Most world religious leaders have called on the international community and political leaders to give the highest priority to poverty alleviation. After 1970 when the globalized capitalist market economic system took control of most of the world, the gap between the rich and the poverty- stricken people has widened so much that independent social analysts say we may come to a catastrophe where about half the world’s people will watch on television the tragedy of the other half dying of starvation. After the United States’ then president Donald Regan and Britain’s then prime minister Margaret Thatcher worked out the structure of the globalized capitalist market economic system, it gradually evolved into a horror where the rich were becoming richer and the poor poorer. So much so that independent surveys indicate that the world’s ten super-billionaires control or manipulate more than 70 per cent of the world’s wealth and resources. Unless and until the structure is broken and the gap gradually reduced, the world will find it difficult if not impossible to solve other crises including the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The United Nations in a statement says in a world characterized by an unprecedented level of economic development, technological means and financial resources, that hundreds of millions of people are living in extreme poverty is a moral outrage.
Poverty is not solely an economic issue, but rather a multidimensional phenomenon that encompasses a lack of both income and the basic capabilities to live in dignity. Poverty-stricken people experience many interrelated and mutually reinforcing deprivations that prevent them from realizing their rights and perpetuate their poverty trap including dangerous work conditions, unsafe housing, lack of nutritious food, unequal access to justice, lack of political power and limited access to healthcare.
The UN says this year marks the 27th anniversary of the declaration of October 17 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This year also marks the 32nd anniversary of the call to action by Father Joseph Wresinski. This inspired the observance of October 17 as the World Day for Overcoming Extreme Poverty.
According to the UN the 2020 theme is, “Acting together to achieve social and environmental justice for all. The theme addresses the challenge of achieving social and environmental justice for all. The growing recognition of the multi-dimensionality of poverty means that these two issues are inseparably intertwined, that social justice cannot be fully realized without aggressively rectifying environmental injustices at the same time. Whereas progress has been made in addressing income poverty, there has been less success in addressing the other important dimensions of poverty, including the rapidly growing impact on the environment, within a more holistic approach.
The UN says poverty-stricken people, often through sheer necessity, are the first to act decisively within their communities in response to poverty, climate change and environmental challenges. However, their efforts and experience often go unnoticed and unappreciated. Their ability to contribute positively to solutions has been overlooked. They are not recognized as drivers of change, and their voices are not heard, especially in international bodies.
This must change. The participation, knowledge, contributions and experience of poverty-stricken people and those left behind must be valued, respected and reflected in our efforts to build an equitable and sustainable world in which there is social and environmental justice for all. The estimates of the potential short-term economic impact of COVID-19 on global monetary poverty through contractions in per capita household income or consumption show that COVID-19 poses a real challenge to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty by 2030 because global poverty could increase for the first time since 1990 and depending on the poverty line, such increase could represent a reversal of about a decade in the world’s progress in reducing poverty.