Poverty as A Human Security Challenge In 21st Century


The world we live in is inhibited by catastrophic challenges to human life. Ranging from natural disasters to social disasters, it has them all. Poverty is one such threatening challenge. Poverty is a vicious cycle. It is an endless spiral birthing other social challenges such as marginalization and insecurity. All nations aim to combat this social monster through their developmental agenda and by providing opportunities to those who are severely hit by it. Most of the social challenges arise due to the lack of proper resources for development. People lack education and awareness and thus, fail to understand the basic principles of life such as human rights.

Poverty as a challenge to human security was discussed by the UN in 2014 in the General Assembly, owing to the continuous threat faced by many around the world, sometimes on a daily basis. The commission on human security made a simple observation that human security is concerned with safeguarding and expanding people’s vital freedoms and such it requires both shielding people from acute threats and empowering people to take charge of their own lives.[1] But, the same is easier said than done. There are many unseen hurdles on the path of a poverty-free nation, which poses a great threat to human security.

What is human security?

The united nations broadly defined human security as “the right of people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and despair.”[2] The aim was to see a broader notion of human security, so as to help such threatened persons to feel the luxury of a secured and dignified life. In simple words, human security means that rather than focusing on state-centric protection, the focus is on the protection of people.

The commission on Human Security defined human security as protecting fundamental freedoms- freedoms that are the essence of life. It means protecting people from critical (severe) and pervasive (widespread) threats and situations.[3] The definition needed to be amended for the inclusion of the new world problems. States assuming immense powers in the 20th century led to it becoming the source of insecurity for most people. Even the human security commission concluded that the state remains the fundamental purveyor of security. Thus, the need for a broader sense of the word ‘human security’ was seen.

Major challenges to human security

There are numerous challenges to human security. Such challenges confronting human security are civil strife and wars, terrorism, severe communicable diseases, lack of human rights awareness, poverty and underdevelopment, etc.

Poverty as a challenge to human security and response

According to the 2006 Human Development Index issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), about 1.2 billion people live without access to safe water; and almost 2.6 billion are without access to sanitation. Furthermore, about 2 million children die every year due to the lack of access to proper sanitation and safe water. This inaccessibility is due to the rampaging poverty in many parts of the world.[4]

While societies plunge deep into the spiral of poverty and underdevelopment, the governmental efforts of elevating people from the same have not really been fruitful. It has been the aim of national and international organizations to provide for basic facilities like sanitation, healthcare and clean water since the end of world war II. But how much of these efforts have been gainful? Hardly any.

How does poverty affect human security? Poverty symbolizes the existence of insufficient resources for those who are hit by it. Insufficient resources mean that people have to make living in conditions of utter lack of basic necessities. The very concept of human security means ensuring proper access to better living conditions, indicated by access to sanitation, health care and basic education. Thus, poverty poses a great threat to the aim of human security for all.

In response to tackling the major challenges to human security, the UN constituted the Commission on Human Security in the year 2000. The commission, in response to the threats of poverty, formulated the following policies:

  1. Working to provide minimum living standards everywhere;
  2. According to higher priority to ensuring universal access to basic health care;
  3. Empowering all people with universal Basic education.

The reach of the programs initiated for fulfilling the above-mentioned purposes has been dissatisfactory. Even after almost 70 years of the war, some strata of the society are still denied these basic rights.

In India, many poverty alleviation programs are run by the government. some of these have been in existence since independence, while some came into existence with new governments. The UNDP, in partnership with the Ministry of Rural Development, helps promote affordable housing for the rural poor through the governance and Accelerated Livelihoods. Other programs like MNREGA and public distribution systems are other examples of the policies aimed to combat poverty.

India is on its way to eradicate extreme poverty but the social disparities still soar high. As of May 2018, India is no longer home to the highest number of extremely poor people in the world. India has about 73 million people who live in extreme poverty.[5] But other economic experts still view the situation to be bleak. There is a long way for the country to go in terms of poverty and the consequences of poor health care and lowered educations levels. Even though India ranks higher in per capita incomes in comparison to its neighbors and other third-world countries, there is still a hint of darkness in the spectrum.

Recently, the World Bank introduced another international monetary definition of poverty in lower-middle-income countries. The new benchmark is purchasing power of $3.20 per person per day. As per the economists, this means that at least one-third of India’s population is poor. Thus, it can be concluded from the above-mentioned data that the position of the Indian response to eradication of poverty is dependent on the various parameters used. It hardly registers actual value.

However, efforts are still being made in this regard. All governments aim to fight this monster through policies and programmes, for a country can only move up on the human index ladder only when every citizen is uplifted.


The above discussion shows that amongst other challenges to human security, poverty is one of the hardest to battle. In fact, other challenges can be combated if poverty is solved. Knowing about rights and freedom depends upon proper basic education, which in turn, depends upon the ability of all families to send their children to school. Thus, poverty poses a major threat to human security and needs to be tackled in a proper and systematic manner.

[1] Human Security Now: Commission on Human Security, 2003

[2] www.news.un.org

[3] Human Security Now: Commission on Human Security, 2003

[4] Human Security and challenges for the 21st century; By Hon. Ms. Fatima Hajaig

[5] A report by Brookings Institution; www.dandc.eu

This Article is Authored by Mansi Sharma, 4th Year, BALLB Student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU.

Also Read – Socially Disadvantaged Groups And Poverty In India

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