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Progress made, but more work ahead to end global poverty
Publication Date : 22-03-2013
You don't often hear good news from the United Nations. But according to the recently released 2013 Human Development Report, we are making huge progress toward ending global poverty.
Thanks mainly to what the report described as the “Rise of the South” — the human development of the new powers in the developing world — the world is witnessing unprecedented success in poverty eradication.
In 2000, the UN formally established eight ambitious targets for global development — the Millennium Development Goals. The goals are in the following order: the eradication of extreme poverty; universal primary education; gender equality; child mortality reduction; maternal health improvement; combating AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; environmental sustainability and international partnership for development. All 193 UN member states and 23 international bodies signed up to the promise of achieving the goals by 2015.
For poverty eradication, the first of the Millennium Development Goals, the signatories agreed to halve the proportion of people living on less than US$1.25 a day compared to 1990. According to the 2013 Human Development Report, that goal has been achieved three years before the target date of 2015, primarily due to the success of some of the world's most populous countries. In Brazil, the percentage of the population living on less than US$1.25 a day based on 2005 levels, measured at purchasing power parity, went from 17.2 per cent to 6.1 per cent; while in China this figure dropped from 60.2 per cent to 13.1 per cent. In India the decline was from 49.4 per cent to 32.7 per cent. Between 1990 and 2008, China alone lifted 510 million people out of poverty, the report pointed out as an example.
“Never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast,” the report stated.
A separate report by Oxford University's poverty and human development initiative predicted that extreme poverty can be eradicated within two decades if human development continues at present rates.
The term in question is, of course, “at present rates.” The extraordinary development in the past two decades is exactly that: extraordinary. It therefore does not necessarily represent a long-term trend. If the current situation is any guide, the prospect is truly worrying.
The 2013 Human Development Report warned that urgent action is needed in the promotion of environmental sustainability or the world could see the population of those living in extreme poverty surge up to 3 billion by 2050.
While carbon reduction is on the lips of most business leaders and policymakers, the momentum for global environmental cooperation has been weak at best. The search for new energy, especially after the Fukushima disaster turned nuclear energy politically toxic in many nations, has drawn many countries toward technologies with potentially negative environmental impacts, such as fracking in the US and deep-sea methane hydrates extraction in Japan.
To compound the environmental worries, Asia might turn from the global growth engine of the past decades into a potential battlefield in the next. Never since the Cuban missile crisis has the world come so close to nuclear war after North Korea unilaterally nullified the 1953 Armistice agreement and cut off the hotline with South Korea. Chinese military officials, on the other hand, admitted recently that a frigate locked its radar on a Japanese destroyer over the disputed Diaoyutais. While most policymakers and commentators regarded these events as the results of hard-line posturing, the build-up of war rhetoric in Asia should not be overlooked.
The peace complacency of the past decade has created a paradoxical situation in which the illusion of the impossibility of war allows nations to resort to ever-more militant gestures as bargaining measures or means to satisfy nationalist sentiment at home. A miscommunication between nations, a misjudged move by policymakers, an overly patriotic general or a trigger-happy officer could start a war.
We live in the best of times in recorded history with decades of unprecedented peace and human development but policymakers should not be made complacent by the long period of peace and prosperity. International cooperation on issues such as environmental protection and dispute resolution as well as a departure from nationalistic rhetoric are needed to ensure our children don't live in the worst of times.