conflict. The case of India and Pakistan is interesting in this respect because of a post-colonial situation where the countries in question were partitioned and unable to agree about the boundaries between them.
In Africa, for example, developing countries include Sudan, Uganda, Algeria, Benin, and Gabon just to mention a few. Countries that fall under this category from Asia and the Middle East include Afghanistan, Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq among others. In Latin America, the developing countries include Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia, and Uruguay among others.
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While theorists have tended towards the arguing of a single cause, a critical analysis of the variant explanations forwarded establishes that underdevelopment, as in persistent and chronic underdevelopment, is a consequence of a multitude of factors and not just one.