Our Perspective

poverty reduction

Is a world without poverty possible?

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(Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP in DR Congo)

We all know the world has reached the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. However, China, India, Brazil, Mexico and the prosperous rise of some African nations contrast with the rest of Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, with close to half of its population still extremely poor. We need to understand why close to one billion people have been left out of the process. While there are multiple reasons, there are two that require our utmost attention: exclusion and vulnerability to shocks. To eradicate this kind of poverty we need to deal with what I call the challenge of reaching “the last mile” or the suggestion of “Getting Down to Zero.” The last mile exists both in remote rural areas, as well within cities – where the mile is figurative. People also remain poor, or are thrown back into poverty, because of conflicts, natural disasters, or some other shocks which families and communities are just unable to cope with. We can think of the current Ebola outbreak which will erase the gains of peace and development for a generation or more, if we... Read more

National finance helps Asia-Pacific lead the way on Climate Change

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With UNDP's support, rural residents in Bangladesh now have the resources and capacities to build back better and become resilient in the face of environmental threats. Photo credit: UNDP Bangladesh

A vital round of United Nations climate change negotiations is underway in Lima, Peru, from Dec. 1-12. This marks a significant milestone for the crucial Paris Summit on climate change that is a year away. At the climate talks in Lima, climate finance will again be at the forefront of negotiations and key in reaching a new global climate agreement. Initiated at the Secretary General’s Climate Change Summit in September, pledging towards the Green Climate Fund almost reached $10 billion. So far, countries in the Asia Pacific region have received a quarter of all global public climate finance. India and China are the largest recipients. Nineteen dedicated climate funds and initiatives have approved more than $2 billion for projects in the region, since 2003. With many countries in Asia Pacific at the frontline of climate change, bolstering resilience of low lying deltas and small islands, and reducing emissions from fast industrializing nations is a good investment. While this international financing is crucial, for it to have a sustained impact and leverage the investments needed it is also important that planning and budgeting systems are revisited through a climate lens. With the support of the United Nations through the Poverty and Environment... Read more

Think tanks supporting South-South Cooperation

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Participants of a UNDP project on family savings and improving diet of poor families in Uruguay and El Salvador using improved equipment to reduce consumption of firewood and increase use of solar power. Photo credit: UNDP

Our new strategic plan champions thought leadership in various areas, including South-South and Triangular Cooperation (SSC and TrC). To achieve that vision, we will need to work very closely with think tanks from the global South and open possibilities for cutting edge research, as there is much to be done to help bridge research with policy making and practices on the ground. To start the conversation we presented perspectives from 21 think tanks in the North and South, at a recent partnership-forum we hosted at the Global South-South Development Expo 2014. This outlines emerging trends, roles, good practices and challenges faced by think tanks on SSC and TrC. At the open platform the ensuing discussion revolved around the roles and responsibilities of think tanks in supporting the growth of South-South and Triangular Cooperation and creation of a common research agenda in this area. Panelists from Brazil, China, India and Kenya presented their views on the concepts, principles, practices, and development impacts of SSC and TrC, and outlined steps for moving forward. I would like to share with you some recommendations that emerged from the consultation, and where we could provide further support: Assisting in developing networks for interregional collaboration – a... Read more

A rural community calls for an end to FGM

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Communities in Qena are joining forces with international organizations and civil society to end FGM in Egypt. Photo credit: Jose Sanchez/UNDP Egypt

I recently visited the village of Beir Anbar in the district of Koft, Qena governorate, and listened to the powerful statement this community is conveying to the rest of the country to put an end to the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The whole village, from young schoolchildren to village elders came together to denounce FGM as "violent", "wrong" and "harmful". Even today, many girls and young women are subjected to genital mutilation in the name of ‘tradition’. According to the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey, at least 91 percent of Egyptian women between the ages of 15-49 have undergone genital mutilation. The people of Beir Anbar made it clear that Egyptian girls and women deserve a new tradition – a tradition of protecting and safeguarding their rights. The joint efforts of families, community activists, authorities, development agencies and media are gradually making a difference to phase out this traditional harmful practice. Let us be clear: there is no justification – moral, religious, cultural, medical or otherwise for this practice. ‘Cutting’ demeans, dehumanizes and injures. It is a human rights violation that must be actively opposed until it is ended. As we gathered inside the community centre, a group of... Read more

The way to stop violence against women and girls

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Everyone has a role to play in ending GBV, but with so many actors involved, we need better coordination and communications. Photo credit: UNDP/Pakistan

An average of 1 in 3 women across the world suffer from violence at the hands of a partner, in their lifetime.  Gender-based violence (GBV) disproportionately affects lower and middle income countries, poorer regions within these countries, and in particular vulnerable groups that include migrants, sex workers, and people living with HIV or disabilities. Earlier this year, I took up the role of UNDP Regional Advisor on GBV in Asia and the Pacific.  Since then, I have had numerous conversations that more or less follow the same pattern: “I cannot believe we still have such high rates of violence around the world, but it all seems so complicated and deep rooted in our societies.  What can we actually do to reduce this violence?”    Recently, I contributed to the Lancet Series on Violence against Women and Girls. This project gave me the opportunity to discuss challenges in the field and exchange ideas for ways forward with some of the world’s most renowned experts on violence against women.  It also gave me time to think about an answer to this question: What can we do to reduce gender-based violence? The resulting five papers in the series present the evidence of which methods... Read more

Ebola - a disease of poverty

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Motorcycle drivers in Monrovia sit on the side of the street, after a ban on motorcycles left them jobless. Due to the Ebola crisis, they can’t find any work. Photo credit: Morgana Wingard/ UNDP

Recently, I visited Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to better understand the needs of these countries as UNDP helps them deal with the Ebola crisis.  In travelling from Conakry to Monrovia to Freetown, visiting communities and talking to government officials, including the Presidents of Guinea and Sierra Leone, and the Vice President of Liberia, I have seen that Ebola is now testing every aspect of the social fabric. Ebola is shaking institutions and challenging leaders, civilians and medical experts alike.  It is undermining the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and exacerbating poverty and inequality. Everywhere this disease strikes, it is the poorest, living their difficult and deprived lives in Africa’s slums – often among animals, garbage and fumes – who are most vulnerable to this disease. Many of the political leaders I met during this trip cited poverty as the cause of the disease’s spread, and economic recovery as the most pressing need for a long term solution, together with the emergency response to the epidemic.   This message will be repeated today in Washington, at the Global South-South Development Expo. There, people from across the globe will discuss poverty eradication with a special focus on responding to Ebola as... Read more

Can business help finance the Post-2015 Agenda? Yes, But…

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A participant at the Latin America regional consultation on 'Engaging with the Private Sector' in Cartagena, Colombia. Photo credit: (AECID)

Diplomats and their governments are in the middle of a huge exercise to update the world's development agenda. Attention has now started to shift from the ‘what' of the agenda to the ‘how' – policy choices, capacities, institutions, and technology to name but a few. Yet where will the hard cash come from to fund these lofty aspirations? Some of the poorest and least developed countries will be looking for a clear commitment from richer countries that they will meet previous commitments on official development assistance (ODA), including the international benchmark of 0.7% of GNI. But the economies of many rich countries are still struggling, and their governments are finding it difficult to justify to domestic taxpayers that their money is being spent abroad rather than at home. At the other end of the spectrum, some governments have emphasized that the private sector will step in and shoulder the burden of financing the new goals and targets. The discussion on the validity or means of this claim has not been very deep. More cynically, some have suggested that focusing on the private sector's role is a deliberate tactic to steer the debate away from aid commitments. But this critical question remains... Read more

The Data Revolution for human development

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A delegation of election management bodies from seven countries in South Asia visited Pune in October to learn more about how India manages elections. Photo credit: Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNDP India

A World That Counts, the report by the UN Secretary General’s Data Revolution Group, was released recently. The report contains much that is important to global development. But what, I have been pondering, might the data revolution mean for human development and human development reporting in particular? Three ideas occur immediately. First, the importance of data for both decision-making and analytical debate needs no demonstration. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a remarkable example of the power a simple measure can wield to reframe debate towards genuine development outcomes. Now, in a data-rich world one could argue for the index also to include much more that is important to people: measures of voice, equality, sustainability, security, freedom and dignity. All of these would help paint a richer picture of human development. But such data – at least not yet - are not available in most countries. I hope the data revolution will change that. Second, our 700 national human development reports always are built on data, often with disaggregation and innovative analysis. Of course such evidence-based analysis is vital to ensuring the reports’ robustness and usefulness. But I believe that the conversations about what data to use, that are a key... Read more

Innovation: The new currency for emergence in Africa

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In Kenya, M-pesa – a cell phone based peer-to-peer money transfer system – had more than 14 million users in 2011.

Across Africa, many nations are aspiring to become emerging countries. Beyond growth, they want to transform and diversify their economies, rapidly improve the standards of living of their people, and assert internationally their economic and political clout. As participants in the African Economic Conference concluded, innovation is necessary to achieving that objective. Why? First, because high economic growth can only be sustained with innovation. With diminishing returns, jobs and livelihoods will only continue to grow if more productive sectors are sought. And only innovation – understood as the application of new and existing knowledge to improve processes – can do that systematically. For instance, when irrigation and fertilizer use improved in Asia in the 1960s, crops grew bigger and leafier, but yields didn’t increase. However, with the help of science and technology, Asia eventually experienced the Green Revolution. Despite impressive efforts in countries like Ethiopia, a similar breakthrough is needed in Africa. Boosting agricultural productivity will require adopting new practices. Innovation also matters in the delivery of social services and often requires low-tech interventions. For instance, in Senegal, between 2005 and 2010, the under-five mortality rate declined by almost 10 percent a year while India took 25 years to achieve similar... Read more

Finding durable solutions for urban settings in Haiti

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The government of Haiti and its people have made extraordinary efforts to recover from their traumatic experience. Photo: UNDP in Haiti.

For those who arrived in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, the images of destruction in the capital city will be probably remain in our minds forever. They are in mine: at least 200,000 people dead and over a million displaced, thousands of buildings collapsed, houses damaged everywhere, economies disrupted, basic services interrupted, and tents and camps mushrooming in every small plaza or area where rubble had barely been removed. The earthquake took place in a very specific context, aggravated by pre-existing conditions:  lack of adequate housing, land tenure issues, and disorganized rural-urban migration patterns. Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes for durable solutions in urban settings. One time initiatives may be effective – such as emptying the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps - but affected families need sustainable solutions. Affordable housing, basic services and income generating activities are some of the key components of any programme promoting the return from IDP camps. The government of Haiti and its people, men and women, have made extraordinary efforts to recover from such a traumatic experience. From the 1.5 million displaced after the earthquake, only 80,000 remain.  The country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose from $1,548 to $1,602 per capita between... Read more

Tobacco and public health: a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

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Health systems in lower and middle-income countries are the ones that can least afford the costs associated with the rise in tobacco consumption. Photo: UNDP in Lebanon.

Tobacco poses challenges to various dimensions of human development, from public health to poverty reduction, gender equality and environmental sustainability. As the market for tobacco products declines in the developed world, multinational corporations have turned their sights to lower- and middle-income countries. But the health systems in these countries are the ones that can least afford the costs associated with the increased burden that results from the rise in tobacco consumption. To make matters worse, the tobacco industry’s practices in these countries are often in direct contradiction to laws and policies meant to protect public health: - paying policymakers to block or water down tobacco control laws; - influencing science and providing biased expert opinion in public and government forums - delaying measures such as graphical pictorial warnings on cigarette packs; - offering to draft countries’ national non-communicable disease strategies, so that they focus more on increasing physical activity rather than reducing tobacco consumption. While tobacco industry interference in policymaking is a long-standing problem, the trend has been picking up steam in developing countries, with WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan stating that “the wolf is no longer bothering to wear sheep’s clothing.”  However, countries working to protect their citizens’ health... Read more

Loud and clear: Rethinking service design in Georgia

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People living with speech or hearing impairments now have more options to contact the emergency hotline. Photo: David Khizanishvili, UNDP Georgia.

On the heels of SHIFT, UNDP's Week of Innovation Action, we tried to answer some basic questions: Why do we need it all? Why should we do innovation work in development? We got our answers after a design thinking session with the national emergency hotline in Georgia.  112 is one of the most dialled phone numbers in Georgia. In 2013 alone, they received over 8 million calls. Their website lists emergency services available for children, with a video tour, and frequently asked questions for those who may need immediate help. They provide everything for everyone – except for those who cannot hear or speak.  This is because 112 is only reachable through a voice call. Those living with speech or hearing impairments simply don’t have options. To change this, 112 teamed up with our office in Georgia and the Swedish Government  to prepare a new service design – one that would be truly universal. Earlier this year, the 112 team travelled to Ireland to examine how new technology can make emergency services more accessible for the hearing and speech impaired. This was followed by a three-day design thinking workshop that brought together people with disabilities, tech specialists and civil society organizations.... Read more

The private sector as a gamechanger for poverty-related disease prevention

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Community Health Volunteers with Ebola prevention kits walking through West Point in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo: Morgana Wingard/ UNDP

The recent Ebola outbreak has witnessed a resurgence of global attention on health issues facing poorer nations. However, as Bill Gates cautioned in a recent interview, the energy poured into the Ebola outbreak could mean less attention is given to other deadly diseases in poverty stricken areas. In our recently published report, Barriers and Opportunities at the Base of the Pyramid, we not only look at the relationship between poverty and poor health, but also at how poor health is in and of itself a barrier to poverty reduction. The report delves into various factors affecting disease prevention such as accessibility, availability, acceptability, and affordability of health services for those living in poverty. This message was also underscored by Gates,  stating that the prevention of Ebola and other diseases in Africa is strongly linked to making basic healthcare more readily available. In the report we make a strong case on why and how the private sector can be a game changer when it comes to improving the overall well-being of individuals, particularly for those living in poverty. While corporate philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes have popularized examples on how the private sector contributes to poverty reduction, there are other... Read more

Leaving no one behind and leaving no one out in Viet Nam

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Vietnam’s fight against poverty is incomplete and it’s running out of steam. Photo: UNDP in Vietnam

Over the last decades Viet Nam has rightly earned a global reputation for rapid and sustained reductions in poverty. The positive trends have been driven by rapid, fairly consistent and high labour intensity economic growth, Viet Nam’s integration within global trade and contributory demographic changes. Yet, all is not so rosy in the garden. Viet Nam’s fight against poverty is incomplete and it’s running out of steam. Economic growth has declined considerably since 2008 and poverty is unevenly distributed - severe deprivation is experienced by particular groups and the Ethnic Minorities especially so.  Major gaps are also evident in other Millennium Development Goal outcomes, like in health and education. I have learned that to understand poverty in Viet Nam one has to look beyond the averages and the sound-bites.  As I’ve travelled around the country, I have had the chance to meet some of those who have been left behind, including young unregistered migrant workers in urban areas, the disabled and elderly and single-headed households. I’ve been struck by their resourcefulness and courage, but too many still struggle against extreme poverty and inequality. And this is in spite of the often genuine efforts of the Government. There are many things to... Read more

Eradicating poverty: thinking beyond income

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Many countries have already started taking an important step towards a new way of thinking about poverty. Photo: UNDP in Peru

Today, the 17th of October 2014, marks 21 years since for the first time the International Day for the Eradication of Extreme Poverty was celebrated. Notable progress has been made since then. According to World Bank data, among the 115 low-income countries of the world, the proportion of people in extreme poverty (i.e. an income per person per day of US$1.25, adjusted for purchasing power parity) declined from 43.4 percent in 1990 to 17 percent in 2011; i.e. 912 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty over the past two decades. This drop was mainly concentrated in East Asia and the Pacific, where the incidence of extreme poverty was reduced from 57 to 7.9 percent during the same period (i.e. 750 million people). In Southeast Asia, it dropped from 54.1 to 24.5 percent (221.5 million people). In Latin America and the Caribbean, between 1990 and 2011, the incidence of extreme poverty dropped from 12.2 to 4.6 percent, i.e. 25.5 million Latin Americans no longer live in this extreme condition. Two decades ago, poverty was defined in monetary terms, based on a consensus around the concept that income was an adequate measure to represent wellbeing. Today, it is more readily acknowledged... Read more

Realizing the rights of indigenous peoples

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photo: Gaëlle Bruneau / UNDP

Indigenous peoples represent more than 5,000 distinct groups in some 90 countries, making up more than 5 per cent of the world’s population, some 370 million people. Yet, they are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. The first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples convened in New York, bringing together Member states and representatives of indigenous peoples in a high-level plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly to share perspectives and best practices on the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples, including pursuing the objectives of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Following the outcomes from the conference, the UN system has been challenged with a tremendous opportunity to ‘deliver as one’ through a proposed system-wide action plan (SWAP) aimed at realising the rights of indigenous peoples. Only through a coherent approach, in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, and articulating a common vision, approach and plan of action, can we best harness our resources to establish clear objectives, timelines, indicators and accountability mechanisms. Fostering dialogue and promoting inclusive development planning processes between indigenous peoples, governments and the UN system will continue to be a priority for UNDP. We will build on positive examples of how we have... Read more

How well is the rich world supporting development?

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Miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mining sector is characterized by conditions of extreme danger, without any security and health framework with negative consequences for the environment. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

We all know that many factors influence a country’s progress on poverty reduction and development. Policies and institutions at the domestic level are probably the most important driver. But it’s also true that the policies and actions of other countries – and especially rich and powerful nations – also influence the developing world’s development prospects. In this spirit, MDG 8 was elaborated. This MDG differs from all the others; it measures the developed world’s efforts to do things like increase development aid, cancel the debt of the poorest countries, make international trade fairer and provide access to affordable medicines. These measures, many argue, are just as important as the steps developing country governments can take at home to ‘improve their lot’. Every year, the UN monitors progress on how well the rich world is doing and launched its latest ‘update’ report recently. UNDP partners in this annual monitoring effort. So what’s the verdict? Is the rich world living up to its MDG commitments? On development aid (ODA), the report notes that, despite an increase last year, ODA still was US$180 billion short of the commitment. It’s also heavily concentrated in a few countries; in 2013, just 10 countries absorbed over 34%... Read more

Will global goals with national targets meet global needs?

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Children between the ages of 12-18 learning about the MY World Survey in Rwanda. Photo: Mark Darrough/Girl Hub Rwanda

Some of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lend themselves to a discussion within each country on how, and how quickly, they wish to pursue global goals. For example, if the people of country A want to achieve free secondary education for all children by 2028 through recruiting more teachers, while the people of country B want their government to reach that aspiration three years earlier through other means, both are legitimate and should result from democratically grounded national discussions.  Critically, the level of ambition adopted by country A has little or no impact on the expected progress in country B. But what about the other SDGs that relate to the global commons, where actions are required by all countries to keep our human progress within the means of the planet?  What if the political contexts in each country lead governments to make commitments that, in the aggregate, do not sum to the global action required? Our experience with climate change and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) points to some of the immediate problems we can face.  The distribution of responsibilities between countries is incredibly complex and inevitably political, and more often than not we end up with a stand-off that... Read more

Do-it-yourself Sustainable Development: The SDGs go DIY

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Women participate in management training, part of a UNDP programme that aims to enhance the government’s effectiveness in fulfilling their mandate. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh

With the proposal for Sustainable Development Goals now available for all members of the General Assembly to consider further, the question on many of our minds is:  where to next?  Once global sustainable development goals are adopted next year, how can we best help governments, citizens, and the private sector take them from aspiration to reality? So far almost 5 million people in almost 100 countries have either voted on their priorities for a new development agenda through the MY World survey or engaged in face-to-face discussions on what is needed to improve their future. As part of our broader work supporting innovation for development (I4D), we are looking for new ways of inspiring action on these priorities. So far, some interesting approaches have emerged: Micro-narratives and qualitative research to learn more about complex issues    The World we Want consultations asked what people need for their future, engaging people who are not usually part of policy debates. For example, people living with disabilities in Belarus and youth at risk in Kyrgyzstan shared their experience through micro-narratives. This data was then used to advocate for policies better suited to meet their needs. In El Salvador the consultations provided data used to advocate... Read more

Reversing the “Silent Earthquake of the Century”

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The Carbon Sequestration Project's achievements prove that degraded lands can be economically and feasibly restored by, and for, local communities. Photo: Sadaf Nikzad/UNDP Iran

According to climate change predictions, the Middle East faces a hotter, drier future. Iran sits at the very centre of the Middle East.  About 80 per cent of its surface is already arid or semi-arid, and the challenge of desertification is literally creeping up on us.  Some have called it “The Silent Earthquake of the Century”. In many parts of Iran this has been caused by sheep herders letting their flocks overgraze the land.  Sometimes it is caused by villagers breaking off rangeland shrubs for firewood. Because much of this problem is man-made, it can be fixed. To re-green desert rangelands, what you need is to replant. Shrubs saplings are incubated and watered until they are ready to be transplanted into holes dug by the community.  When hundreds of thousands of these shrubs grow over hectares, this creates a small biosphere which allows other vegetation and wildlife to return.  Such newly-greened biospheres sustain people’s livelihoods in a number of ways. But, in order for these areas not to be overgrazed again or used for fuel-wood, you need the ‘buy-in’ of the community to preserve and protect them. I have seen this process at work successfully with the “Carbon Project”, a community-development-plus-environmental... Read more

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