basic needs


Written By: Ehsan Jahandarpour

The basic needs approach is one of the major approaches to the measurement of absolute poverty in developing countries. It attempts to define the absolute minimum resources necessary for long-term physical well-being, usually in terms of consumption goods. The poverty line is then defined as the amount of income required to satisfy those needs. The ‘basic needs’ approach was introduced by the International Labour Organization’s World Employment Conference in 1976. “Perhaps the high point of the WEP was the World Employment Conference of 1976, which proposed the satisfaction of basic human needs as the overriding objective of national and international development policy. The basic needs approach to development was endorsed by governments and workers’ and employers’ organizations from all over the world. It influenced the programmes and policies of major multilateral and bilateral development agencies, and was the precursor to the human development approach.” A traditional list of immediate “basic needs” is food (including water), shelter and clothing. Many modern lists emphasize the minimum level of consumption of ‘basic needs’ of not just food, water, clothing and shelter, but also sanitation, education, and healthcare. Different agencies use different lists. The basic needs approach has been described as consumption-oriented, giving the impression “that poverty elimination is all too easy.” Amartya Sen focused on ‘capabilities’ rather than consumption. In the development discourse, the basic needs model focuses on the measurement of what is believed to be an eradicable level of poverty. Development programs following the basic needs approach do not invest in economically productive activities that will help a society carry its own weight in the future, rather it focuses on allowing the society to consume just enough to rise above the poverty line and meet its basic needs. These programs focus more on subsistence than fairness. Nevertheless, in terms of “measurement”, the basic needs or absolute approach is important. The 1995 world summit on social development in Copenhagen had, as one of its principal declarations that all nations of the world should develop measures of both absolute and relative poverty and should gear national policies to “eradicate absolute poverty by a target date specified by each country in its national context.”