Decreasing Poverty

With all the bad news about the pandemic over the past eighteen months, it’s easy to get dispirited about the future of the world. And indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to slide into poverty across the globe. However, over the past half-century, the world has achieved miracles in decreasing poverty. The pandemic’s setbacks come nowhere near to erasing the progress of past years.

Examining the Larger Context

The World Bank recently estimated the COVID-19 could push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty. This means that the current situation would force millions more to live on less than $1.90 a day. This is an enormous shift to fight, acknowledge and remain aware of. Yet, even that number pales in a larger context to the amount the world has achieved in reducing extreme poverty.

In 1981, 41% of most of the developing world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Over the last four decades, an incredible international effort has reduced that number to 25% in 2008. On average, millions upon millions rose out of poverty because of annual global efforts focused on decreasing poverty. A similar trend is visible in literacy rates since literacy and education are one of the best ways to reduce extreme poverty. Due to the pandemic, school closure and slashed budgets, an estimated 100 million more children may be unable to achieve sufficient skills in reading.

Paradoxically, global literacy has never been higher. Two centuries ago, global illiteracy rates hovered around 90%. By 1970, world literacy stood at almost 70%. Today, thanks to even more steady improvement, literacy is almost 90%. The worrying effects of the pandemic remain priorities, but the hundreds of millions lifted out of illiteracy, even in only a few decades, cannot be obscured.

Perception and Action

Despite positive trends, public perception remains negative. A 2017 survey found that a majority of Americans believe that worldwide extreme poverty rates have increased over the past twenty years. Perhaps news coverage and dismal portrayals of the situation overall have contributed to this perception. Furthermore, COVID-19 has led more people to believe that poverty is growing more desperate, but in reality, the pandemic stands as one tiny step back in a marathon of progress.

How has the world achieved such an impressive reduction in extreme poverty in just a few short decades? Though complex, part of the answer centers on the fact that much recent economic growth has taken place in populous, less-developed countries, such as China and India. These countries deserve much credit for progress in reducing poverty, yet wealthy countries like the United States have also helped by giving many countries access to the wealth of global trade, as well as spending billions annually on developmental aid.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has dragged millions into poverty around the world, but a broader evaluation gives a reason for hope. In just forty years, the way countless people live has transformed, turning poverty into the exception, rather than the norm. If this effort continues, there’s no telling how much more progress the world will make in decreasing poverty.

Thomas Brodey
Photo: Unsplash

Progress Made: An Update on SDGs in EthiopiaIn 2015, 193 UN Member states agreed to work domestically and with other countries to make the world a better and more sustainable place. The resolution that the states signed on September 25, 2015 outlines a path towards sustainable development first precipitated by the Rio+20 Conference in 2012. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals try to pick up where the Millennium Development Goals left off in eradicating poverty and inequality.

It has now been two years since that conference took place, and countries have had the chance to assess themselves and see which goals they can achieve and where they can succeed. In July 2017, representatives from certain countries met up again, this time to report some of their findings on a number of goals. The SDGs in Ethiopia that are most important are goals one, two and five.

Concerning the first goal of no poverty, Ethiopia has made immense strides in the past decade and even more since they adopted the SDGs. The poverty rate was 38.7 percent in 2004, but declined to 29.6 percent in 2010. In 2011, the rate declined another 6.2 percent to 23.4 percent by the end of 2015. These improvements came about as a result of government measures to promote economic growth, such as the Growth and Transformation Plan, as well as anti-poverty organizations working all over the country.

Ethiopia’s progress on the second goal, zero hunger, has also been positive, despite the drought that affected the country’s food supply. The country continues to support programs to bolster small farmers. The country also implemented Climate-Resilient Green Agricultural Development in order to slow their greenhouse gas emissions while promoting growth in the agricultural sector. Different organizations also continue to help Ethiopia become more food secure, like The Hunger Project, which works to decrease food insecurity while also mobilizing communities to become self-reliant.

Finally, the fifth goal of gender equality has also seen improvements. In many countries, women tend to lack political agency. In Ethiopia, the number of female representatives in Parliament reached 38.7 percent, while at regional and district levels women’s representation reached 48 percent in 2016.

Updates on the SDGs in Ethiopia may not paint a perfect picture, but they illustrate a positive look at a country moving towards a better future. Progress in the areas of poverty, hunger, equality and sustainability help Ethiopia model the SDGs in action. This progress is emblematic of a country and world moving away from poverty and toward progress.

Selasi Amoani

Photo: Flickr

India has made incredible progress in efforts to decrease its population’s degree of poverty and improve the quality of life of its citizens throughout the last 20 years. The poverty rate in India fell from 45.3 to 21.9 percent between 1993 and 2011, and it continues to drop each year.

Behind only China, India is the second most-populated nation in the world with over 1.3 billion citizens. Additionally, India still houses one-third of the world’s poor, despite a 50 percent drop.

There is thus a two-way focus on India in achieving the World Bank’s Millennium Development Goals of defeating global poverty by 2030. While it is a clear example of successful aid and development, the nation still has a long way to go.

Despite its struggles, India has still transformed into one of the world’s fastest growing economies. India is an influential member of the G20, and it now acts as an important participant in international affairs.

The United States has provided a great deal of aid to India over the last two decades. Consequently, its dramatic improvement is proof that nations that once appeared hopeless can succeed in the global market.

In a blog post, Bill Gates cited India’s resurrection as “phenomenal.” Further, India “deserves recognition especially now, as rich countries consider whether to continue investing in global development assistance despite all the economic problems they face at home.”

Despite these developments, it is important to remember that there are still 400 million Indians living in extreme poverty. UNICEF has instituted programs that target these issues. These campaigns work to reduce neonatal deaths; increase child growth and development; protect children’s learning environment; and empower adolescents.

USAID plans to continue investing in the country’s healthcare, water, education, and energy. The G20 Summit will hopefully provide further opportunities to develop a plan that will eradicate poverty. Until world poverty has all but disappeared, India remains an unfinished success story.

Emily Trosclair

Photo: Flickr

Poverty rates in Peru have dropped significantly over the past four years. Specifically, extreme poverty rates among those with non-social assistance-based income have dropped from 32.8 percent to 24.1 percent in the poorest, most rural parts of the country. While Peru has faced its fair share of challenges, progress is being made.

Ana Revenga, the Senior Director of the Poverty Reduction Unit of the World Bank, recently stated that Peru’s economic growth and poverty reduction is one of the best in the region. Revenga explained, “The significant and sustained growth of the Peruvian GDP benefited the poorest, which resulted in a decrease in inequality.”

These impressive economic improvements throughout the country have come as a result of a major collective effort. In particular, a variety of social initiatives have proven to be key in combating extreme poverty and inequality.

Programs like the National Strategy for Development and Social Inclusion — or “Incluir para Crecer” — are working to close gaps in available public services. Perhaps even more importantly, this type of social program works to expand exclusive economic growth that neglects to help those suffering most severely.

As the country strives to continue moving forward, additional programs like Juntos and Pension 65 will be offering support to Peru’s poorest population. These programs will be working to ensure the longevity of recent improvements in the economic and living conditions of the extremely poor.

The Juntos program has directly contributed to the reduction in child malnutrition under the country’s current government. Within the framework of the program, conditional transfers of state subsidy guarantee good health and growth for unborn and young children alike.

Amongst Peru’s rural population, child chronic malnutrition has declined from 37 percent to 28.8 percent. At the national level, it has dropped from 19.5 percent from just four years ago to 14 percent in 2015. This number is encouragingly close to the 10 percent target set for the end of the current administration period.

The country’s Minister of Development and Social Inclusion, Paola Bustamante recently stated that since 2012, there has been over $1 billion invested in these types of social programs.

She explained that all social programs are implemented under a performance-based budgeting framework, which prevents funds from being used for other purposes besides social programs.

However, despite the above mentioned critical steps in the right direction, Peru is still facing its fair share of structural challenges. In early July 2015,  the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development requested that Peru review and reorganize its denomination of rural and urban regions.

Such obstacles have not significantly curtailed the rates of improvement in poverty reduction and inequality, however. In fact, Bustamante Suarez, another government official, has assured the public that current social inclusion policy will most definitely be continued by subsequent administrations.

Strategically targeted social initiatives will continue to level the economic playing field. As explained by Suarez, these programs will continuously work to close basic services gaps, thus improving the living conditions of the poor population. Peru still has a long road ahead, but leaders are confident that it will come out on top.

– Sarah Bernard

Sources: Andina, Peru This Week
Photo: Peace and Hope International

This past week, the U.N. released a report on the successes and failures of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The report revealed that more than one billion people have successfully broken out of poverty since 1990. It showed China and India playing key roles in this significant reduction of and progress on poverty.

The report also showed that in addition to a sharp drop in extreme poverty, the MDGs have facilitated other major successes. Presently, just as many girls as boys are enrolled in primary schools around the globe. Simple steps like installing bed nets in parts of the developed world have prevented approximately six billion deaths from malaria.

Experts say that the most important MDG contribution has been the creation of a measuring system that depicts what countries have done for their people, and what issues they have neglected. Concrete measurements of well-being—like how many children are clinically malnourished—provide the most helpful insight on the most pressing needs.

The report stated that the world’s most populous countries, China and India, played a central role in global poverty reduction. Economic progress in China helped the extreme poverty rate in Eastern Asia fall from 61 percent in 1990 to a mere four percent in 2015.

By the same token, development in India helped extreme poverty in Southern Asia decline from 52 percent to 17 percent over the same time period. Additionally, Southern Asia’s rate of poverty reduction has accelerated over the past seven years.

While these remarkable gains should not be understated, there is still much more to be done. In India, an estimated 600 million people still defecate out in the open, which dramatically heightens risk of serious disease, especially for children. Additionally, jobs are still not keeping pace with the country’s population growth.

Despite much progress, certain MDG targets were still missed, including a two-thirds reduction of child mortality and women’s deaths in childbirth. Persisting gender inequality was acknowledged as “one of the starkest failures” in the report, as women are still more likely to be poor than men.

This is not to say that progress has not been made on both fronts, but to encourage an even greater collaborative effort in the future. The MDG target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty was achieved ahead of the 2015 deadline five years ago. This is the kind of efficiency we must continually strive for.

The most recent estimates show that the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 per day fell globally from 36 percent in 1990, to just 15 percent in 2011. As of 2015, projections indicate that the global extreme poverty rate has fallen even further, to 12 percent.

At the launch of the report in Oslo, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proudly stated, “The report confirms the global efforts to achieve the goals have saved millions of lives and improved conditions for millions more around the world.” He encouraged the celebration of MDG successes across the global community.

Indeed, the report’s findings most certainly call for worldwide celebration. So too, however, they paint a picture of certain key areas in need of improvement. Looking ahead, findings such as these should help to pave the path for the post-2015 development goals agenda.

Sarah Bernard

Sources: NY Times, Economic Times
Photo: NY Times


Currently, the number of people who face hunger is around 750 million people. The number of people living in hunger has been reduced by about 167 million people in the past 10 years. In the past year alone, the number of hungry people dropped by 10 million people.

This is incredible progress!

One of the main focuses of the Millennium Development Goals is to eradicate global hunger. Global hunger has dropped considerably, and this is a moment to recognize all that has been accomplished.

In South America, less than five percent of the population faces hunger. The number of hungry people has dropped by 50% in the past 25 years. Central and South East Asia, as well as Northern Africa, have seen a drop in the number of hungry individuals.

However, 44 percent of countries did not accomplish the Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger by 50 percent in the last 15 years. South Asia still has 281 million people who suffer from hunger. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 23 percent of people do not get enough food.

Political instability in Sub-Saharan Africa may contribute to why hunger is still a problem. Twenty-four countries in Africa are currently experiencing food crises. This number is up from the 12 countries who were experiencing food crises in 1990.

Recently, bountiful food harvests and low oil prices have made the price of food drop considerably. These factors could have played a role in why hunger has been dropping.

Beyond economic growth, countries also have to focus on inclusive growth. For example, social investments, such as cash transfer programs, employment projects, food distribution schemes, healthcare and education could all reduce the number of hungry people.

Food is a basic necessity. It is extraordinary news that global hunger has dropped below 800 million. We need to continue to prioritize eradicating world hunger. If we continue progressing in this way, it is conceivable that world hunger could be eliminated.

– Ella Cady

Sources: Reuters, Deseret News,
Photo: Flickr

solutions to ending poverty
Currently, 1.3 billion people around the world live in extreme poverty. These people live on less than $1.25 per day, which roughly equates to enough money to purchase food, clean water and fuel for two meals.

The Development Committee of the World Bank set the goal of ending extreme poverty by the year 2030 and there has been some progress toward helping those who live in poverty. In the last 30 years, the proportion of the world’s population that lives below the global poverty line has been cut in half.

This was a steady decline, going from 52 percent in 1980, to 43 percent in 1990, 34 percent in 1999 and the latest numbers state that the percentage of people living in poverty was last at 21 percent.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people living in poverty has declined from 58 percent in 1999 to 49 percent in 2010.

“Eradicating poverty in a generation is an ambitious but feasible goal,” stated the United Nations General Assembly.

The decline from 1.9 billion to 1.3 billion is a great change, but there are still 1.3 billion people living without the means to properly support themselves and their families.

However, there are tools that can help elevate people from poverty, including education, health care, water and sanitation, economic security and child participation.

When children receive a quality education, they gain the knowledge and life skills that they need to break the cycle of poverty. Studies have shown that a better-educated workforce, along with a highly trained workforce, is more likely to enjoy higher earnings. This can also allow them to access better healthcare.

Poverty and poor health are “inextricably” linked. The causes of poor health for those around the world can be rooted in political, social and economic injustices. Poverty increases the chances of poor health, which then in turn can trap communities into poverty. Marginalized groups and individuals who may be vulnerable are often affected the worst, deprived of information, money or access to health services that can help them prevent and treat diseases.

Diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria account for nearly half of all child death globally, and many other diseases, including HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, have affected over a billion people worldwide, thanks in part to poor water and sanitation.

“Sanitation is a cornerstone of public health,” said World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. “Improved sanitation contributes enormously to human health and well-being, especially for girls and women. We know that simple, achievable interventions can reduce the risk of contracting diarrhoeal disease by a third.”

Preventing the spread of diseases also helps improve education for children, allowing them to be an added asset to their community. When children take part in their community, it helps engage them as citizens and aids them toward a higher economic prospect.

Allowing people to grow by giving them what every person should have allows them to grow economically, but by also providing ways to prevent and treat preventable diseases, the economies of developing countries will grow as well — thus shrinking the number of people who live in extreme poverty around the world.

– Monica Newell

Sources: Heath Poverty Action, Global Citizen, Prospect, WHO, New York Times
Photo: UN Foundation


Two years ago, Myanmar (also known as Burma) was the runt of Southeast Asia. For decades, it had suffered under autocratic military rule, entrenched human rights violations, and, at a 26% poverty rate, one of the region’s worst economies. But all that is starting to change.

In 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated the seaside nation, prompting a flood of international aid. Despite skepticism about aid impact, the global attention kickstarted major national reform in Myanmar. Jim Della-Giacoma, the director of the International Crisis Group in Asia, recently applauded the nation for handling the abrupt largesse transparently and efficiently—tendencies not often reflected in emerging governments.

In 2011, the decades-long civil war between the government and the Kachin rebels in Myanmar came to a ceasefire. The unprecedented peace has opened the gates wide for fostering economic growth and forging new global connections. The sprawling country is making visible strides out of almost 30 years of internal conflict and isolation and has become a harbor for international development work.

Not only is the nation poised for amplified development efforts, however—Myanmar has launched itself to the head of its league. In 2014, it will assume chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a bloc it joined in 1997. Its leadership will, among many things, be key to improved environmental policy in the region.

“I never thought I’d be talking about Myanmar’s influence in Southeast Asia,” said Carter Roberts, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund. “Sometimes there are moments when countries change governments and things happen, then shame on us if we don’t provide the right technical assistance at the right time.”

His words could almost be the roadmap for USAID, the US bilateral development agency that has been providing technical assistance in Myanmar since the country first opened international relations a few years ago. Under the “U.S.-Burma Partnership for Democracy, Peace and Prosperity” launched by President Obama last November, USAID is unfolding a three-pronged strategy to end health insecurity, boost the hi-tech industry, and encourage participatory governance in Myanmar.

The nation still faces serious human rights challenges, such as military persecution of its Muslim minority. Still, its ascent from hopeless destitution and obscurity to growing prosperity and leadership is staggering and offers hope to its many poor neighbors.

“There’s a real dialogue and engagement with government at a broad range of levels,” said Rajiv Shah, a USAID administrator in Myanmar. “There’s real progress.”

— John Mahon

Sources: Reuters, World Bank, Devex
Photo: Times Live


Those new to The Borgen Project or unfamiliar with international policy terminology may not have heard of the UN Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs as they are often called, but these goals are helping to drive the development agendas of nations around the world. Thirteen years ago, 189 countries at the United Nations in New York adopted a resolution called the Millennium Declaration which affirmed a collective commitment to improving the social, economic, and political lives of all people. In the resolution, countries affirmed that “in addition to our separate responsibilities to our individual societies, we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level.” World leaders affirmed their “duty to world’s people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs.”

The resolution affirmed six “fundamental values” and announced eight specific goals to be achieved by 2015. The values are

  • Freedom
  • Equality
  • Solidarity
  • Tolerance
  • Respect for nature
  • Shared responsibility

Those values in turn determined the eight Millennium Development Goals, the “key objectives” deemed to have “special significance” in the effort to “translate shared values into action.”  Specifically, the stated goals are to

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

According to the UN, these goals are intended to be a “blueprint for development institutions,” and the goals have “galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.” Progress toward Millennium Development Goals is being tracked in comprehensive annual reports that are country-specific. As evidence of this progress, the organization USAID points to the following statistics:

  • Since 1999, 43 million more children in sub-Saharan Africa are receiving primary education
  • Due to health programs and vaccinations, child mortality has fallen by 35% in the last two decades
  • In Africa, malaria deaths have been cut by over 30% in the last decade
  • Since 1990, 2 billion people have gained access to clean drinking water

April 5, 2013 marked the 1,000-day mark to the 2015 target date for the Millennium Development Goals. (Read a report about this milestone here in the Borgen Magazine). The UN and its partner organizations are redoubling efforts to reach these goals,and to plan for concerted action to continue this progress after 2015. The UN calls the 2015 MDGs “the most successful global anti-poverty push in history.”

In determining the next set of goals for beyond 2015, the UN invites people to get involved in the process and vote for these future goals. Votes can be cast here on the UN site

– Délice Williams

Source: UNDP-Brightcove,UN,Borgen
Photo: Global Giving

Mauricio Lim Miller had spent years working in social services in Oakland and San Francisco utterly frustrated at the lack of results and the absence of sustainable change or progress. He knew something needed to change and he knew it had to happen at the bottom level within families. He witnessed how individual communities provided support to their members and helped each achieve personal goals. Miller used a similar concept to create the Family Independence Initiative.

Miller offered families a regular stipend if they would agree to a monthly meeting and to setting and tracking goals for their households. His employees were not authorized to counsel or advise, simply to monitor the families’ goal progress. The program proved to be a great success because, when given the autonomy to set and meet their own goals, people made remarkable changes.

The families’ incomes increased by an average of 27%, and 40% of the families purchased homes within three years. The Family Independence Initiative has expanded to other cities and includes many different communities. Goals differ from place to place but Miller’s policy prevails –  provide them with the means in the form of small stipends and they will figure out the right strategy to improve their lives. Some groups want to establish better daycare for children, other communities want their members to be able to own houses, and others hope to set up businesses.

Giving people the responsibility for directing their own change allows them ownership over their success and investment in their future. Jesus Gerena, Director of the Family Independence Initiative explains, “The more families take initiative, the more they watch out for each other, the more they share successes, the less they need us.”

This is not just about helping each individual family but rather about transformative change and altering the way anti-poverty policy is crafted. Programs like the Family Independence Initiative show the potential to break the cycle of poverty in a sustainable way.

– Zoë Meroney

Source: The Boston Globe National Journal
Photo: Facebook