Make Poverty History

13-06-2013 02:18 PM

By Peter Millett*

Could you survive on $1.25 per day? I certainly couldn’t. But over 1 billion people round the world have to do so. These are the extreme poor.

Poverty not only means that people lack food and shelter. It also means that they struggle to escape poverty because they also lack good education and healthcare. And it means that they are shunned: unwanted and unloved.

Being hungry and homeless sparks powerful emotions and forces. The desire for the dignity of putting bread on your family’s table and a roof over their heads can drive people to extremes. As Aristotle said: “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.”

But we can do something about it. Indeed, how to lift people out of poverty is not a mystery. A lot of progress has already been made: in 1990 over 40% of people in developing countries lived in extreme poverty. In 2010 that figure was down to 20%. The challenge now is to eliminate poverty once and for all.

That was the conclusion of a United Nations panel that reported last week. Her Majesty Queen Rania was one of 26 world personalities who gathered under the joint chairmanship of the British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Presidents of Indonesia and Liberia.

The aim was to up-date the “Millennium Development Goals”, a set of targets adopted in 2000 to be achieved in 2015. As that deadline approaches, we need to look at how to build on the progress made in the last 15 years and agree a similar set of ambitious goals for the next 15 years.

The result is a bold and optimistic report that sets out 12 measurable goals and 54 targets. They are deliberately ambitious, tackling aspects of development that matter to ordinary people such as bringing the number of people living on less than $1.25 down to zero.

Achieving these goals and targets means changing the way the world tackles these important issues. It needs a shift to build the momentum so that no-one is left behind. Whatever their race, status, gender or disability, everyone should enjoy the same basic economic opportunities and rights.

The report also puts the environment at the core of the development agenda and highlights the extent to which climate change, the way we grow our food and the way we generate energy all damage our planet.

Economic policy also needs a radical shift. Much of the progress in reducing poverty in recent years has been the result of economic growth in Asia. Harnessing innovation, technology and the potential of the private sector are the best ways to generate jobs.

Wider factors will also play a role, through the “Golden Thread” that underpins development. Countries that are free from conflict, respect the rule of law and have institutions that give people confidence in the way they are governed can build free and prosperous societies. And of course, a priority has to be to tackle corruption, a problem that holds back growth and the fair distribution of a country’s wealth in many parts of the world.

The panel has set out an important agenda. The United Nations now needs to forge a global partnership built on our shared humanity and based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. That way we can make poverty something that tomorrow’s children can only read about in school books.

* Peter Millett is the current British Ambassador to Jordan. This article is republished from his blog available at

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