Mother and son on a bed
A mother and her son live in a corridor at Carrefour Feuilles in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: Andrés Martínez Casares/UNDP

As the world commemorates the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, on Answering the call to end poverty’, we are reminded that there is still poverty in multiple dimensions everywhere. Eradicating poverty means expanding the richness of human life, rather than simply the richness of the economy in which human beings live. This concept of human development championed by UNDP recognizes that income is only a means. All people, everywhere need more choices and opportunities to live the kind of lives they value.

Yet, there is often an assumption that poverty is confined to certain places and groups, and that inequality – the wide gap in people’s capability to be healthy, knowledgeable and to participate in public life – is inevitable. However, as Nelson Mandela said ‘as long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest’.  We cannot ignore inequality between countries, within countries and between women and men if we truly want to eradicate poverty.

Many of us live in countries where we can find work, get a good education and go to good hospitals. In others, there are fewer jobs that are less well paid, and more limited access to health and education. However, in countries large or small there are gaps between those at the top tier of the economy and those at the bottom, between places and between women and men.

All countries are on average 22 percent worse off in terms of the human development when inequality is taken into account. This ranges from 13 percent worse off in Europe, 19 percent in East Asia and the Pacific, 23 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 28 percent in Arab States and South Asia to 32 percent in Africa.

An aerial view of wealthy and poor neighbourhoods side by side in Cape Town
Seen from above, a gated community lies adjacent to a township in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Johnny Miller/Unequal Scenes

Inequality is often perpetuated by unequal distribution and control of political, economic and social resources as well as social and discriminatory institutions that perpetuate this cycle of exclusion. This means that a child born into poverty anywhere has relatively few chances to escape. This is why addressing poverty and inequality everywhere is central to the achievement of the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through stepping up actions and investment that break the cycle of poverty across generations – social mobility.

Inequality and poverty are examined in a recent publication by UNDP on Inequality trends, divergence and consequences in sub-Saharan Africa. The evidence is overwhelming that eradicating poverty in Africa requires breaking the cycle of inequality through more and better employment, good quality education and eliminating exclusion in all its forms. 

First, facilitating job creation and entrepreneurship in agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, entertainment and other services will provide better and more sustainable economic opportunities for the 201 million people currently unemployed globally according to ILO. Targeted actions that reduce structural barriers are needed to attain the Agenda 2030 objective of inclusive and sustainable economic growth with full and productive employment and decent work for all and cater for the additional 2.7 million unemployed people globally in 2017.

Second, better access to quality education is proven to reduce inequality and poverty and needed by the 61 million children and 60 million adolescents currently not in school according to UNICEF. Providing quality social services including health, water and sanitation for all are critical hurdles to overcome. These inequalities persist all over the world due to discriminatory social institutions and practices and skewed distribution of services.

Third, eliminating exclusion in the distribution of national wealth is essential through reforms that provide more equitable access to natural assets, public investment, rational taxation and universal access to social protection. Breaking barriers that lead to exclusion contributes to inclusive and equitable quality education, healthy lives, gender equality and more equality within and among countries.

However, the shortfall in financing to achieve Agenda 2030 globally is wide, estimated at US$2 trillion to $3 trillion a year according to UNCTAD. So, the world must continue to work together in new ways, including more public-private-citizen partnerships to ramp up investment needed to eradicate poverty in all its forms, everywhere it is found. According to Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president in the US in 1872, “It is not great wealth in a few individuals that proves a country is prosperous, but great general wealth evenly distributed among the people.

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