The fight against poverty and inequality – we are all in this together

In 2000, the world set the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) as a global framework to halve extreme poverty by 2015 and has been working since then to achieve them.

There have been some significant achievements, such as Nepal's success in reducing the infant mortality rate by one third in five years.

Yet the realization of the ultimate goal of halving extreme poverty now seems unlikely. This is because the mobilization of the necessary political will and financial resources are withering mainly due to the economic crises since 2008.

With the deadline for the MDG approaching, the international community led by the United Nations has started discussing what should succeed them in crafting a new, post-2015 development framework.

My organization Oxfam is among those actively involved in this debate, advocating tackling disparity and inequality as well as ensuring good governance in each country.

In Japan, on the eve of the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V), Africa is depicted as a continent of rapid economic growth and business opportunities, thus calling for policy attention to economic infrastructure rather than social development, and private investment rather than public aid.

But macro-economic growth alone will have a limited impact on poverty reduction and could in fact exacerbate inequalities and destabilize societies, if the discriminatory structures that prevent certain populations from capturing the fruits of growth remain unchallenged.

Economic growth will only help bring true "development" to societies if accompanied by the empowerment and participation of affected communities and civil society to hold the government accountable, effective institutions to uphold human rights, fair distribution of natural resources, and universal access to public services like health and education through progressive taxation and redistribution of wealth.

When discussing a post-2015 development framework, we Japanese need to refresh our thinking of what "ending poverty" really means to us.

For too long we have associated "international development" with charity -- an activity one may choose to engage in according to one's disposable assets. But is it really?

Oxfam reports that the annual income of the richest 100 individuals in 2012 was enough to end global poverty four times over. Regardless of national incomes, countries north and south are losing vast amounts of revenue due to their richest members of the society avoiding taxation through tax havens.

As a result, the state is increasingly unable to fulfill its fundamental role of providing essential services to the have-nots with the wealth of the haves, damaging public trust in democracy. Extreme economic inequality also undermines the longer-term prospects for growth, and worsens environmental problems.

Japan is no exception in this. "Ending extreme poverty" is no longer a matter of a favor to the poor living far away, but a question of how to deal with "extreme wealth" and rebuild a society of fair and mutual assistance - a question we all are grappling with in Japan.

Understanding that we are all in it together as global citizens is where we need to start in envisaging the world we want.

Takumo Yamada has been serving as advocacy manager of Oxfam Japan since 2002.

Originally published by Kyodo News.

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Oxfam's position on Post-2015 Development Goals (pdf, 28 January 2013)

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