Extreme poverty was originally defined by the United Nations in 1995 as “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.” Currently, extreme poverty widely refers to earning below the international poverty line of a $ 1.25/day in 2005 prices), set by the World Bank. This measure is the equivalent of earning a $1.00 a day in 1996 US prices, hence the widely used expression, living on “less than a dollar a day”. The vast majority of these in extreme poverty-96%- reside in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and the Pacific; nearly half live in India and China alone.
The reduction of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger was the first Millennium Development Goals (MDGs 1), as set by 189 United Nations member state in 2000. Specifically, MDG1 set a target of reducing the extreme poverty rate in half by 2015, a goal that was met 5 years ahead of schedule with the expiration of the MDGs fast approaching, the international community, including the UN, the World Bank and the US, has set a target of ending extreme poverty by 2030.
Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day. Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Reducing poverty starts with children. More than 30% of children in developing countries- about 600 million live on less than US$1 a day. Every 3-6 seconds one person dies of starvation. Usually it is a child under the age of five. Poverty hits children hardest. While a severe lack of goods and services hurts every human, it is the most threatening to children’s right: survival, health and nutrition, education, participation, and protection from harm and exploitation. It creates an environment that is damaging to children’s development in every way-mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.
More than 1 billion children are severely, deprived of at least one of the essential goods and services they require surviving, growing and developing. Some regions of the world have more dire situations than other, but even within one country there can be broad disparities- between city and rural children, for example, or between boys and girls. An influx or tourism in one area may improve statistics overall, while the majority remains poor and disenfranchised. Each deprivation heightens the effect of other. So when two or more coincide, the effects on children can be catastrophic. For example, women who must long distances to fetch household water may not be able to fully attend to their children, which may affect their health and development. And children who themselves must walk long distance to fetch water have less time to attend school-a problem that particularly affects girls. Children who are not immunized or who are malnourished are much more susceptible to the diseases that are spread through poor sanitation.
Poverty exacerbates the effects of HIV\AIDs and armed conflicts. It entrenches social, economic and gender disparities and undermines protective family environments. Poverty contributes to malnutrition, which in turn is a contributing factor in over half of the under five deaths in developing countries. Mass education is the only weapon which can eradicate unnecessary shyness, poverty, diseases, and inferiority complex on the one hand. On the other hand, education can easily put an end to arrogance, cheating deceit and such other vices which empower a few people to lord it over others in order to exploit them. Some 300 million children go to bed hungry every day. Of these only 8% are victims of famine or other emergency situations. More than 90% are suffering long-term malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency.
The best start in life is critical in a child’s first few years, not only to survival but to his or her physical, intellectual and emotional development. So these deprivations greatly hamper children’s ability to achieve their full potential, contributing to a society’s cycle of endless poverty and hunger. Childhood is under threat from poverty. Fulfilling children’s rights breaks that cycle providing them with basic education, health care, nutrition and protection produces results of many times greater magnitude than these cost-effective interventions. Their chances of survival and of a productive future are greatly increased-as are the chances of a truly fair and peaceful global society. Building national capacities for primary health care around 270 billion children, just over 14% of all children in developing countries have no access to health care services, yet improving the health of children is one responsibility among many in the fight against poverty.
Healthy children become healthy adults’ people who create better lives for themselves, their communities and their countries getting children to school. Some 13% of children ages 7 to 18 years in developing countries have never attended school. This rate is 32% among girls in Sub-Saharan Africa (27% of boys) and 33% of rural children in the Middle East and South Africa.
Yet an education is perhaps a child’s strongest barrier against poverty, especially for girls. Educated girls are likely to marry later and have healthier children. They are more productive at home and better paid in the workplace, better able to protect themselves against HIV\AIDs and more able to participate in decision-making at all levels. Conflicts are most frequent in poor countries, especially in those that are governed and where there are sharp inequalities between ethnic or religious groups. An environment of unrest heightens the risk of abduction, sexual violence and exploitation of children, as well as the struggle for shelter, education and survival.
These policies and programmes don’t take shape in a void. Most Sub-Saharan Africa countries will miss both targets. The region has 204 million hungry and is the only region of the where hunger is increasing. More than 40% percent of Africans cannot even get sufficient food on a day-to-day basis.
This article is part of the UNYANET Millennium Development Goals blog series.
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