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September 20, 2017

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Progress made, but more work ahead to end global poverty

You don't often hear good news from the United Nations. But according to the recently released 2013 Human Development Report, we are making huge progress toward ending global poverty.

Thanks mainly to what the report described as the "Rise of the South" — the human development of the new powers in the developing world — the world is witnessing unprecedented success in poverty eradication.

In 2000, the U.N. formally established eight ambitious targets for global development — the Millennium Development Goals. The goals are in the following order: the eradication of extreme poverty; universal primary education; gender equality; child mortality reduction; maternal health improvement; combating AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; environmental sustainability and international partnership for development. All 193 U.N. member states and 23 international bodies signed up to the promise of achieving the goals by 2015.

For poverty eradication, the first of the Millennium Development Goals, the signatories agreed to halve the proportion of people living on less than US$1.25 a day compared to 1990. According to the 2013 Human Development Report, that goal has been achieved three years before the target date of 2015, primarily due to the success of some of the world's most populous countries. In Brazil, the percentage of the population living on less than US$1.25 a day based on 2005 levels, measured at purchasing power parity, went from 17.2 percent to 6.1 percent; while in China this figure dropped from 60.2 percent to 13.1 percent. In India the decline was from 49.4 percent to 32.7 percent. Between 1990 and 2008, China alone lifted 510 million people out of poverty, the report pointed out as an example.

"Never in history have the living conditions and prospects of so many people changed so dramatically and so fast," the report stated.

A separate report by Oxford University's poverty and human development initiative predicted that extreme poverty can be eradicated within two decades if human development continues at present rates.

The term in question is, of course, "at present rates." The extraordinary development in the past two decades is exactly that: extraordinary. It therefore does not necessarily represent a long-term trend. If the current situation is any guide, the prospect is truly worrying.

The 2013 Human Development Report warned that urgent action is needed in the promotion of environmental sustainability or the world could see the population of those living in extreme poverty surge up to 3 billion by 2050.

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