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Poverty & Inequality

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The issues of poverty and inequality underpin the polarized debate in justification of or opposition to the current development approach.  Both the measurement of these issues and the methods by which they can be resolved are subject to contentious debate between the business community, economists and humanitarians. Although the international community pledged itself to resolving these issues when signing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, still not nearly enough action is being taken to remedy an urgent and dire situation. 

Measuring Poverty and Inequality

According to the World Bank's annual figures, almost half of the world lives on less than $2 a day, including almost a half of all children.  Of these people, 969 million live on less than $1 a day - the official marker of extreme poverty.  Although this figure has now fallen beneath one billion, the statistical measurement of poverty remains controversial.  At the very least, dollar-a-day measures fail to reflect the harsh reality of living in the burgeoning slums of developing countries.  According to a critical mass of opinion, the quality of life for billions of poor people is continuing to deteriorate, making the promised widely-shared prosperity of globalism increasingly irrelevant for the majority world.

The global inequality debate is no less contentious.  Although the fact of both wealth and income inequality is acknowledged as widening by innumerable studies, the structural causes of inequality are disputed.  Despite the International Monetary Fund's recent argument that foreign investment and technology (and not trade) are associated with the increase in inequality in developing countries, a wider consensus agrees that the policies of market liberalization are a key contributory factor.  Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor in both developed and developing countries continues to grow inexorably, with the number of billionaires soaring to record heights.  Overall, the three richest people in the world control more wealth than all 600 million people living in the world's poorest countries.

The Failure of the International Community

For those at the bottom of the development ladder, inequality means the difference between those who benefit from a basic standard of living, versus those who lack even the essential resources needed to survive.  In a world with a huge surplus of food, around 25,000 people continue to die from hunger each day, with one in seven people going to bed hungry.  This gross neglect by the international community is reflected in statistics for undernourishment which recorded a sharp increase in developing countries after 2001. 

Parallel to the globalization of market forces which, over the last 30 years, have evidently failed to supply the urgent demands of those who have little or no income, a globalised system of welfare is sorely needed if the international community is ever to achieve their long standing goals on poverty eradication.  Many NGOs argue that, at the present rate of action, several of the Millennium Development Goals will take another 100 years to be met at current trends, and even if Goal 1 to half extreme poverty is achieved, 900 million people will still live on less than $1 a day in 2015.  It is worth noting that such promises from the richest nations are nothing new: if the original 1970 pledge to provide 0.7 percent of national income in aid had been kept, world leaders would have already celebrated the complete eradication of extreme poverty.  Instead, we would now be six years into a programme to eradicate $2 a day poverty.

A Global Safety Net

A cooperative, international approach is crucially required, one which can go far beyond existing pledges of more aid, debt cancelation and fairer trade. By ensuring that those resources which are essential to life are rapidly mobilized to where they are most urgently needed, governments are not only fulfilling their moral obligations, but attending to their technical duty of creating a global economy in which all citizens can actively participate and contribute.

Evidence shows that all the basic necessities of life - including clean water, adequate housing, energy, food and healthcare - could feasibly be supplied to all world citizens within an immediate time-frame.  The greatest barrier to achieving this monumental reordering of world priorities is the inequitable structures of the global economic system and a lack of political will, thus ensuring that 20 percent of the population in the richest nations continues to consume over 80 percent of the world's resources.