Getting the message out on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

17 October is the date selected by the United Nations for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The day dates back to 1987, when more than a hundred thousand people gathered in Trocadéro in Paris (where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948), to honour and acknowledge the millions of people around the world who are victims of extreme poverty. At this event, extreme poverty (currently defined as living on less than US$1.25 per day) was proclaimed a basic violation of human rights, and the urgent need to combat this violation was reaffirmed. Through the establishment of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the UN formalised the commitments of the 1987 gathering, urging governmental and civil organisations to take action in addressing the problems of extreme poverty.

People living in extreme poverty are forced into desperate living conditions.
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Think about it for a minute – US$1.25 a day. Or US$37.50 a month… Convert that to your local currency, and imagine that being the grand total amount of money you have to live on. Not just for basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, heat and sanitation, but for all your living expenses including medical care, education and transport.

That is not poverty – it is extreme poverty. The number is incomprehensibly small.

And now think about this: 920 million people. That is the amount of people that will still live under the international poverty line of $1.25 per day in 2015 in the best case scenario if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations is reached. In 1990 that number was almost 2 billion, and the stretching target set by the UN MDGs is to halve the 1990 extreme poverty rate by 2015.

At the moment, there’s still significantly more than 1 billion people living in extreme poverty. The number is incomprehensibly large.

And despite a general positive trend in the eradication of poverty, there are some severe setbacks that can derail the progress towards reaching the above goals. In 2010 alone, for example, it is estimated that the global economic crisis pushed an additional 64 million people into extreme poverty.

At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in June of this year, leaders from around the world declared that poverty eradication is “the greatest global challenge facing the world today.”

The UN Fact Sheet on poverty eradication details some very positive programmes that have worked well in different regions of the world – subsidy programmes in Malawi and Ghana, investments in agricultural research in Vietnam, innovative finance schemes in Nigeria and Bangladesh, employment programmes in Argentina. In addition to these, the UN is currently coordinating many additional initiatives across the world focused on agriculture, rural employment, food provision, local cooperatives and more.

Community feeding schemes helping those living in extreme poverty, need all the support they can get.
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While the global eradication of poverty feels like one of those vague, hazy ideals that we fully agree is important, but really have no idea what to do about as individuals, there are things we can do. Simply sharing the message and creating awareness among your peers of the various initiatives that are currently running to address the problem, can already help. The UN “End Poverty 2015 – we are the generation that can end poverty” awareness campaign makes it easy to identify and share specific messages related to the challenges that remain in the fight against poverty.

Go on – go to “#endpoverty”, find those initiatives that are close to your heart, educate yourself about them and start sharing with a simple click of a button. Knowledge is power, and sharing that knowledge is half the battle won.

Get proactive on World Population Day

The world population currently numbers about 7 053 000 000 people. That’s a little over 7 billion.

According to the latest figures, an expected 350 000 new babies will be born into the world today. Over the same 24 hour period about 150 000 deaths will occur. To put this into perspective – in the 2-odd minutes you may spend reading this blog post, almost 500 births will take place, and 200 people will die.

For this year’s World Population Day, the focus falls on Universal Access to Reproductive Health Services.

Access to proactive reproductive health care holds the key to a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

Of the 350 births today, many will be to women who are shockingly uninformed and under-serviced on all aspects of reproductive health, from birth control to safe childbirth to maternal and newborn healthcare. As a result of this, it is estimated that no less than 800 women die each day during childbirth, which is a tragedy in itself, but also means almost a thousand new children each day who have to face the world without a mother – their primary source of love, care and support. Given this situation, it is not surprising that among children below the age of 5, there are almost 20 000 deaths per day.

Universal access to Reproductive Health Services, with a key focus on education and services relating to pregnancy and contraception, is a critical, basic component of a healthy, stable population.

In a report by the Guttmacher Institute entitled “Adding it Up – Costs and Benefits of Investing in Contraceptive Services in the Developing World” it is reported that among women of reproductive age in developing countries, 867 million require contraception because they are sexually active but do not want a child in the next two years. Of these, 222 million currently don’t have access to modern contraceptive methods and rely on traditional, often unsafe and ineffective methods. As a result, an estimated 80 million unintended pregnancies will occur in the developing world in 2012. These will result in 30 million unplanned births, 40 million abortions and 10 million miscarriages.

Of course a critical issue in addressing this problem is funding. The cost of the current provision of contraceptive care in the developing world is about US$ 4 billion annually, while the required cost for fully meeting the total need for modern contraceptive methods in the developing world would exceed US$ 8 billion.

On the positive side (and this is the key message), this additional US$ 4 billion investment in contraception is estimated to result in a saving of almost US$ 6 billion in maternal and newborn health services costs. Addressing a humanitarian tragedy and gaining almost US$ 2 billion in the process – surely that makes sense?

So what can we do about it? Given that investing in improved reproductive health services is actually an investment with positive returns, it is not a case of the funds not being available, but of a need for the refocusing of some of the available funds towards proactive pre-pregnancy education and health services rather than reactive post-childbirth services. The best we can do is to get involved and support organisations who are working towards this change, and who are putting pressure on governments and donor agencies to apply available funding more proactively. Even just talking about this and creating awareness can help.

We can work together towards achieving the vision of the United Nations Population Fund‘s vision: “Achieving a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

Happy World Population Day!