Global poverty increasing, says report: Nearly two in three people worldwide live on less than $10/day

September 29, 2015

The UN says its previous Millennium Development Goals helped halve global poverty since the 1990s, but there’s reason to question that.  That success rate is calculated from the World Bank poverty measure of $1.25 a day, a level of very extreme poverty. The problem is that this poverty measure is too low. While the numbers of people living in extreme poverty has indeed halved, many of those people are still poor, deprived of their basic needs.

As the London-based development charity ActionAid showed in a 2013 report, a more realistic poverty measure lies between $5 and $10 a day. By this measure, although very extreme poverty has declined, the number of impoverished overall has increased.

World Bank data shows that since 1990, the number of people living under $10 a day has increased by 25 percent, and the number of people living under $5 a day has increased by 10 percent. Today, 4.3 billion people—nearly two-thirds of the global population—live on less than $5 a day.

The SDGs do acknowledge the breadth and depth of the challenge: “Billions of our citizens continue to live in poverty and are denied a life of dignity. There are rising inequalities within and among countries… Natural resource depletion and adverse impacts of environmental degradation, including desertification, drought, land degradation, freshwater scarcity and loss of biodiversity, add to and exacerbate the list of challenges which humanity faces. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and its adverse impacts undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development.” The problem is that they then actively sidestep any mention of the root cause of these “challenges.”

According to Dr. Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics (LSE), global inequality is on the rise because concentrations of wealth in industrialized countries are linked inextricably to the extraction of developing countries’ resources.  By ignoring the role of prevailing capitalist structures and untrammelled economic growth in generating poverty and climate change, the SDG process loses meaning, argues Hickel.

“Corporations and banks are not mentioned anywhere,” (in the Sustainable Development Goals), said a Washington-based non-profit campaigning to address the root causes of poverty.  “This omission is very telling in its own right. We know that multinational corporations are the most powerful political actors, and are profoundly concentrated vehicles for wealth consolidation.”

That’s partly because the UN’s very concept of “development” relies on the idea that the solution to poverty remains “undifferentiated, perpetual growth.”  That kind of thinking is why humans’ ecological footprint is on track to exceed the carrying capacity of the Earth, he says.  The way forward must therefore make evaluating the agendas of the powerful a “central focus” of the process.  In other words, the role of the prevailing economic system in creating poverty has to first be acknowledged before it can be transformed.  This critique is in line with the Pope’s encyclical and an assessment of a CIDSE participant.  CIDSE is an international alliance of 17 development agencies.

Insiders at the heart of the UN’s intergovernment engagement negotiations have also lambasted the international body for pandering to big business and ignoring grassroots stakeholders who represent the world’s poor.   In late July, the UN Major Group for Civil Society criticized the SDG process for overlooking the role of “corporate tax evasion” and “lack of accountability for human rights abuses” in developing countries, and for advocating privatization as a solution despite “growing evidence that privatization of essential social services exacerbates inequalities in access and marginalizes the poorest.”

Fionuala Cregan writes:

The SDGs only response to our polycrisis is for more of the same: more economic growth, everywhere; more industrial production and consumption; and more of the same basic thinking that has brought us to this point.

“Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom – still deeply rooted in their cultures despite over 500 years of colonisation and genocide – should be a source of inspiration and guidance that brings our focus to deep structural and spiritual dimensions of change.”

In their desire to satisfy the demands of a global elite whose only concept of progress is ever more profit, the SDGs have ignored the voices of those who have the clearest insight into type of change needed. “What we need is spiritual and philosophical change,” says Aguirre, “a return to living in harmony and listening carefully to the knowledge of Mother Earth.”

Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom – still deeply rooted in their cultures despite over 500 years of colonisation and genocide – should be a source of inspiration and guidance that brings our focus to deep structural and spiritual dimensions of change.

“The Earth gives us life – that is why for Indigenous People she is Mother Earth.  Human beings are not the owners of the Earth – they are another element of it closely interconnected to all other living things from plants and animal to water and air, and we must live in synchronicity with them,” explains Aguirre. “When hunting or gathering we only ever take as much as we need, never more, and we rotate hunting territories to allow the land replenish itself and ensure the delicate balance of the eco-system is maintained. It is no coincidence that 80 per cent of the Earth’s remaining biodiversity can be found on Indigenous territories.”

“Living in harmony also means a society where resources and responsibilities are shared, where no one individual is disproportionately powerful or wealthy. People are valued for their contribution to the community and not for individual personal wealth and power from a rigged game. Resources are shared so that families, communities and the natural environment thrive and survive not just in the present but for generations to come,” adds Seron.

Felix Diaz, one of the leaders of the Indigenous protest camp in Buenos Aires likens this to a fire. “I like to think of a communal fire as a symbol of our humanity,” said Diaz. “One person adds wood, another adds paper and each contribution brings light and warmth to the whole group.”

The SDGs do not represent the flames of change. In fact, they are more of a smoke signal, a mere distraction. The hope now rests in their potential to spark indignation, to help build a movement of people who recognize the true depths of the challenges we face. This emerging movement is increasingly standing with and learning from Indigenous Peoples all over the world in their struggle to protect what we have left, and return to a way of life that is more balanced and in harmony with the living force of the whole planet.