Good News Regarding Global Poverty

When the United Nations announced their Millennium Development Goals (MGD’s) in 2000, the overall goal was to end global poverty. Well, it appears that we are well on track to end extreme poverty, despite the global economic recession. The global poverty rate is expected to fall below 15 percent by 2015–well below the 23 percent target the MGD’s set for that same year–and it also fulfills the target of the first MDG of halving the proportion of people living on less than $1 day by 2015. Additionally, the number of people in developing countries living in extreme poverty is expected to fall below 900 million. The area that has seen the most drastic drop in poverty is East Asia, particularly China and India. And the projections for sub-Saharan Africa are more optimistic than previously estimated, which is encouraging since this is the the poorest region in the world. Other areas that have seen improvements are primary schooling–especially in sub-Saharan Africa–and on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

However, although the news regarding poverty is optimistic, the figures for hunger aren’t quite as good. The global proportion of people going hungry is at 16 percent, and inadequate access to food combined with higher food prices are the main culprits for the difficulties nations and international organizations are having in addressing hunger. Although hunger hasn’t gotten worse, it hasn’t gotten much better.

Overall, gains have been made across the board, including a reduction in child mortality, a decline in new HIV infections and improved access to drinking water. But officials are pressing for countries to reach the “poorest of the poor.” UN General Secretary recently spoke about the MGD’s in Geneva, Switzerland, acknowledging the successes so far but also mentioning all the work that still needs to be done. Here is an exert of his speech:

“But achieving all the MDGs will require extra effort. Even where we have seen rapid growth, as in east Asia and other parts of the developing world, progress is not universal, nor are the benefits evenly shared. Stubbornly high unemployment persists in rich and poor countries alike. And in many cases, the wealth gap is widening – between the prosperous and the marginalised, between urban and rural. Solid gains in school enrolment and gender parity hardly signal mission accomplished…When the MDGs were first articulated, we knew that achieving them would, in a sense, be only half the job. We knew that too many men, women and children would go largely untouched by even our best efforts. That is why we are already working with all our partners to sustain the momentum and to carry on with an ambitious post-2015 development agenda…Between now and 2015, we must make sure that promises made become promises kept. World leaders must show not only that they care, but that they have the courage and conviction to act.”

It is encouraging that the global poverty rate is going down and more children–especially girls–are receiving at least a primary-level education. But we should not slow down until no one lives in poverty, no one goes hungry, no one faces discrimination due to their race, gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation and all children have the opportunity to receive an education. This is honesty an issue that is more easily fixed than many of the others, but it will take a shared and strong commitment from world leaders, and that has typically been the biggest battle.

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