There are two separate philosophical responses to the question: “should we care about poverty?” First is the abhorrence of extreme poverty on ethical grounds which, for many, springs from religious teaching. This moral stance is greatly reinforced by awareness of the political injustice that has created and perpetuated the global divide.
The faith response to poverty finds secular expression in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.” The pursuit of poverty reduction as an obligation under human rights law is reflected in the mission statements of many UN agencies.
The second reason why we should care lies in self-interest. In a globalised world, countries large and small are interdependent. There are many examples of why this matters.
Extreme poverty is the key driver of international labour migration, a demographic which the richer countries are notoriously reluctant to accommodate. The unrelenting zeal of these countries to resist migration might enjoy greater success by addressing its root cause, rather than deploying blunt instruments such as border fences.
The 2014 outbreak of ebola in West Africa compelled a major international response to prevent its spread because health services in the affected countries were primitive. Global health management would greatly benefit from universal national capacity for participation.
Whilst the risk of terrorism is often complex in origin, extreme poverty is the ideal recruiting ground for its foot soldiers. And the poorest countries are more likely to be regarded as safe havens by terrorists.
From a more positive perspective, neo-liberal capitalism thirsts for a larger world economy. A prosperous Africa would increase the slice of the cake for others. If India could eradicate its mass rural and urban poverty, the country would achieve the economic superpower status it craves.
more Global Poverty briefings (updated November 2017)
Perceptions of Global Poverty
Global Poverty Statistics
National Poverty Line
International Poverty Line
Causes of Global Poverty
Sustainable Development Goal for Poverty
Global Poverty Solutions