Poverty: A Global Problem
“Poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It deprives people of their voice and threatens their livelihoods, leaving them no option but to struggle for survival on a daily basis.” (José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission).Poverty is one of the major problems faced by our world today. Although great strides have been made in recent years in the fight against poverty, it still remains one of the most pressing issues of our time. In this paper, we will be looking at the situation of poverty in the world, its causes and the efforts of international organizations to address the issue.
2. What is poverty and why does it matter?
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) defines poverty as “…a human condition characterized by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.” Poverty is more than just a lack of income or material possessions; it is also about powerlessness, isolation and exclusion from decision-making process. It robs people of their dignity and limits their opportunities in life.
Poverty matters because it has an impact on all aspects of life – physical health, mental health, educational attainment, employment prospects, housing conditions and so on. It affects people not just individually but also collectively as members of families and communities. Poverty can lead to social tensions and conflict within societies. It is also one of the main drivers of forced migration as people are forced to leave their homes in search of a better life elsewhere.
3. The extent of poverty in the world today
According to the World Bank’s estimates for 2015, about 767 million people or 10 percent of the world’s population lived below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day. This means that they did not have enough income to meet their basic needs for food, shelter and clothing. Most of these people (68 percent) lived in sub-Saharan Africa while another 24 percent were from South Asia. Most importantly, nearly half of the world’s poor (46 percent) were children below the age of 18 years old.
4. The causes of poverty
There are many factors that contribute to poverty; some are physical or natural while others are man-made or structural. Natural disasters such as floods or droughts can destroy crops and lead to loss of livelihoods which can push people into poverty. Other physical factors include poor soils which make it difficult to grow crops or rear livestock; limited access to clean water which affects both health and productivity; climate change which leads to more extreme weather conditions that can damage crops; and finally conflict which destroys infrastructure and disrupts economic activity leading to further impoverishment.
Apart from physical factors, there are also structural causes of poverty that are man-made such as unequal distribution of resources, power and opportunities; corruption and bad governance; discrimination against particular groups of people; trade restrictions; and debt burdens. All these factors work together to trap people in a cycle of poverty from which it is very difficult to escape.
5. International efforts to reduce poverty
In September 2000, representatives of 189 nations gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to adopt the Millennium Declaration which committed their countries to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty. This was followed by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were eight goals to be achieved by 2015. The goals included halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty as well as ensuring universal primary education, reducing child mortality rates and improving maternal health.
The MDGs have now been replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are 17 goals that aim to end all forms of poverty by 2030. The SDGs build on the progress made under the MDGs but also go further by addressing some of the underlying causes of poverty such as inequality, gender discrimination and climate change. The SDGs are ambitious but attainable goals that provide a roadmap for tackling poverty in all its forms.
Poverty is a complex problem that requires a multi-faceted approach to be effectively addressed. While great strides have been made in recent years, much more needs to be done to eliminate poverty completely. International organizations such as the United Nations play a vital role in coordinating efforts to reduce poverty and provide assistance to those who need it most. However, it is also important for national governments to take ownership of the issue and put in place policies and programmes that are geared towards eradicating poverty in their countries. Only then can we hope to achieve a world where everyone has an opportunity to lead a life free from want and deprivation.