Inequality undermining progress on poverty goals

When the world’s governments meet at a special session of the UN this week to take stock of toward the Millennium Development Goals and negotiating a blueprint for global development, my message to them will be that only by confronting inequality head-on will poverty be overcome.

The MDGs have been an important force for development progress over the last 13 years. They have rallied governments, donors, and civil society behind a common purpose and ambition, and inspired many successes.

The first goal, to halve extreme poverty, has been met. The fact so many people lifted out of extreme poverty in such a short time is an achievement to celebrate. It is far from the only achievement.

  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, 41 per cent fewer mothers die in childbirth now than they did two decades ago.
  • Deaths of children under five have been radically reduced in Rwanda, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger and Ethiopia.
  • Efforts to combat diseases are paying off in lives saved. Globally, there has been a 25 per cent decrease of malaria deaths; in Africa, this figure is 33 per cent.

These are achievements to celebrate.

This success has been the result of rapid progress in many countries where there has been stability and equitable growth.

Yet globally more than a billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day and most of the MDGs are still off target. Progress has been slow or non-existent where there has been protracted conflict, or where growth has been highly inequitable.

Global poverty is declining but in country after country, inequality is on the increase. Billions of people are being left behind by economic growth. There is an emerging consensus that high levels of inequality are not just morally objectionable, but they are damaging for social stability and to growth itself.

These challenges must be met head-on. A plan for reducing inequality was a major omission in the original MDGs. Without targeted efforts to reduce gaps between rich and poor, the next set of global development goals is almost certain to be unachievable.

A serious omission in the original MDGs was a plan to reduce inequality. Without it, the next set of global development goals is almost certain to fail. Global growth and development that is strong, sustainable, and inclusive requires the challenges of inequality to be met head-on. For that reason, a stand-alone goal to tackle inequality must be included in a future framework for global development.

In the meantime, UN member states need to get back to work on the MDGs. Far too many governments are cutting back on their investment in human development. Many are now focusing on post-2015 plans instead of accelerating action to attain the existing goals. Meanwhile, aid to the poorest countries is falling – last year global ODA dropped by $5.36 billion.

The international community needs to take bold steps to ensure sufficient resources are invested to make the MDGs a success. As a start, rich countries must stick to their commitments on aid for development. They should also raise additional revenue by tackling the corporate tax evasion that is bleeding billions out of poor countries each year, and by introducing innovative financing mechanisms like a financial transactions tax.

Ending extreme poverty is possible. Now is the time to craft a new, fair deal for poor people across the world.

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