UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon
The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty was marked worldwide on October 17. Abimbola Akosile examines the global and local efforts to address a crucial Millennium development goal
Someone recently told this reporter that poverty cannot be alleviated in Nigeria, much less eradicated.
His reason for the assertion was simple: poverty is related to corruption and as long as the latter exists and persists in Nigeria, the former cannot be wished away by successive governments in power.
Another person put it more mildly to this reporter. To the worried citizen, unless government makes the improved livelihood of the vast majority of 150 million Nigerians its top priority, the idea of poverty alleviation will continue to be a recurring mantra with no meaningful effect on national development.
The International Day for the eradication of poverty was declared by the UN General Assembly in resolution 47/196 of 1992. Every October 17 has been dedicated to drawing attention to extreme poverty and destitution and to call for actions from all stakeholders to address the plight of the poor across the world.
This year’s commemoration has as its theme ‘Ending the Violence of Extreme Poverty: Promoting Empowerment and Building Peace’. As always, the day is a call to action for all of us to redouble our efforts as we work to eradicate poverty and achieve the MDGs.
Social Protection Schemes
The Director of the UN International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Social Security Department, Mr. Michael Cichon, described improving social protection as the most effective way to combat poverty in developing countries.
He also added that poorer nations are coming up with innovative ways to ensure that their citizens have basic social security. “Social protection is one of the most powerful tools that any society has to combat poverty and to invest in its own social economic development,” he said. “All we need in developing country context is 4 per cent GDP [gross domestic product] to reduce the poverty rate in a country by about 14 per cent,”
Cichon spoke at UN Headquarters, New York, at an earlier conference to launch a document entitled ‘Successful Social Protection Floor Experiences,’ which is jointly compiled by ILO and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
He said that social protection schemes have succeeded in reducing poverty and providing income security in developed countries over the years. Developing countries are following suit with programmes such as cash transfer arrangements and universal health care, he said.
“The real innovation these days comes from the global South,” said Mr. Cichon, noting that in the next 10 to 15 years an estimated 1.2 billion people in developing countries will have a means of social protection, including food security, health services for all and old-age pensions.
Currently the world spends 17 per cent on social protection, but that is 19 per cent in developed world and only 4 to 4.5 per cent in developing countries. In the current global economic crisis, developed countries are looking to cut deficits and public expenditure, consolidate budgets and finance fiscal stimulus packages by cutting back on social expenditure.
A United Nations (UN) report recently revealed that eradicating global poverty while promoting sustainable development is the key challenge facing the world.
The detailed report also stated that it has become clear that economic progress based on the current pattern of production and consumption is increasingly harmful to the environment.
The report entitled ‘Objective and Themes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development’ points out that despite two decades of progress since countries first laid out a blueprint for sustainable development at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the use of the planet’s natural resources continue to damage crucial ecosystems.
Extreme poverty persists in many parts of the world, despite the fact that world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has increased by roughly 60 per cent since 1992, according to the report issued by the Secretary-General to coincide with discussions in New York, USA.
The informal discussions focused on the objectives and themes of the conference called for by the General Assembly to look into scaling up effort to achieve sustainable development and to explore how countries can green their economies.
10-year Rescue Plan
Participants at a UN summit recently outlined a 10-year plan to support the world’s most vulnerable countries overcome poverty. They also called on the private sector to play a greater role in the fight, urging wealthy nations to step up their aid commitments and demanding the elimination of many trade barriers.
The Istanbul Programme of Action to spur development and economic growth was made public at the end of the Fourth UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) after five days of discussions in the Turkish city.
The summit focused on ways to harness the potential of the 48 countries – many of them in sub-Saharan Africa – classified as LDCs so that they can lift themselves out of poverty and develop economically.
Under the programme of action, affluent countries have committed to realising the target of spending 0.15 per cent to 0.20 per cent of their national incomes on official development assistance (ODA). If implemented, this would represent a significant increase on current levels of aid.
The plan also called for the abolition or reduction of arbitrary or unjustified trade barriers, and the opening up of markets in wealthier countries to products from poorer nations.
The agreement in Istanbul followed several months of negotiations, and a call at the opening of conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for a “comprehensive and ambitious Programme of Action for sustained economic growth” in the LDCs.
The programme of action emphasised the strengthening of the productive capacity in LDCs – building infrastructure, enhancing human capital and governance capabilities. Economic reforms in many poor countries over the past decade have led to favourable business environments, and a boom in the prices of the primary commodities in the international markets have resulted in rates of growth that exceeded both worldwide and developing countries’ averages.
Influence of Hunger
Many analysts argue that tackling hunger successfully is a sure way of alleviating poverty in the country. The thinking is that if hunger is satiated, more citizens can engage in productive ventures that would push poverty further away. But the sad scenario is that hunger, which is closely linked to poverty, is yet to abate in the country.
A recent international study conducted by antipoverty agency, ActionAid International, has revealed that Nigeria has done little in meeting the global commitment to half hunger.
According to ActionAid HungerFREE’s developing country scorecard, Nigeria ranks 13th out of the 28 countries surveyed. Country Director of the anti-poverty agency in Nigeria, Dr. Hussaini Abdu, said, “For a country endowed with such rich and fertile soils and Africa's largest oil reserves, it should be doing much better.”
Nigeria, according to the report “continues to struggle to feed its 140 million people, while 26 per cent of its children are malnourished.”
The country is not expected to meet the MDG target to halve child malnutrition until 2025. Nigeria’s investment in agriculture has been low for decades. But the food crisis acted as an impetus for the government to commit to reinvesting in agriculture and meeting the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme’s (CAADP) target of 10 per cent of national budgets going to the agricultural sector.
ActionAid has demanded that “Nigeria must also take steps towards tackling child malnutrition levels by introducing more social protection schemes. At present it has a small cash transfer scheme which could go much further to cushion the worst impacts of the global economic crisis.”
It has also asserted that Nigerians deserve to begin to feel the impact of governance in a much improved way. In a recent statement issued by the organisation in commemoration of Nigeria’s 52 years of independence, the anti-poverty agency observed that the country, which has one of the greatest potential of becoming a leading economy in the world, is yet to attain the dream many Nigerians had at independence 52 years ago.
“The month of October was the most significant month in the history of the Nigeria nation. The month had for several years signified for many Nigerians the period of celebration of freedom from foreign rule and a rekindling of hope of a virile nation with capacity for taking care of her citizens,” the organisation added.
According to Abdu, “These potentials are still achievable with focused planning and a pro-people agenda”. Nigeria, as Abdu pointed out, has enormous resources, human and materials that very few nations have.
“Not many nations have such space, blue and green, as Nigeria. Its creeks, waterways, rivers, streams and arable land are such that without mineral resources the country would remain one of the most solvent nations in the world. The nation’s potential to be one of the biggest economies in the world is further enhanced with its large deposits of solid mineral resources, almost all of them at the high commercial quality.
According to the statement issued by the Policy Advocacy and Campaigns Manager, ActionAid Nigeria, Mr. Tunde Aremu, Abdu demanded that these resources be put to better use for not just the economic development of the country, but the liberation of the mass of people who still live in abject poverty.
“That Nigeria has such huge potentials is enough reason to conclude that there is no justifiable reason for as many as 61.9 per cent of the citizenry to continue to live in absolute poverty as revealed by government’s owned national Bureau of Statistics”, he lamented.
For this year’s marking of the IDEP, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Millennium Campaign (UNMC) and DPI are collaborating to create a social media campaign which will draw attention to the achievements of the MDGs and also raise momentum and citizens’ actions across the world for MDGs acceleration.
The thinking, however, is that even when international organisations participate actively in Nigeria’s struggle to tackle mounting poverty, there cannot be meaningful success without the political will and support of the government at all levels.