Today is International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

This Sunday, October 17, is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. International days and weeks, according to the United Nations, are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilise political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity.

The existence of international days predates the establishment of the global body. But, it has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool.  In his message to mark this year’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, says for the first time in two decades, extreme poverty is on the rise.

As the international community embarks on the Third Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, an estimated 783 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, compared with 1.867 billion people in 1990. Economic growth across developing countries has been remarkable since 2000, with faster growth in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita than advanced countries.

This economic growth has fuelled poverty reduction and improvements in living standards. Achievements have also been recorded in such areas as job creation, gender equality, education and health care, social protection measures, agriculture and rural development, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. (Resolution A/73/298)

The estimates of the potential short-term economic impact of COVID-19 on global monetary poverty through contractions in per capita household income or consumption show that COVID-19 poses a real challenge to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty by 2030 because global poverty could increase for the first time since 1990 and, depending on the poverty line, such increase could represent a reversal of approximately a decade in the world’s progress in reducing poverty.

In some regions the adverse impacts could result in poverty levels similar to those recorded 30 years ago. Under the most extreme scenario of a 20 per cent income or consumption contraction, the number of people living in poverty could increase by 420–580 million, relative to the latest official recorded figures for 2018.

Describing current levels of poverty as “a moral indictment of our times”, Guterres said that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on economies and societies around the world, with some 120 million more people falling into poverty last year.
A lopsided recovery is further deepening inequalities between the Global North and South”, said Mr. Guterres. “Solidarity is missing in action – just when we need it most”.

The fight against poverty must also be a battle against inequality. The UN chief even said that vaccine inequality has enabled COVID variants to mutate and “run wild”, condemning the world to millions more deaths, and prolonging an economic slowdown that could cost trillions of dollars.   “We must end this outrage, tackle debt distress and ensure recovery investment in countries with the greatest need”, he spelt out.

Guterres outlined a three-pronged global recovery approach to ‘Building Forward Better’ that begins with stronger political will and partnerships to achieve universal social protection by 2030.

For a transformative recovery to end to the endemic structural disadvantages and inequalities that perpetuated poverty even before the pandemic, the world must invest in job re-skilling for the growing green economy, according to the UN chief. “And we must invest in quality jobs in the care economy, which will promote greater equality and ensure everyone receives the dignified care they deserve”, he said.

Raising women up

Recovery must be inclusive so as not to leave so many behind, “increasing the vulnerability of already marginalised groups, and pushing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ever further out of reach”, Guterres added.

“The number of women in extreme poverty far outpaces that of men. Even before the pandemic, the 22 richest men in the world had more wealth than all the women in Africa – and that gap has only grown”, he upheld, adding, “we cannot recover with only half our potential”.

Economic investments must target women entrepreneurs; formalize the informal sector; focus on education, social protection, universal childcare, health care and decent work; and bridge the digital divide, including its deep gender dimension, he said.

To build a resilient, decarbonized and net-zero world, the recovery must be sustainable, which was the UN chief’s third point, and therefore, urged everyone to “listen far more” to those living in poverty, address indignities and “dismantle barriers” to inclusion, in every society.

“Today and every day, let us join hands to end poverty and create a world of justice, dignity and opportunity for all.”

In his message, UN Development Programme (UNDP) chief Achim Steiner spoke of numerous initiatives underway to help communities to Build Forward Better.

Against the backdrop that “people living in poverty are bearing the brunt of changing climate”, he pointed to UNDP’s Strategic Plan 2022-2025 as a “bold pledge to lift 100 million people out of multidimensional poverty”.

Describing access to renewable energy as a “vital lever” to creating decent green jobs while driving down carbon emissions, Mr. Achim echoed UNDP’s ambitious commitment to work with partners to provide 500 million additional people with access to clean, affordable energy by 2025.

“Efforts like the UNDP Climate Promise are vital, helping 120 countries to reduce emissions while boosting the resilience of vulnerable communities” and also “helping to end poverty and shaping a future that will balance the needs of both people and planet’’, he said.

The International Day can be traced back to October 17, 1987, when more than 100,000 people gathered at the Trocadéro in Paris – where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 – to honour the victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger.   They proclaimed poverty a violation of human rights, affirmed the need to ensure respect for these rights, and inscribed their commitments on a commemorative stone – replicas of which have been unveiled around the world, including in the garden of UN Headquarters in New York.

Since then, people have gathered every year on October 17 to show their solidarity with the poor.

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