Dima El Hassan
During the United Nations Summit on Sept. 25-27, 2015, the U.N. has endorsed 17 Sustainable Development Goals to direct the role of public and private sectors as well as nonprofit and voluntary sectors in global development.
While some goals have made remarkable progress toward their achievement, notably by seizing attention and mobilizing the resources needed to face the major discrepancies in human development, some have met a lot of unsolved challenges, especially in the face of the constant emergent global threats facing humanity such as climate change, conflict and food insecurity.
“To end poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030” is the first goal on the agenda of the SDGs. However, eradicating poverty in the world seems a “mission impossible.” While extreme poverty rates have been cut by more than half since 1990, 836 million people still live in extreme poverty and are working hard to secure their most basic needs like health, education and access to water, electricity and sanitation.
According to the U.N. Development Program’s Human Development report 2016, one in five people in developing regions still live on less than $1.25 a day, and there are millions more who make just a few dollars more than this daily amount, while many other people risk falling back into poverty. The majority of “poor labeled” people belong to two main regions: Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Particularly, high poverty rates are often found in small, fragile and conflict-affected countries, accounting for around 70 percent of the global total of extremely poor people. However, poverty greatly affects developed countries as well. U.N. records show that there are nearly 30 million children growing up poor in the world’s richest countries.
Although it is true that countries that witnessed rapid economic growth, such as China, were able to get millions of their people out of poverty, progress on this issue remains uneven. Also the poverty rate is higher among women than men, mainly due to inequality in paid work, education and property.
“Eradicating poverty remains the greatest global challenge ... It is [also] an indispensable requirement for sustainable development,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said at the opening of the 2017 Integration Segment of the U.N. Economic and Social Council. She was calling for a collective and comprehensive approach that recognizes the multidimensional nature of the issue and its interaction with other aspects.
Although poverty is one of the most familiar and lasting conditions known to humanity, it is an extremely complex concept to understand. Poverty as defined lately by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is the “scarcity or the lack of a certain amount of material possessions or money.” It is a multidimensional concept, which may include elements that are social (access to health care and education), economic (right to work and to have an adequate income), political (freedom of thought, expression and association) and cultural (right to maintain one’s cultural identity and be involved in a community’s cultural life).
Poverty is thus more than the lack of income and resources to ensure a sustainable livelihood. Its causes include unemployment, social exclusion, and high exposure of certain populations to disasters, diseases and other phenomena preventing them from being productive. Its effects include hunger and starvation, limited or no access to education and other basic services, social discrimination as well as lack of participation in decision-making and inclusion in various forms of violence, illicit trafficking, conflicts, instability and extremism in all its forms.
So tackling poverty is a key element to boost economic growth while reducing other socioeconomic problems.
In Lebanon, hard work is being done to help lift the poorest and the most vulnerable in the country out of poverty through targeted initiatives, as the U.N. 2015 report on SDGs in Lebanon states. Despite these efforts, many remain below the poverty line and risk being neglected: 27 percent of Lebanese are considered poor, spending less than $270 per month; 70 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon spend less than $120 a month; 65 percent of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon spend less than $210 a month; and 90 percent of palestinianrefugees from Syria spend less than $80 a month.
Yes, people are Lebanon’s most important resource, and reduced poverty will no doubt improve the country’s economic growth. The question now is how?
Economic growth must be inclusive to provide sustainable jobs and promote equality.
As far as the public sector is concerned, the government’s role is to generate a supporting environment that creates productive employment and job opportunities for the poor and marginalized. It can formulate strategies and fiscal policies that encourage pro-poor growth, and reduce poverty.
As for the private sector, it plays a major role in making sure that the economic growth it creates is inclusive and hence helps in poverty alleviation. It can promote economic opportunities for the poor, while focusing on sectors of the economy where most of the poor are involved, notably the informal sector as well as the micro and small enterprises.
As for the civil society sector, its active engagement in policymaking can bring positive change in addressing poverty. It guarantees that citizens’ rights are being promoted, voices are being heard, knowledge is being shared and innovation and critical thinking are encouraged at all ages.
As for the academic community, it can first increase the awareness about the impact of poverty. It can also provide new and sustainable approaches, solutions and technologies to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development.
At the end, the goal of “No Poverty” may not be a “mission impossible” if every one of us thinks humanly when acting. According to the economist Jeffrey Sachs, the yearly total cost to end extreme poverty worldwide in 20 years would be about $175 billion. This is “less than 1 percent of the combined income of the richest countries in the world.” However, as Gandhisaid, “the world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
Dima El Hassan is director of programs at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email: [email protected]
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 27, 2017, on page 3.