Back in 2000, countries around the world convened to discuss the United Nations Millennium Development Goals – goals to make the world a safer, healthier place and to ultimately eradicate global poverty. Countries pledged that by 2015, they would halve the number of people living in poverty, cut maternal mortality by three-quarters and cut child mortality by two-thirds. Though there are considerable strides to make toward the latter two objectives, the former goal of halving extreme poverty has been achieved even earlier than expected.
In 1990, 1.9 billion people in developing nations were living in extreme poverty, or 43 percent of the world’s population. By 2000, that number was down by one-third. By 2010, the number was 1.2 billion – or 21 percent of the Earth’s population. This indicates that in a short 20 years, the global poverty rate was cut in half.
The quick, yet drastic improvements that were made in just two decades raise the question: what is stopping world leaders from reaching 1 percent in the near future?
According to Martin Ravallion, the World Bank’s head of research, growth alone does not ensure less poverty in a nation. Based on Ravallion’s research and surveys, he found that two-thirds of the poverty decrease was the result of growth and one third came from greater income equality. His surveys reveal that a one percent increase in incomes cut poverty by 0.6 percent in the most unequal countries and by 4.3 percent in the most equal ones.
China is responsible for three-quarters of the world’s total decline in extreme poverty over the past twenty years. Back in 1980, the country was home to the greatest poverty-ridden population in the world. In just two decades, China lifted 600 million citizens out of extreme poverty.
It is not the only nation, however, that has experienced accelerated economic growth. In Brazil, new poverty reduction policies – including equality through minimum wages, cash transfer programs for the poor and better public services – have largely contributed to the nation’s economic development. Not only has poverty been considerably reduced, but deforestation of the Amazon has also been cut by 80 percent.
World leaders argue that today’s developed nations have the resources and technology to eventually eradicate extreme poverty. It is the small factors, however, that will be most important. Not only is it essential for a nation to experience economic growth and income equality, but it must also foster a healthy and stable population.
This means that education and health are at the forefront of the United Nations’ agenda. Though 17,000 more children are alive per day compared with the situation twenty years ago and mosquito nets have saved 3.3 million lives from malaria, there are still large obstacles to overcome. Taking small initiatives, while tackling large issues with the proper resources, will be the key to seeing the end of extreme poverty by the year 2030.
– Samantha Scheetz