The Face of Poverty

Imagine that you are the editor of a major national news magazine. Write the cover story you would choose for the issue that would be on the newsstands January 1, 2025.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the United Nations committed to eradicating poverty by the year 2025. Many foreign nations were skeptical at first and believed that such an ambitious goal was unattainable. But over the past twenty-five years, countries have attempted to unite in this global struggle. Over five hundred million people lived on a meager one dollar per day. Can we now say that the goal has been met? To answer this question, let’s examine the developments of the past quarter century.When the UN set its goal, the world’s poor were trapped by a number of seemingly intractable issues. While most citizens of wealthy nations took basic necessities of life for granted, those in impoverished countries had no such luxury. Their problems included limited resources, corrupt governments siphoning off money for their leaders’ private wealth, children orphaned by AIDS and other diseases, unsanitary living conditions and land inhospitable to growing crops. Their desperation is perhaps best exemplified by parents’ selling their own children into slavery just to survive. These complex problems needed resolution before any enduring victory over poverty could be obtained.Diplomats and leaders from across the world addressed these issues during the Global Summit in 2015, exactly one decade ago. A task force under the auspices of the United Nations determined that little or no progress toward the goal of eradicating poverty had been made, especially in West Africa. The original plan called for wealthy nations to donate 0.7% of their annual Gross Domestic Product, but the response was less than overwhelming. Wealthy countries, including the United States, Japan, and Germany, had only contributed less than half the amount initially pledged. Participants in the 2015 Global Summit concluded that it would take much more than money to combat poverty, disease, and slavery. They determined that empowering the people of indigent nations to become more self-reliant was critical. The Summit called for changes from all sides, including the private and public sectors and from individuals themselves. The question remained, was this the work of a group of visionaries or would this spur radical change?Ten grueling years later, there is much more than a glimpse of optimism. Benefactors have come forward from the private ranks, sparked by philanthropists like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Major redistribution of wealth has started taking place all over the world. As the consciousness of people has been raised and social policies of businesses have been more closely scrutinized, companies have realized that they must make a meaningful contribution to maintain the loyalty of their customer. Scores of volunteers from all walks of life have given generously of their time. Engineers and contractors have built hospitals, schools, and homes for many inhabitants of third world countries, and doctors have treated countless ill patients with proper medicines. More importantly, education has helped people to understand and prevent the spread of transmittable diseases. Farmers have shown the indigent citizens techniques of growing crops during all four seasons that are genetically more resistant to epidemics. Teachers have taught children reading, basic math and science to better prepare them for life and to start competing in a global economy.Twenty-five years later, impoverished nations are making unprecedented progress towards improving their standards of living. While much work remains, the unexpected confluence of private benefactors, increased responsiveness of business, and the efforts of inspired volunteers, leaves one sanguine about prospects for a world where poverty becomes the exception rather than the norm.  

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