We must tackle the structural factors that inhibit development and produce poverty
Opinion: Half of the world’s population in need, while one in eight suffers malnutrition
Slum dwellers live in makeshift huts by the roadside. Many governments in developing countries are more inclined to pursue economic growth than the goals of dignity and equality. Photograph: Reuters
Brazilian archbishop Hélder Camara once famously noted, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”
As Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore attends a United Nations special event today to discuss the future of aid and development, the archbishop’s words still highlight an uncomfortable truth about the world’s commitment to ending poverty: we make goodwill gestures to the world’s poor without questioning the structural factors which contributed to their poverty.
Today’s meeting, co-convened by Ireland and South Africa, marks an important step on the road towards agreeing the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a list of global poverty reduction targets set in 2000 and due to expire in two years.
The development goals set targets around eight key development areas, from hunger to education to health. There have been notable successes – particularly concerning issues such as HIV and child health. But, overall, progress when set against targets has been modest and many look unlikely to be met by the 2015 deadline. Even the development goals’ greatest “success” – 700 million fewer people living in poverty – can, in reality, be attributed to the remarkable economic growth of China and India.
Half of the world’s population lives in poverty, with one person in every eight suffering from malnutrition. Poverty remains a global scandal, one which kills approximately 19 people around the world every minute of every day of every month. If a virus was discovered to be responsible for more than 25,000 deaths a day, the world would stop at nothing to find a cure. But poverty? We shrug our shoulders.
The idea of agreeing global targets to tackle poverty is a good one, but as the international community begins the debate on what comes after the development goals, the question has to be raised, why have efforts to date failed to deliver?
The MDG project was flawed from the beginning. The targets focused on alleviating the symptoms of poverty: hunger, disease, death; but the causes – inequality, discrimination, poor governance – were ignored. While statistics showing reductions in poverty can look impressive, often they mask chronic underlying issues.
Trócaire recently carried out research in six developing countries to assess what issues people living in poverty wanted the world to focus on. Income, food and shelter were the three main issues identified by participants. Remarkably, nearly half of the issues identified by participants are not addressed in the development goals.