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What Causes Poverty in Developing Countries?

Updated on August 23, 2017

Poverty Causes Poverty

I decided to publish this lens about the causes of poverty after coming across the same question that was posted two years ago on Hubpages and found most answers completely beside the point, whereas those which were to the point were incomplete and superficial.

Poverty is a vicious circle. Poverty causes poverty. Just as the rich get richer because they are already rich, poor people get poorer because they live in poverty. In a sense, the same logic can be applied to countries which are down the poverty line. They will get poorer and poorer because they are already poor, and there are many factors which will contribute to ensure that this vicious circle is hardly ever broken. the effects of poverty can therefore be devastating.

In this lens I have analyzed eight causes that I have identified as being the main causes which maintain poverty in developing countries. It is clear, however, that some causes apply to some countries more than others, while there are also other causes, specific to certain countries, that I haven't mentioned here.

This lens is also meant to be a companion to Bill Gates' $600 Billion Challenge, Five Charities Bill Gates Supports and Bill Gates' Karma. Other companions will follow.

Note: Income disparity and concentration of wealth are major causes of poverty but as I am dealing with these factors in my Bill Gates lenses I have decided not to write on them here for the time being to avoid repetition.


There are an estimated 1 billion undernourished people on the planet. $2 per day would be enough to feed them. If we assume for a moment that the "greed limit", i.e the fortune of a person beyond which it would be considered greed, is $10 million, that would mean there would be billions and billions available to:

1. Develop a new type of agriculture so that not one person on the planet will ever sleep on an empty stomach. This will at the same time create millions of jobs throughout the planet.

2. This would be accompanied by research on how to prevent the rise of sea levels because of melting ice caps, e.g by transporting drifting icebergs to the Sahara or the Sahel and transform these deserts into oases, or by installing pipelines to create artificial seas in vast arid areas of poor zones of the earth.

This shows that the survival of humanity is related to the survival of the poor. By killing the poor, the greedy are pushing humanity toward destruction.

Photo courtesy

Table of Contents Photo Credits

Slavery:; dictators:; tank: Wikimedia Commons; drought: ; AIDS: Flickr; education: the; brain drain: Flickr; burqa: Flickr.

href="">Cinema Venus | Top 10 Prison Movies 1

I have an injustice section (prisons and Holocaust) and will soon add pages on poverty, apartheid, racism, exploitation, slavery etc.

Poverty Statistics

Some figures on global poverty

More than 1.1 billion people (one fifth of the world's population) live on less than $1 per day.

About half the world - well over three billion inhabitants - live on less than $2.50 a day.

80% of mankind (about 5.6 billion people) live on less than $10 per day.

Here are the figures concerning the percentage of the population of some countries who live on less than $1 per day:





Central African Republic






Burkina Faso




Sierra Leone










































El Salvador












*The home country of the richest man on Earth, Carlos Slim, fortune $74 billion

Books about poverty

You can also visit our PHILANTROPY BOOKSHOP

Historical causes of poverty

Colonization, slave trade, indentured labour

1. Colonization

Most poor countries had at one time in history been colonized. During the years of colonization the ruling countries did everything to exploit their colonies.

Great Britain built a very vast empire, and at its summum it was the largest empire in history. In 1922 the British Empire dominated more than 450 million people, a quarter of the wold's population, spread over about a quarter of the planet's land area.

Several other countries had also colonized other countries: France (over almost all of Africa), Spain (more than half of South America), Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands. Colonization was a very lucrative business. They had free resources and very cheap manpower and could avail themselves of cheap produce from their colonies.

When the colonizers left the colonies, even peacefully, they not only left behind impoverished nations, but they had laid the foundation for long-lasting poverty. In some colonies, they left division, or divided them before leaving: India is a great example.

Colonization is therefore one of the most important causes of poverty in developing countries, if not the most important.

I would also like to mention the particular case of Haiti. Haiti has been one of the poorest countries since a long time. many people think it is due to the reign of Papa Doc, but Papa Doc only reinforced Haiti's poverty.

Haiti was a French colony until 1925, when it became independent after a slave revolt. France demanded 150 million gold francs (reduced to 90 million in 1838). It was only in 1883 that Haiti finally paid the final instalment on that huge sum (evaluated at 23 billion Euros today). Haiti could never rise on its feet again after being strangled by France.

2. Slave Trade

Many of the poorest countries are situated in Africa. These African countries and Madagascar are still suffering from the mark left by slave trade.

Some historians believe that upon the abolition of slavery, the total loss in persons through slave trade in Sub-Saharan Africa far exceeded the remaining 65-75 million inhabitants.

3. Indentured Labour

The system of indentured labour invented by the French and also largely implemented by the British after the abolition of slavery in 1934 was a disguised form of slavery. They started by exporting 25,000 laborers to Mauritius from India in 1938 as from 1942 thousands to their colonies and protectorates of the West Indies. the French also exported large numbers of Indian laborers to Reunion Island. between 1842 and 1870, more than 525,482 Indians had been enticed to immigrate to the British and French colonies. By 1920, nearly 1.2 million had been exported.

Indentured labour robbed India of its children, making it poorer, and after the system of indentured labor made sure that the laborers remained poor. After the abolition of indentured labor and the granting of independence (except Reunion Island) the newly independent countries has as only legacy poverty and a poor population, as only a minority, those who had been lucky to migrate as traders, were well-off.

Political Causes of Poverty

I could have entitled this part "Effects of corrruption on poverty" but isn't politics and corruption synonymous? There's no doubt about it, especially in developing countries.

I thought it would be interesting to deal with the political causes by taking the example of Tunisia. Tunisia has been in the limelight recently because of the popular upheaval which overthew the Be Ali/Trabelsi clans out of power.

The Ben Ali/Trabelsi Family reigned over Tunisia for more that 25 years. So strong was their grip on all spheres, especially through their corrupt practices, that investments were kept low and unemployment and inflation always rising.

Ben Ali and his wife's family, the Trabelsis, reigned over Tunisia like a mafia. It is said that about 50% of the businesses in Tunisia have a Ben Ali/Trabelsi connection. Tunisia's financial sector was also strangled by the family. Members of the clan held many non-performing loans (the banking sector had a staggering 19% non-performing loans) and used their membership in the Family to avoid repayment.

Evidently, this state of affairs has prevented the majority of Tunisians from coming out of poverty.

The same scenario can be met in many developing countries.

Wars, Wars and Wars...

...cause poverty

Wars, tribal wars, ethnic wars, religious wars, genocidal wars... so many wars that worsen the case of some already underdeveloped countries.

Take the example of India. We just have to look at the casualty statistics before and after partition:

1946: The Great Calcutta Killings: 5,000

Bihar massacre against Noakhali: 7,000-8,000

1947: Violence in Punjab, March: 3,000

The Rawalpindi Massacre: 2,000

Ferozpur District: 1,000

Shekupura: 10,000

Harbanspura: 1,500

After partition (August 1947): about 500,000

Bangla Desh after partition from Pakistan (1971): 1,500,000 casualties (plus 10,000,000 refugees).

Genocide in Rwanda: more than 900,000 massacred in 1994.

No continent has been free from wars over the past Century. We have had so many wars, and wars continue. Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine. Now Libya is plunging in a civil war. Wars don't seem to be ending soon. They will continue to help consolidate global poverty as long as man will be foolish enough to fight wars.

Climate and Catastrophes Create Havoc...

and cause poverty to increase

1. Desertification

Desertification is affecting many parts of the world. It has been provoked both by natural climatic change or man's irresponsible actions. The countries of the Sahel, Madagascar, Chile, Ethiopia, Morocco, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, several Central Asian countries, Mexico, Brazil, Pakistan and several other countries are all prone to desertification.

Desertification means less fertile land. Agriculture is badly affected. Desertification therefore helps to maintain Africa and many other countries in poverty and contributes to worsen world hunger.

2. Droughts

Several East and West African countries are hit by severe droughts. Ethiopia and Somalia, two of the world's poorest countries, are perfect examples. 17 million Somali and 14 million Ethiopians face hunger. Kenya is also being caught in a cycle of drought.

10 million people face famine in West Africa in countries like Niger, Cameroun, Mali, Senegal and Chad.

3. Floods

When they hit a country, floods can have devastating effects on the economy of a country. Floods affect poor countries regularly. In 2008, floods affected more than 500,000 people in Peru. Bangla Desh, most often on top of the hit-parade of the poorest countries with Haiti, is regularly hit by floods because of its its topography.

Floods, apart from destroying homes, crops and livestock, often cause the population to flee. The cycle of poverty rolls on.

4. Cyclones

It is estimated that tropical cyclones have caused about 1.9 million deaths worldwide during the past two centuries, both in developed and undeveloped countries.

However, many undeveloped countries are cyclone-prone zones. Cyclones have a bigger effect on the economy of poor countries than rich ones. They often cause mortality, destroy buildings and disrupt harvest, thereby creating homelessness and, if the affected country does not have the means to subsidize food, hunger.

Infectious diseases can also follow cyclones. Malaria, gastro-enteritis are common after the passage of a cyclone in a poor country.

5. Earthquakes

Earthquakes are probably the worst natural disaster that can hit a country, as they can't be predicted. Whereas they do not severely affect the economy of rich nations (e.g the recent Christchurch and Honshu earthquake will probably not bear long-term consequences on the economy of New Zealand and Japan), they are normally devastating in poor countries where they also provoke homelessness.

Example of Pakistan: In 2005, an earthquake hit the country, killing 80,000 persons and causing 3.5 million people to be homeless. In 2008, another earthquake killed 215 persons and caused 120,000 to be homeless.

AIDS and infectious Diseases Are a Major Cause of Poverty

AIDS is now becoming an important cause of poverty in developing countries.

An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. The disease is seriously affecting some Sub-Saharan countries where it has reached an epidemic stage. Sub-Saharan countries account for 67% of all people living with HIV worldwide and for 72% of AIDS-related deaths in 2008. In that same year more than 14 million children had lost one or both parents to AIDS in that region. These poor countries are seeing their productive forces diminishing while at the same time they have to provide healthcare to the growing numbers of patients and take care of the children in poverty..

There are 350-500 million cases of malaria every year, with 1 million fatalities. Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide. AIDS is leading Africa more and more into poverty.

Lack of Education Causes Poverty

Education and poverty are closely interrelated in developing countries.

According to official enrollment reports, more than 72 million children of primary school age in the developing world do not attend school. 57 per cent are girls. Experts believe that these figures are conservative.

More than a billion people are unable to read a book or sign their names.

It is estimated that less than one per cent of what the world spends every year on weapons is sufficient to put every child on the planet into school, yet nothing is being done seriously about this global issue

Education is a major factor that can help people out of poverty. Yet, nothing is being done in poor countries to break the cycle of poverty due to illiteracy. In many poor countries, those forming part of the elite are satisfied with the situation. Illiteracy means availability of cheap labor and the assurance that they will stay at the top forever. They will get richer and richer, and the uneducated poorer and poorer.

Brain Drain Does Cause Poverty

Education is a major factor of poverty in developing countries. Poor countries fund the education of their children, yet the rich countries rob them of their elite as soon as they become productive. Many do leave voluntarily, but many are "hunted' by the rich countries and enticed to emigrate. Poor countries, through brain drain, fund the development of rich countries, and thereby get poorer and poorer.

It is estimated that brain drain has cost the African continent over $4 billion in the employment of 150,000 expatriate professionals annually. Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, lost 75 per cent of its skilled workforce between 1980 and 1991

India loses about $2 billion a year due to computer experts emigrating to the US.

To put it crudely, the poor countries are in the end left with mostly "mediocre" talents who contribute to keep the vicious circle of poverty turning.

Traditions Often Cause Poverty

Let us take the example of Afghanistan, probably the most traditional country in the world.

The Talibans banned girls from attending school. Their nearly ten-year reign deprived millions of women from getting an education and a decent job. Even now, though they are not in power, they are doing everything to jeopardize the education of girls. Many schools have been closed after receiving threats from the Talibans.

Today there are 2,4 million girls attending school in Afghanistan, compared to 5,000 when the Talibans were vanquished in 2001. This figure would have been much higher if there were more female teachers in rural areas. Many parents do not send their daughters to school because of another tradition: they do not want male teachers to teach their daughters.

Another factor affecting girls' attendance is forced marriage.

The Talibans are also powerful in Pakistan. In Pathan they have been threatening girls who attend school, and many parents do not send their daughters to school for this reason, and many schools have been forced to close.

Lack of education, as we have seen already, is a major cause of poverty. Tradition, by preventing women from being educated, reinforces poverty.

Squid Angel Blessings

This lens has been blessed by the following Squid Angels:



Lisa Auch





Thank you, sukkran, darcie-french, LisaAuch, TamaraKajari, aesta1, sherioz and RickBasset.

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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      lack of financial literacy on the part of the people is also a key factor to consider. this has to do with how people manage their financial resources. this is more of personal contribution to poverty rate in the land. people need to be held responsible and accountable for their poor personal financial management skill.

    • profile image

      asheer el perfecto 

      3 years ago

      have to put on causes of poverty in mauritius nor world wide

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Nigeria has no business being among the poor with so rich endowment. well it all boils down to CORRUPTION

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      It is extremely sad to know that there are still so many countries suffering though poverty

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      What remains unanswered is the bigger question of what can be done to fix the problem of poverty. The answer to such an extreme question addresses two of the causes that were mentioned in the article: lack of education and gender inequality. Indeed, by closing the gender gap through greater access to female education, poverty can be effectively eliminated.

    • sharadkgupta lm profile image

      sharadkgupta lm 

      5 years ago

      very effective creation , pinning the worst problem of a life. poverty is a curse to mankind.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      This is a critical problem with no end in sight and people are dying every day from poverty.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      about poverty i need information i got a lot things if you have additional info about cause of urban poverty i need please post it thank u!

    • amytrumpeter profile image

      Amy Trumpeter 

      6 years ago from Oxford

      Thanks so much for this amazing lens. I'm really interested in the 'brain-drain' issue, as this is a relatively new idea for me. I read about it in Giles Boltons book 'Africa Doesn't Matter'.

    • OMENA777 profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for a wonderful lens on poverty.

      "Poverty of the soul is the root cause of all poverty" Omena

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      thanks because most of what is written is true i like


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Nigeria is a developing country which faces most of the problems highlighted. Bad leadership ha been a major factor in undermining development in a country so rich in crude oil. the same cycle of people from generation of grandfathers to grandsons are in politics. We are being governed by family-names from time immemorial.This is because only the top minute percentage of the population have access to qualitative education and thus are the exposed member of the society. During election times, poverty are the fear of the unknown, concerning yiour next meal, makes the poverty-riden average Nigerian sell their votes for whatever stipend they are offered by sweet-mouthed politicians. If nothing is done to avert this trend, the country may not have a future.

    • profile image

      Donnette Davis 

      6 years ago from South Africa

      Beautifully presented, thank you - Blessed!

    • StewartClan profile image


      6 years ago

      I really think this lens is actually very important. Explaining poverty to our young people in a way that they can understand is vital in order to facilitate change. I think this lens really shows that change will not be possible with humans. Thank you very much, I liked it.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      so helpful,well done!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      mmm!!! interesting. I like

    • UKGhostwriter profile image


      6 years ago

      very thought provoking, well done!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is such an important article.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for the 'wake up call'. This lens shows why just throwing money at poverty doesn't work.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      A meaningful and informative article.Thank you.

    • eccles1 profile image


      6 years ago

      What causes poverty in developing countries? Greed !

    • debate76ster profile image


      6 years ago

      It is completely obvious that the imperialist movements of the twentieth century robbed "third world" countries of their resources, cultural significance, and societal structure. The sad part is that it hasn't changed - globalization is the new slave ship for the world.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Culture has also a lot to do with poverty. I see this here in Switzerland where there is really no poverty. People take action for their lives.

    • akataRadu profile image


      6 years ago

      On developing countries : Coming from a developing country myself, I can say that the most important factor is Bad management from the top, and the reason for that bad management is simple: You can't have rich people without poor people , You can't have an upper class without that working class. This principle applies to countries.

      What do you think would happen if all those chinese workers got paid western european wages.. for their work. Instead of that 120$ a month, they would get 3000$ , What do you think will happen to the final product cost? And you know who's responsible for this? The government.

      On underdeveloped countries : it's easy to blame Education from YOUR (all the people who voted education) point of view. Imagine dying from starvation and going to school. I wonder how many of you have been in that situation. It's ignorant to blame it on education. I've seen people going in underdeveloped countries in Africa and building schools and churches. Really now? People are starving and we want them to have faith in our god and to know simple mathematics?

      I wonder how many people have actually been to the underdeveloped parts of Africa and stood there looking at all that starvation and saying to themselves.. These people need Schools, yep, that's what they need.

      People need food, water, proper housing and healthcare, AFTER all this they need education. It amazes me that NOBODY clicked on climate. It's funny because bad weather ruins good crops in developed countries and the prices go up because the demand is high and the supply is low, now imagine living in some desert where a country can hardly grow enough food to feed it's population. They would have to import food right? but with what money?

      Unfortunately some countries have bad climate, no resources(or if they have resources they are exploited through government contracts - african diamonds), and worse politics.

      We live in the democratic world where we can do whatever we want. Some years (last year in Europe) the crops were so good , they actually were TOO good. We had a surplus of food. What did we do with all that surplus of food? we burned it. Right you heard me, we burned it to maintain a good market price. Simple economics, if you have a huge supply, the prices will be low, hence the burning of GOOD FOOD. This happened across Europe and I'm sure it happens everywhere in the world. What would happen if we just give all that food to people who need it? we would live in a better world. But all those shipments of food cost money, and since we live in a democratic world and we can do whatever we want, we chose not to have an extra cost and ignore the millions who die of starvation.

      Stop blaming and start helping.

      A very good lens!

    • viscri8 profile image


      7 years ago

      Poverty in developing countries is caused by the very fact that it is in a stage of development and not yet developed. All the causes from the list are linked -- education is linked to politics, corruption is linked to politics, tradition is linked to history, education is linked to tradition, history is linked to climate, climate is linked to lack of resources which are linked to education and brain drain and are linked to politics, etc.Nations/countries just have to go through their stages of development, no one else can develop in their place - development can not be done artificially or by force -- it comes by steps and must cover all levels of society in a certain country -- and include all fields.Corruption only happens when there are corruptors, education can only be good when educators are dedicated, brain drain can only happen when the brains want to go for more money rather than stay and build up their own country, politics can only work well when the nation at large can take a stand if its necessary for the nation's good and not only for a part of it. Blessed this lens for a topic that has been opened -- keep well!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      One major cause of poverty in developing nations is corruption within the government.

      This is especially true on the continent of Africa. In countries with such abundant natural resources, why is there so much poverty? Zimbabwe which was once the "breadbasket" of Africa now is the largest food importer. A major cause is Robert Mugabe. Until there is more democracy, and less corruption poverty will persist.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      7 years ago from Canada

      I would wish for so much sadness in the world to be gone. So much of it leads back to poverty and lack of education. Money placed in the correct hands could indeed change the world.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The lack of business infrastructure is a major cause. If businesses cannot compete on the global market, then they are not hiring. If business is booming, then a country has a shortage of labor and business invest money training people who previously had little to no job skills. It usually takes a couple generations as the first generation usually suffers working in poor conditions, but their kids, instead of herding goats or plowing land, are now in school. On my lens I share an experience about working in Nigeria, and have some books that focus on poverty in developing countries.

    • laki2lav profile image


      7 years ago

      I knew things were bad, but not that bad. Thanks for brining this out.

    • bernie74 lm profile image

      bernie74 lm 

      7 years ago

      You have some interesting facts here, it is very sad to see what happens I am definitely one who is grateful for what I have not what I don't have, thanks for sharing

    • Frischy profile image


      7 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      This is a very complex and interesting topic. Health and access to healthcare is certainly one factor out of so many. Poverty is at the same time intensely personal and intensely political. I do not believe any of us can escape our responsibility for it.

    • vkumar05 profile image


      7 years ago

      The major reason is the inability of the society to make use of its resources for production. Mostly it is because of the lack of a combined effort.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 

      7 years ago from Ljubljana

      I strongly believe education is the main factor. Rich people can lose their wealth too if they miss crucial moments to adapt to current situation. And we have a lot of very poor people in rich countries. Education or lack of it is the reason to stay poor or to escape from the poor environment. Great example is situation of professional athletes in USA. They got tons of money but because of lack of financial education more than half of them in five years after the career ending file for bankrupcy.

    • Harshitha LM profile image

      Harshitha LM 

      7 years ago

      All the above factors which are causes for poverty are true. Ti this I would also like to add corruption, esp in politics. This lets the policy makers to device new ways to get grants and loans for the poor and to eradicate poverty. But all they do is (mis)use the money for their own benefit.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Lets pray for the poor kids...

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 

      7 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      A very important topic that needs to be addressed, but I'm not sure how. Unfortunately, most of those who have are not willing to give up anything up for those who have not. The value of women in a society seems to have a relationship to poverty. Giving women an education and equality appears to make a big difference, but cultural traditions and religious doctrine are often obstacles to the status of women.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      7 years ago

      I am sure that one big factor in poverty at one end of the scale is sheer greed and waste at the other. The monetary system is open to such exploitation that it creates a huge dichotomy. Of course, the issue is much more complex than that and you have raised the topic very intelligently and sensitively.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hello Rafick. You have an interesting lens; I like it ,and I'm giving it a thumbs up!

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 

      7 years ago

      Yes- poverty breeds poverty - it's a vicious cycle on all levels. One by one though, folks will wake up to making a different choice- the ripple effect is always profound. Thank-you for speaking to poverty and the fuel that keeps the cycle going.

    • Morticella LM profile image

      Morticella LM 

      7 years ago

      It's a big problem but I can see a solution. Good Lens

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Your lens is very interesting. I just published my first lens, a work in progress, regarding the village of Njau, Gambia (a country listed on your $1/day index). I hope you'll check it out and help spread the word about an awesome group of local women getting themselves out of poverty!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      its much of your reasons together what causes poverty...

    • OrganicMom247 profile image


      7 years ago

      When there is poverty, there is hunger, malnutrition, and then death. Sad but true.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      I feel I should be doing more to be a part of the solutions related to poverty. It is complex, but if every one of us did something for one individual, or one family living in poverty, we could begin to make a dent in this tragic social condition that is a plague in the world. Thank you for spotlighting this tremendously critical situation.

    • ltraider profile image


      7 years ago

      Great article. The Disparity between the haves and have nots is staggering.

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Thank you for creating this very needed article. Please continue to create lenses of this nature. If you change one person's attitude then you have changed a hundred for he will pass on your message. Best wishes.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Its the responsibility of the rich and more resourceful people of every country to think about the interests of the poor people in their nation and help in whatever way they can. Special emphasis should be given on education because according to me education can prove to be the most effective tool in fighting poverty. Thanks for writing about poverty. It will make people introspect.

    • garrekds profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens! I took a class in college about ethics and development. One of the books we studied from was Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen's "Development as Freedom," which talked about poverty as capability deprivation and sought to show that individual "capabilities" or freedoms is an important step in helping impoverished countries develop.

    • Gripandflip profile image


      8 years ago

      Interesting lens. Thanks for the info.


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