The current development context: positive change
Over recent decades there has been the fastest reduction in poverty in human history.
This unprecedented progress has been a combination of many factors including:
- economic growth. Over the period 1990–2010, developing countries grew their Gross Domestic Product, their ‘national wealth’, by about 6 per cent. [The Economist]
- better policies to address global poverty particularly the global commitment to the eight Millennium Development Goals. These set out an internationally agreed framework to promote development over the period 2000–2015. These goals focused on: the eradication of poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and creating a global partnership for development.
- significant reductions in poverty in particular parts of the world. For example, between 1981 and 2010 China lifted 680 million people out of poverty, cutting its poverty rate from 84 per cent to about 10 per cent. And growth in other countries beyond China has also cut the number of people living in extreme poverty by 280 million.
As a result of this progress:
- there are half a billion fewer people living below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. In 1990, 43 per cent of the population of developing countries lived in extreme poverty; by 2010 this had reduced to 21 per cent.
- child death rates have fallen by more than 30 per cent, with about 3 million children’s lives saved each year compared to 2000.
- deaths from malaria have fallen by one-quarter.
- life expectancy has increased steadily across the world, particularly in most developing countries: world average life expectancy rose from 66 years in 2000, to 70 years in 2011 (World Health Organization).
The development challenge: extreme poverty
However, alongside these very positive changes there remain significant challenges and extreme poverty remains throughout much of the developing world. Approximately 1.4 billion people still live in poverty and they account for the use of just over 1 per cent of the world’s resources. Whilst absolute poverty has reduced, there has been growing inequality between rich and poor in many countries. In addition, there are many significant challenges such as environmental sustainability, the impact of climate change, demographic change, conflict and civil war, and the global economic situation. These influence the actions to reduce poverty.
How is the international community responding?
Many political leaders now believe it will be possible to eradicate extreme poverty within our lifetimes.
‘...the post-2015 agenda is our chance to usher in a new era in international development that can lead to a world of prosperity, peace, sustainability, equity and dignity for all.’ - Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, 31 August 2013
‘The United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades.’ - Barack Obama, the President of the USA, 12 February 2013
‘We have a unique opportunity to be the generation that eradicates absolute poverty...’ - David Cameron, former Prime Minister of the UK, 2 November 2012
‘Today, Africa and indeed the entire world stand at major crossroads in our drive to eradicate poverty and build sustained prosperity for all peoples. We can continue with business as usual and get the same results, which keeps hundreds of millions of people in poverty and deprivation; or we could begin to transform economies in order to achieve sustainable development.’ - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, 2 June 2013
‘For the first time in human history, society has the capacity, the knowledge and the resources to eradicate poverty.’ - Thabo Mbeki, former President of South Africa, August 2002
The international community is currently reviewing how the Millennium Development Goals help to reduce extreme poverty. In 2013, 26 representatives of governments, the private sector, academia and civil society, met to advise the United Nation’s Secretary General on a new agenda for development to coordinate international action from 2015 onwards.
Their report ‘A New Global Partnership: eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development’ argues that:
- no one should live in extreme poverty
- no one should tolerate violence against women and girls
- no one should be denied freedom of speech or access to information
- no child should go hungry or be unable to read, write or do simple sums
- all should be vaccinated against major diseases
- everyone should have access to modern infrastructure – drinking water, sanitation, roads, transport and information and communications technologies
- all countries should have access to cost-effective clean and sustainable energy
- everyone should have a legal identity.
The report also outlines a potential programme of action, with identified goals, which by 2030 could achieve the following:
- 1.2 billion fewer people hungry and in extreme poverty
- 100 million more children living who would otherwise have died before they were five
- 4.4 million more women living who would otherwise have died during pregnancy or childbirth
- 1.3 billion tons of food per year saved from going to waste
- 470 million more workers with good jobs and livelihoods
- 200 million more young people employed with the skills they need to get good work
- 1.2 billion more people connected to electricity
- 190 to 240 million hectares more forest cover
- $30 trillion (approximately £19 trillion) spent by governments worldwide transparently accounted for
- people everywhere participating in decision-making and holding officials accountable
- average global temperatures on a path to stabilise at less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels
- 220 million fewer people suffering the crippling effects of natural disasters.
Millennium Development Goals, United Nations
A New Global Partnership: eradicate poverty and transform economic through sustainable development, United Nations
‘Poverty: Not always with us’, The Economist.
Acknowledgements: This text is adapted from work by RGS-IBG for the Global Learning Programme.