In September 2015 world leaders approved a package of Sustainable Development Goals which include the ambitious task of eradicating global poverty by 2030. Whether such mutual resolve can survive the emergence of nationalist governments, buffeted by global economic and political insecurity, remains open to question.
The scale of the challenge is formidable; by reference to the internationally recognised poverty line, almost 700 million people in developing countries lived in extreme poverty in 2016, excluded from the prevailing economic model of wealth creation.
The symptoms of this model’s inherent dysfunction – boom and bust economies, volatile food and fuel prices, inequality, climate disruption and unsustainable use of resources – impose a disproportionate footprint on both poorer countries and poorer families. This injustice is yet to be adequately acknowledged in the corridors of global governance.
Extreme poverty strikes when household resources prove insufficient to secure the essentials of dignified living. The consequences of persistent poverty include hunger, children out of school and unnecessary risk of poor health. As reserves of household assets diminish, psychological tensions of shame and anxiety undermine resilience to the economic shocks of everyday family life.
Attempts to understand and tackle poverty often fail to do justice to the reality of its experience and too readily subside into ideology and misplaced assumptions.
Take for example the images of poverty published by humanitarian agencies to inspire support for their appeals. These often provoke an emotional cocktail of outrage blended with fascination about the protagonists, especially children.
The label of “poverty porn” sometimes pinned to this otherwise altruistic material provides early warning that poverty is a sensitive subject to be approached with caution.
Very poor people are not passive agents resigned to their fate – indeed, exhaustive ingenuity is required to manage tiny amounts of money through an unpredictable annual cycle of household misfortune. Far from crushing the human spirit, the extreme poverty of the developing world instead draws out many of its finest qualities.
more Global Poverty briefings (updated November 2017)
Global Poverty Statistics
National Poverty Line
International Poverty Line
Causes of Global Poverty
Should We Care About Poverty?
Sustainable Development Goal for Poverty
Global Poverty Solutions