Our televisions screens beam images from around the globe directly into our homes every day. Scenes of hunger, conflict and suffering highlight the reality of poverty in many countries of the world.
To be free from poverty is not a condition that should be earned; it is the right of every individual on the planet. On December 10, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which defined the rights of every person.
Article 25 particularly refers to the right of every person to be free from poverty. 'Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.'
Yet the reality in our world is vastly different. Despite the declaration made almost 60 years ago, the following is true today:
- Over 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day with nearly half the world's population (2.8 billion) living on less than $2 a day.
- More than 800 million people go to bed hungry every day, 300 million of these are children. Of these children, only eight percent are victims of famine or other emergency situations. More than 90 percent are suffering long-term malnourishment and micronutrient deficiency.
- Every year six million children die from malnutrition before their fifth birthday.
- More than 50 percent of Africans suffer from water-related diseases such as cholera and infant diarrhoea.
- Every 30 seconds an African child dies of malaria —more than one million child deaths a year.
- Globally, as of 2005, an estimated 15.2 million children under 18 have lost one or both parents to AIDS; about 80 per cent of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Australian context
These images make it easy to forget that for too many Australians poverty is also a daily experience. Indigenous people are the most affected by extreme poverty and usually rank at the bottom of most social and economic indicators. In Australia, despite our wealth, many Indigenous people live in poverty: indigenous children are twice as likely to die in infancy; Indigenous communities suffer more from preventable diseases, higher unemployment, lower home ownership, lower engagement with education and, in some places, are six times more likely to be murdered.
The 'Close The Gap' campaign calls on federal, state and territory governments to commit to closing the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation.
The campaign is supported by more than 40 Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations, and seventy-five thousand Australians have already pledged their support to Close the Gap.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and eradicating Poverty
The MDGs, a set of global commitments to lift millions of people out of extreme poverty, were signed on to Australia and virtually every country on Earth at the Millennium Summit in 2000.
The eight targeted Goals call for specific outcomes by 2015 in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development.
Halfway to the 2015 deadline, there had been clear progress towards implementing the MDGs. However their overall success is still far from assured, according to a recent United Nations MDG Progress Report. Find the 2013 report here.
There has been significant progress toward the target of halving extreme poverty by 2015, with the proportion of people worldwide living on the equivalent of a dollar a day having dropped from 32 per cent (1.25 billion in 1990) to 19 per cent (980 million in 2004). For example in Africa, a number of countries are making very significant progress with strong government leadership, sound policies and practical strategies for promoting public investments, particularly where they are receiving financial and technical support from the international community.
In the education sector, more children in developing countries are going to school. Enrolment in primary education in developing countries rose from 80 per cent in 1991 to 88 per cent in 2005.
Health gains can be seen in the fact that child mortality has declined worldwide, mostly because of effective and inexpensive interventions to save children from such threats as measles. Malaria control has seen major interventions too.
Big challenges remain in the effort to end poverty. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, causing profound climate changes that threaten human well-being.
More than half a million women die annually of preventable and treatable complications in pregnancy and childbirth; there has been little progress in halving the proportion of underweight children. Half the population of the developing world still has no access to basic sanitation.
The UN has attributed some of the lack of progress to the failure of most developed countries to live up to their commitments to provide 'adequate financing within the global partnership for development and its framework for mutual accountability.'
There has been no significant increase in Official Development Assistance since 2004. Few donor countries have reached or exceeded the UN target of allocating 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income for aid.
Action to support an end to Poverty
Anti-Poverty Week was established in Australia as an expansion of the UN's annual International Anti-Poverty Day. In 2014, Anti-Poverty Week runs from October 12 to 17. The week aims to: strengthen public understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and hardship around the world and in Australia; and encourage research, discussion and action to address these problems, including action by individuals, communities, organisations and governments.
Anti-Poverty Week acts as an invitation to reduce poverty and hardship in Australia or overseas by organizing and joining in activities to draw attention to poverty. Participants demand that their governments keep their promises to achieve the Millennium Goals to end extreme poverty by 2015. They will call on political leaders to deliver more and better aid to the poorest nations, implement fairer trade conditions, cancel debt, ensure gender equality, as well as greater transparency and accountability from their governments.