Towards a Poverty-free World

In November, 2009, the United Nations declared 18th July as “Nelson Mandela Day” in a tribute to the legendary anti-apartheid activist. The theme of this year’s Mandela Day is “Action against Poverty.”

All of us are equal, yet only some of us are able to change the public discourse for good. Nevertheless, nobody has changed the course of the human history the way Nelson Mandela was able to. Such was his enduring and indomitable spirit that led even his most fiercest of enemies to release him unconditionally after 27 years in prison. He was of those few people who not only shaped the course of the 20th century but also made a deep impact on the mankind’s collective conscience that is expected to last forever. However, his legacy is more about collaborating with the defeated oppressors to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges than anything else.

In November, 2009, the United Nations declared 18th July as “Nelson Mandela Day” in a tribute to the legendary anti-apartheid activist. The theme of this year’s Mandela Day is “Action against Poverty.” Poverty is a chronic global problem that is also afflicting some of the most developed countries of the world. For instance, in USA alone, there were 43.1 million poverty-stricken people in 2015. However, extreme poverty is something that is endemic to some of the least developed countries on the planet. It is estimated that 96% of the 1.3 billion people struggling with extreme poverty reside in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, East Asia and the Pacific. Nearly half of these live in India and China.

Poverty is often a product or by-product of factors including, but not limited, to historical prejudice, corruption, socio-economic injustice, unemployment, red-tapery, lack of educational opportunities, wars & conflicts, overpopulation, colonialism etc. There is almost never a single underlying cause responsible for it. The aforementioned factors often play out in permutation and combination to cause poverty. Without any outside intervention, it ends up becoming a vicious cycle which leaves its victims with very little chances of escaping out of it.

Unlike its causes, the impact of poverty is quite evident. The negative effects of poverty include poor quality of life, low life expectancy, homelessness, malnutrition, illiteracy, infant mortality, lack of access to healthcare, increase in violent crimes, etc. As mentioned earlier, poverty leads to a vicious cycle whose negative effects often contribute to the factors that are responsible for it. For example, a beggar couple who were deprived of education in their youth are less likely to send their kids to schools; in turn the children will most probably join their parents in begging. Without any government or NGO help, this cycle will go and on.

While we have witnessed a successive reduction in the percentage of living in poverty, the number has witnessed an increase in real terms owing to the ever-increasing population. This means that while poverty has declined, the number of poor people has only increased. The fight against poverty can be waged successfully if only the governments could set straight their misplaced priorities. The defense spending by the national governments need particular attention in this regard. In 2015, the world’s total military spending stood in excess of $1.7 trillion for that year alone. Compare this with $135 billion needed to combat poverty every year for the next 20 years. This figure is less than 0.08% of the world’s annual military spending.

Eradication of poverty is not impossible. As has been mentioned before, it is not the scarcity of funds that is hindering the efforts to curb extreme poverty. The real culprit is the lack of will and decisive actions. Poverty can be eliminated by taking a series of simple yet effective steps like providing skill and vocational training to the people of working age, affordable and high quality education to children, creation of jobs, minimum wage framework, quality healthcare services, reforming and rehabilitating prison inmates after sentence completion, etc. These steps along with various other suitable measures depending on the various factors like demographics, geographical location, etc. can play an important role in eliminating poverty. Moreover, citizens, civil society organizations and corporate houses should also step up the efforts to bring an end to this social evil. More than anybody else, it is our collective responsibility to eliminate poverty and make this world a better place that it deserves to be.

Varun Sharma
Sr. Associate

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