This week the world marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty – with special significance for Sri Lanka because the National Unity Government has declared 2017 as the year of poverty alleviation.
According to the United Nations, this year’s theme is, “moving from humiliation and exclusion to participation: End poverty in all its forms everywhere”. A UN Sustainable Development Goal explicitly recognizes that poverty results not from the lack of just one thing but from many different interrelated factors that affect the lives of people suffering in a poverty trap.
“This means we must go beyond seeing poverty merely as the lack of income or what is necessary for material well-being -- such as food, housing, land, and other assets -- to fully understand poverty in its multiple dimensions. The theme this year – selected in consultation with activists, civil society and non-governmental organizations – highlights how important it is to recognize and address the humiliation and exclusion endured by many people living in poverty,” the UN says.
According to a report by the world’s social justice movement OXFAM, the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population has fallen by a trillion dollars since 2010, a drop of 38 per cent. This has occurred despite the global population increasing by about 400 million during that period. Meanwhile, OXFAM says wealth of the richest 62 super billionaires has increased by more than half a trillion dollars to $1.76 tr. The report also shows how women are disproportionately affected by inequality – of the current 62 super billionaires, 53 are men and just nine are women.
The disturbing if not shocking and prophetic report by OXFAM says though world leaders have increasingly talked about the need to tackle inequality and in September agreed on a global goal to reduce it, the gap between the richest and the rest has widened dramatically in 2015. OXFAM’s prediction that the wealthiest 1% would soon own more than the rest of the people, actually came true in 2015 -- a year earlier than expected.
OXFAM is calling for urgent action to tackle the extreme inequality crisis which threatens to undermine the progress made in tackling poverty during the Past quarter of a century. As a priority, it is calling for an end to the era of tax havens which has seen the increasing use of offshore centres by rich individuals and companies to avoid paying their fair share to society. This has denied governments valuable resources needed to tackle poverty and inequality.
Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International Executive Director said: “It is simply unacceptable that the poorest half of the world’s population owns no more than a few dozen super-rich people who could fit onto one bus.
She added, “I challenge the governments, companies and elites to play their part in ending the era of tax havens, which is fuelling economic inequality and preventing hundreds of millions of people lifting themselves out of poverty. Multinational companies and wealthy elites are playing by different rules to everyone else, refusing to pay the taxes that society needs to function. The fact that 188 of 201 leading companies have a presence in at least one tax haven shows it is time to act.”
In Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have assured that the government’s 5-year sustainable development strategy would be all inclusive and aimed at restoring the human dignity of the oppressed and impoverished people.
The government has assured that the sustainable, eco--friendly development plans involving the latest in modern technology would not be urban-centred but village-centred so that rural youth would get productive and highly paid jobs.
During the past two years after the change of government in 2015 many assurances have been given but not many have been fulfilled. We hope that the promise for the 2017 poverty eradication year would go beyond words, go to the grassroots and rescue millions of people from the poverty trap that an unjust system has put them into.
It is only with a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources that Sri Lanka could claim to be a just and fair society.