The Challenge of Poverty
The most widely under fulfilled human right today is “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and of one’s family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”
(1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25(1)).
These fundamental human rights remain unfulfilled for a substantial part of humankind:
- The number of chronically undernourished has recently broken above one billion for the first time in human history,
- Some 2.5 billion lack access to basic sanitation,
- 2 billion lack access to essential medicines,
- Almost one billion lack adequate shelter,
- Nearly as many lack access to safe water,
- 1.6 billion lack electricity,
- Around 750 million adults are illiterate,
- More than 200 million children are working for wages outside their household, and
- About one third of all human deaths, 18 million each year, are due to poverty related causes and therefore, avoidable.
CROP’s vision is a world without poverty. The challenge is to generate and disseminate critical and rigorous knowledge useful for the prevention and eradication of extreme poverty.
Lifelong severe poverty has always been the fate of a majority of human beings. What is new in recent decades is that such poverty is almost entirely avoidable because there are enough resources in our world to eradicate extreme poverty. Besides, there is a public commitment of governments all over the world to “spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.” Governments went beyond a simple promise and “resolve therefore to create an environment – at the national and global levels alike – which is conducive to development and to the elimination of poverty”. (United Nations Millennium Declaration; emphasis is ours. )
In light of these facts, the response to the problem by the world’s elite is appalling. Insisting on a go-slow approach, they are celebrating the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that — repeatedly diluted — envision, between 2000 and 2015, a 21% reduction in the number of extremely poor people.
The dominant narrative, produced by the World Bank, presents the persistence of poverty as due to various local problems that the affluent countries are working to overcome with their experts and development assistance.
This narrative ignores that economic and political polarization takes place in the context of a highly integrated global economy, governed by an elaborate regime of treaties and conventions about trade, investments, loans, patents, copyrights, trademarks, double taxation, labor standards, environmental protection, use of seabed resources, production and marketing of weapons, maintenance of public security, and much else. Designed and imposed primarily by the world’s most powerful governments and corporations for their own benefit, this regime influences profoundly the evolution of poverty and global inequality.
It fails by and large in human rights-terms by perpetuating poverty and dependence and by bringing on new risks and vulnerabilities with which the poor are least able to cope: economic crises, environmental degradation, resource depletion, climate change, natural disasters and extreme weather events among others.
Yet, this regime also includes some positive elements — such as the recognition of human rights, women’s rights, equality and non-discrimination standards, labour rights and environmental protections — which were typically gained by activists from South and North in protracted struggles and which now provide openings in many countries for the poor and disenfranchised to hold their governments to account and to protect their human rights.
Building on these achievements, CROP will work for the prominent incorporation of the imperative of extreme poverty eradication and poverty avoidance into the design of the global institutional order. Such incorporation in turn requires a much fuller understanding of the nature, extent, depth, distribution, trends, causes and effects of poverty.
We need a critical grasp of what poverty consists of today and in turn develop ways to ensure the most efficient, effective and transmissible approach that influences action and behaviors that we hope in turn will ensure an end to extreme poverty.
During the search for knowledge to achieve this, we need in addition better explanations of how existing and emerging rules of the world economy affect global distributions of income, wealth, education, health care, job opportunities, violence and environmental burdens.
The number of chronically undernourished has broken above one billion FAO, “1.02 Billion People Hungry,” news release, June 19, 2009,
FAO Hunger Portal, 2012: “No updated estimates for the number of undernourished people in 2009 and 2010 are reported, nor has an estimate been made for 2011”
2,500 million lack access to basic sanitation
WHO and UNICEF, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: Special Focus on Sanitation (New York and Geneva, UNICEF and WHO 2008), p. 7
2 billion lack access to essential medicines
Fogarty Center for Advanced Study in the Health Sciences, “Strategic Plan: Fiscal Years 2000–2003” (Bethesda, Md., National Institutes of Health, n.d.)
924 million lack adequate shelter
UN-Habitat, The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003 (London, Earthscan 2003), p.iv
884 million lack access to safe water
WHO and UNICEF, Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: Special Focus on Sanitation (New York and Geneva, UNICEF and WHO 2008), p. 30
1.6 billion lack electricity
UN-Habitat,"Urban Energy", 7
74 million adults are illiterate
UNESCO Institute for Statistics, “Literacy Topic,” December 1, 2008
218 million children are working for wages
ILO, The End of Child Labour: Within Reach (Geneva, International Labour Office 2006), p. 6
About 18 million human deaths each year are due to poverty related causes
WHO, The Global Burden of Disease: 2004 Update (Geneva, WHO Publications 2008), table A1, pp.54–9