The theme of this year’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty – Acting together to achieve social and environmental justice for all – is extremely pertinent in the era of COVID-19. The poorest have the highest risk of exposure to the virus and they have the least access to quality healthcare. And people living in conflict zones still face the most severe threats of hunger and even famine amid COVID-19. In the wake of the pandemic, global extreme poverty is expected to rise for the first time in over 20 years while an additional 115 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year.
The pandemic is having a marked effect on workers in developing countries, where seven out of ten of them make a living through informal markets – many of them simply cannot earn a livelihood if they cannot leave their home due to lockdowns. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has estimated that the introduction of a Temporary Basic Income for 2.7 billion people living below or just above the poverty line, could halt the COVID-19 surge in an era when half the world lacks social protection and healthcare.
Indeed, the United Nations has long recognised that poverty is multidimensional -- that includes working to address environmental injustices that may result from climate change and environmental degradation. People living in poverty and other disadvantaged groups are being increasingly impacted by the risk of extreme weather including floods, storms and droughts as well as land degradation as the world contends with a “staggering” rise in climate disasters. And the lives and livelihoods of people living in poverty are finely attuned to environmental conditions that are now changing rapidly. Indeed, climate change is affecting both the prevalence and depth of poverty, thereby contributing to inequality. Therefore, UNDP’s upcoming 2020 Human Development Report will focus on how to rekindle our relationship with nature and improve people’s lives today and in the future -- in balance with the planet.
Despite the monumental challenges the world now faces, the COVID-19 pandemic presents us the world with a unique opportunity to press the “re-set button” towards a more sustainable future. On the ground in 170 countries, UNDP is not only helping countries to merely recover from the pandemic’s devastating socio-economic effects but to help them to build forward better towards an inclusive green economy -- for instance through our Climate Promise. In a wider sense, we must transform our unsustainable production and consumption patterns, decouple economic growth from environmental degradation -- and tackle the structural causes of social and environmental inequalities in our societies. Doing so will help us to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals – and to realise our global ambition to finally end poverty in all of its forms, everywhere.
Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)