A global report card on poverty eradication prepared by the U.N. Secretary-General shows glaring disparities in performance both across and within regions. Economic growth is one evident reason for the progress in East Asia, particularly China, in reducing extreme poverty and raising living standards, in contrast to sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which continue to remain laggards. Yet, large sections of the world’s population risk being left out.For instance, of the 900 million who are predicted to be in extreme poverty in 2015, India is expected to be home to more than 300 million, and sub-Saharan Africa would have more than a third of its population in poverty. Not to be forgotten, in the midst of the encouraging global data that point to a world largely on track to meet the Millennium Declaration’s target of halving the proportion of people living on less than a dollar-a-day between 1990 and 2015, is that there is a large section that remains vulnerable. Applying the World Bank’s $2-a-day poverty line, for instance, would lead to a dramatic rise in the figures of the poor in developing countries.
While income poverty is a crucial measure, eradicating poverty effectively requires methods that factor in multiple deprivations. Inadequate access to health care services and education are two important factors that work against the poor. The move by the United Nations Development Programme to introduce a multidimensional poverty index is a welcome intervention, as it seeks to fix the paradox of poverty despite rising incomes. That the incidence of multidimensional poverty is higher than that of income poverty in 60 per cent of the countries covered highlights the need for governments to put in place supportive systems. Of the three policy challenges identified in the report prepared as a document for the 49th session of the Commission for Social Development in early February — economic growth and development, social protection and social policy, and structural transformation — priority should be given to social protection policies, particularly in countries like India that are on a positive economic growth trajectory. Studies by International Labour Organisation in 12 Asian and sub-Saharan countries show that the initial gross annual cost of a basic social protection package would be between 2.2 per cent and 5.7 per cent of GDP, which should be a manageable level of spending. Creating and implementing a basic universal social protection floor will mark a new phase in the world’s fight against persistent poverty.