Poverty has acquired a vast meaning and it entails more than the lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods. The manifestations of poverty include hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion as well as the lack of participation in decision-making.
Poverty eradication was identified by the World Social Summit as an ethical, social, political and economic imperative of mankind. To address the root causes of poverty, it is essential that basic needs are provided for all and it needs to be ensured that the poor have access to productive resources, including credit, education and training. The 24th special session of the UN General Assembly set up targets to reduce the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by one half by 2015. This target has been subsequently endorsed by the Millennium Summit as Millennium Development Goal 1.
From a social perspective, poverty has to be addressed in all its dimensions by promoting people-centered approach and advocating the empowerment of people living in poverty through their full participation in all aspects of political, economic and social life, especially in the design and implementation of policies that affect the poorest and most vulnerable groups of society. Further, an integrated strategy towards poverty eradication necessitates implementing policies geared to more equitable distribution of wealth and income and social protection coverage.
On the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October 2006, the then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “The campaign to make poverty history—a central moral challenge of our age—cannot remain a task for the few, it must become a calling for the many… I urge everyone to join this struggle. Together, we can make real and sufficient progress towards the end of poverty”.
The observance of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty can be traced back to 17 October 1987 when over a hundred thousand people gathered at the Trocadero in Paris, where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, to honour the victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger. They proclaimed that poverty is a violation of human rights and affirmed the need to come together to ensure that these rights are respected. Since then, people of all backgrounds, beliefs and social origins have gathered every year on October 17th to renew their commitment and show their solidarity with the poor.
Subsequently, through resolution 47/196 adopted on 22 December 1992, the General Assembly declared 17 October as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and invited all States to devote the Day to presenting and promoting, as appropriate in the national context, concrete activities with regard to the eradication of poverty and destitution. The Day acknowledges the effort and struggle of people living in poverty, and provides a chance for them to make their concerns heard, and a moment to recognize that poor people are the first ones to fight against poverty.
So, the participation of the poor themselves has been an important ingredient at the Day’s celebration since its very beginning. The commemoration of this Day also reflects the willingness of people living in poverty to use their expertise to contribute to the eradication of poverty.
During the implementation of the First Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006), several United Nations summits and conferences resulted in negotiated outcomes focusing national, regional and international efforts on poverty eradication. They include the UN Millennium Declaration, the Monterrey Consensus of the International Conference on Financing for Development and the 2005 World Summit Outcome. However, the progress made in reducing poverty world-wide has been uneven with some regions experiencing poverty reductions, while in many countries poverty has been on the rise, especially among women and children.
The Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017), proclaimed by the General Assembly in December 2007, reiterated that eradicating poverty was the greatest global challenge facing the world and a core requirement for sustainable development, especially for developing countries. The second Decade aims at supporting, in an efficient and coordinated manner, the internationally agreed development goals related to poverty eradication, including the Millennium Development Goals.
It stresses the importance of reinforcing the positive trends in poverty reduction in some countries and extending such trends to benefit people worldwide. The proclamation recognizes the importance of mobilizing financial resources for development at national and international levels and acknowledges that sustained economic growth, supported by rising productivity and a favorable environment, including private investment and entrepreneurship is vital for rising living standards.
In case of India, it is now being realized that providing special favors to the poorest people of the society does not work in eradicating poverty at all. For example, after more than sixty years of Independence and free education and quota for scheduled castes and tribes, the number of people eligible for the quota benefit has steadily risen. In other words, everything that is rewarded grows. If poverty is rewarded in any manner, it is bound to grow. It would be pertinent to remember a Chinese proverb which says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Poor people need to be instilled confidence that yes, they can change themselves. This can be done by making them believe that someone in their position has already achieved great feats. Poor people need to be given heroes they can look up to, so they will model after these heroes and change their lives. They need to be told rags-to-riches stories, so they will surprise us by rising out of poverty in record time.
Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh has perhaps done more to eradicate poverty than anyone else in the world. He started an organization that gave out loans to poor people who wanted to start their own businesses. Bu the banded the people who wanted loans into groups, so that the group can motivate the members to work harder and it can create peer pressure on the members to pay back the loan on time. The result is Yunus’s bank has a 98 per cent rate of loan payback—better than most banks worldwide.