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China's Poverty Reduction and the Millennium CampaignThe fight against poverty is a massive undertaking. While China’s poverty reduction has helped the United Nations (U.N.) reach its goals, there is still a ways to go. For real and lasting progress to be made on the task of lifting millions above the poverty line, the global community has no recourse but to rely on the collective efforts and data of the global community. However, by synergizing the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector and governmental institutions, the uphill battle of poverty reduction remains fierce but not insurmountable.

The United Nations Millennium Declaration

In September 2000, following a three-day diplomatic marathon of deal-making and goal-setting, the U.N. General Assembly approved the United Nations Millennium Declaration. With this agreement, the U.N. adopted more than 60 goals. These goals included improving the environment, encouraging peace and development, promoting human rights, combating hunger and pursuing global poverty reduction. Following this daring declaration, the United Nations Millennium Campaign was put into effect. More than 180 member states agreed to the campaign as a means of achieving these goals by 2015.

Moving The Goalpost

The U.N. claims to have not merely achieved its goals but achieved them ahead of schedule. However, a closer look will reveal how this celebration may have been premature. Yale professor and development watchdog Thomas Pogge pointed out that following the signing of the original declaration, the U.N. rewrote it to reduce only the proportion of the world’s population living on less than $1 a day. Previously, the U.N. had planned to decrease the overall total number of people living in poverty.

It is estimated that this change reduced the goal by 167 million due to population growth. Also, the campaign shifted the focus of what constitutes “poverty” to be based solely on income levels. The World Bank determines extreme poverty by the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day. Changing the variables made it easier to achieve the goal. Additionally, according to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty is still more than 4 billion.

With the Millennium Campaign’s goals, moving the finish line and still declaring victory makes it more difficult to establish the current standing of global development and progress. This is especially true when it comes to China’s poverty reduction rate. It also, as an unintended consequence, has the potential to dwindle the severity of the current state of global poverty.

In an attempt to show a more impressive poverty decrease, the Millennium Campaign retroactively included data stretching back to 1990. By doing this, the impressive dip in poverty was mainly due to China’s poverty reduction progress during those 10 years.

China’s Efforts

Also, numeric data aside, one cannot underestimate the role semantics plays in perceived poverty reduction. China’s state-run media has proclaimed, “China has lifted 700 million people out of poverty through more than 30 years of reform and opening-up.” And China declares its intention to “lift” even more out of abject poverty.

Skeptics have pointed to the phrase, “lifted out of poverty,” as a purely Westernized regurgitation. China’s preferred usage of “fupin kaifa” (扶贫开发) translates as “assist the poor and develop.” So, while China’s poverty reduction accomplishments are commendable, the translation conveys a larger achievement than what it actually is. However, China does deserve credit for achieving no small feat in raising millions above the poverty line.

The global community has much to be proud of considering how far the world has come in the work of bettering lives. If the mammoth task of combating poverty and promoting development is going to be successful, the goals needs to acknowledge the truth about the current situation.

– Connor Dobson
Photo: Flickr

Artificial Intelligence and Poverty

Artificial intelligence (AI) has forever changed the way society interacts with technology. It has provided limitless opportunities for problem-solving in the last decade, and the relationship between artificial intelligence and poverty reduction may be one worth fostering.

In 2007, the iPhone had first made its appearance on the world stage. Since its release, phone-based computer programs (apps) have evolved from simple games like Space Invaders: Infinite Gene, to industry-upsetting business models like Uber.

Since apps began to use algorithms to create relatively simple artificial intelligence (AI), computation has become vital to leading businesses and organization. Ten years ago, AI was almost entirely task-based, but a new form of AI—known as deep learning—has garnered more attention in the past few years.

Instead of a programmer telling how a certain machine should do a task, deep learning AI uses neural networks which actually teach the computer (or other deep learning AI) how to complete tasks in the most efficient manner. What makes it so special is that deep learning is faultless, and, with enough computation resources, can learn things faster than humans.

Does this finally mean that the age of robots is upon us? The easy answer is yes. Deep learning machines have now outplayed people in chess, Go (widely considered to be the most complex game in the world) and are possibly are going to try to beat humans at StarCraft, a multiplayer video game. But AI can disrupt the world’s economy in significant ways. Corporations use it to trade in the financial sector; write articles for newspapers; diagnose health disorders and diseases and do manual office work. It has even recreated a Nobel prize-winning physics experiment.

In the last decade, we have discovered that deep learning AI and AI has infinite potential. So, the question goes, how will artificial intelligence and poverty correlate? Can AI reduce poverty? In general, it should. Never in the history of mankind have we let machines do this type of work for us, so we have no precedents to build off of. Additionally, because deep learning machines are only just coming onto the marketplace, new obstacles may appear as we continue AI research.

However, people are beginning to harness this extremely powerful tool for the poor, and the work sounds promising. At the moment, AI is especially useful for data mining simple statistics: which areas need more development, which people require more education and how they can receive it, etc. Having to collect this data manually would be a time-intensive task that would also be incredibly expensive.

However, there are also more complex uses for AI, such as agricultural research for poor farmers. Tech giant IBM is working on an operations research robot that will optimize transporting food aid around the globe. Improvement of artificial intelligence and poverty reduction are thus parallel goals for these major corporations.

In addition, IBM is also working on a novel illiteracy project. If eventually implemented, it will allow people to learn how to read without the assistance of a teacher by having a computer analyze something that a student of any age might find in their daily life (such as a flower). The computer would then display the written word while playing the sound for it. This would allow people to learn how to read wherever they are, whenever they have time.

Of course, these are all leading edge uses when talking about artificial intelligence and poverty. While engineers continue to work on the technical aspects of the technology, the U.N. is preparing for the change in methodology in battling poverty by holding AI summits. Twenty U.N. agencies have and will continue to discuss issues pertaining to the Millennium Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals in relation to AI.

The potential to significantly diminish poverty with these new technologies is very high. It might take humanity decades before AI is actively fighting poverty, but when it does, it will most likely help eradicate it.

One main challenge of AI is to make sure that we can control it. Futurologist Elon Musk, along with world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and many AI experts have signed an open letter warning the U.N. against the use of AI-powered weapons, as they can potentially develop their own ethics standards and kill humans ceaselessly, regardless of their affiliation. Even though this warning specifically targets militarized robots, it is a cautionary tale: we need to tread carefully when using new technology, which is why AI will only truly take off several years into the future.

Michal Burgunder

Photo: Flickr

Indonesia Poverty
The economy of Indonesia has been steadily growing in recent years, causing the poverty rate to decline from 17 percent in 2004 to 12.5 percent in 2011. However, due to the financial crisis of 1997, poverty still dominates regions of Indonesia and separates the city of Jakarta into upper and lower classes. As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, many find it difficult to escape the harsh reality of poverty in Indonesia.

In order to recover from the economic crisis of 1997, a variety of urban alleviation programs were implemented, including social safety net programs. These programs have been able to reduce the number of poor people in Indonesia, particularly for those in urban areas.

It is a different story for those living in rural areas. Approximately 70 percent of the population lives in rural areas, where agriculture is the main source of income. Poverty tends to be higher in these areas; 16.6 per cent of rural people are poor compared with 9.9 percent of urban populations. Millions of small farmers, farm workers and fishermen are materially and financially unable to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the economic growth. They are often geographically isolated and lack access to agricultural extension services, markets and financial services.

According to the World Bank, approximately 65 million people in Indonesia live just above the poverty line, making them vulnerable to falling into poverty. Millions lack basic human needs, such as food, clean water, shelter, sanitary environments and education. In fact, few families living in poverty have their own bathrooms. Most communities share a communal bathing facility, often located miles from villages. Many of the poorest people cannot read or write.

Indonesian women in particular are vulnerable to poverty; they have less access to education, they earn less than men, and are subject to discrimination and exclusion. Many children are forced to stay home from school to tend to household duties or work at the family business.

The Indonesian government is working hard to reduce poverty and meet the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, which aim to cut the proportion of people living on less than one U.S. dollar a day by half by the end of 2015.

Kecuk Suhariyanto, the Director of Analysis and Statistic Development at Indonesia’s Central Bureau of Statistics, said that Indonesia’s poverty figure last year was a “significant improvement from the 39.3 million recorded in 2006, although the country has a different definition for poverty from most international agencies.”

– Alaina Grote

Sources: World Bank, Xinhuanet, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Flickr

Paradigm Shift Millennium Development Goals Post-2015
For nearly 15 years, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) have been a sign post for development efforts—guiding, informing and evaluating them to ensure they were on the right track. But with 2014 right around the corner, one has to wonder what is next for the global development agenda—what is to become of the MDG after 2015?

Fortunately, forging a post-2015 development agenda has been well underway since 2010.

The current MDG, which were established at the Millennium Summit in 2000, outline eight targets for development which were to be reached by 2015. They are to: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, empower women and reduce child mortality; improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.

While certain targets which were agreed upon have been met, there is still a long way to go. Furthermore, it was precisely that which a high level UN plenary meeting on the MDG decided in 2010. What was promised at that meeting was an acceleration of current MDG goals towards reaching their 2015 target date, but more importantly it set the course for a post-2015 development agenda.

To that end, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established several UN panels and task teams while appointing a special adviser on post-2015 development. His efforts resulted in a High Level Panel of Eminent Persons in 2012, which included a myriad of high level officials from every corner of the world.

In May 2013, the panel released a report entitled ‘A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development.’ The report highlights and codifies the efforts that had been underway since the 2010 summit.

Calling for a new post-2015 development paradigm, the report concluded that business as usual is not an option. The report further explained that the post-2015 agenda is a universal agenda which needs to be driven by the following “five big transformative shifts:”

1. Leave no one behind: 

With 1.2 billion people still living in poverty, this shift is meant to change the paradigm from target reduction to total eradication of extreme poverty.

2. Put sustainable development at the core.

With the continued pace of environmental degradation, sustainable development now includes increased social inclusion and a greater emphasis on reducing unsustainable consumption to be brought about through structural changes in our current models of sustainability.

3. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth.

With so many people working far too many hours for too little pay, it is vital to ensure not just equal job status, but equal economic opportunity. That is to say, everyone should have the equal opportunity to engage in work which provides a living wage.

4. Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all. 

With so much poverty resulting from conflict and wars, the post-2015 agenda calls for “a fundamental shift—to recognize peace and good governance as core elements of well-being, not optional extras.”

5. Forge a new global partnership.

Touted as perhaps the most important of the transformative shifts, the idea is to get everyone involved “towards a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation and mutual accountability.”

These shifts are meant to affirm the success of the MDG while acknowledging that there is still work to do. And with the new target date of 2030, everyone gets 15 more years to get it done right this time.

Pedram Afshar

Sources: Post-2015 HLP, UN Report: A New Global Partnership, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013
Photo: Vintage 3D

mosquito
The early December release of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Malaria Report showed significant progress in the battle against malaria. The report announced a 51 percent reduction in the malaria death rate of children under 5 years old, and the number of children dying from preventable and treatable disease fell below half a million for the first time.

As one component of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, halting and reversing the incidence of malaria has been at the forefront of many global health initiatives — and, for a good reason.

This deadly disease threatens 3.4 billion people, disproportionately burdening children and African countries. The most common age of malarial death is just 4 years of age; sub-Saharan Africa seeing approximately 90 percent of clinical cases. Although, these two populations are the most vulnerable, combatting the disease has truly been a global effort. The WHO’s report also indicated that since 2000, “the progress made against malaria is responsible for a 20 percent reduction in child mortality and has saved nearly 3 million lives of children under 5.”

This treatable and preventable disease is costly. It is one of the biggest obstacles to ending death by saving lives through improving health, especially when many malaria-prone areas are already low on the ladder of development.

Lack of resources and finances deters people from getting tests and treatment, which ultimately results in death and hinderance of human potential that is very important in the developing world. Although malaria is endemic in more than 90 countries, it marks the number one cause of school and work days missed in sub-Saharan Africa, putting a strain on economies.

The fight to end death by mosquito bite has been a cumulative effort. Millions of people, billions of dollars and many large organizations have been taking flight. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria was started in 2002, as well as the U.S. President’s Malaria in 2005 under President Bush.

Recently, President Barak Obama has accelerated Bush’s initiative, committing $1 to the Global Fund for every $2 contributed by the rest of the world. These are important investments not only for saving lives, but for improving development. Giving children the opportunity to live healthy lives is just as crucial as keeping them in school in order to promote productivity and development.

– Maris Brummel

Sources: CNN, United Nations Millennium Development Goals, John Hopkins Malaria Research Institute
Photo: Giphy.com