Published on Let's Talk Development

Ending Extreme Poverty In Our Generation

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It sounds impossible.  Unthinkable.  A world free from extreme poverty.  A world in which no child is born to die, no child goes to bed hungry, every child lives a life free from violence and abuse and has quality health care, nutrition and learns in school. This has long been Save the Children’s vision but could now be a shared global vision, and by 2030 perhaps, a reality.

On  May 30, 2013, a special panel of world leaders handed in their recommendations to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General on the future of global sustainable development and they, too, believe this can be our reality.

The UN’s High-Level Panel (HLP), co-chaired by the presidents of Indonesia and Liberia, and the British Prime Minister, looked set to take a cautious path. The world is a very different place than 2000 when governments agreed to halve poverty and make sure every child went to school, we heard. Addressing inequality is too political, some said. It’s not realistic to think we will eliminate preventable child and maternal deaths, many feared.

At a time of weak multilateral cooperation, these expressions had many of us within civil society concerned that the HLP would compromise too much and deliver a bland and unambitious report that would fail to inspire governments, civil society, the private sector – all of us – to the action necessary to see an end to extreme poverty.

But they’ve done it. The report strikes a fine balance between ambition and pragmatism, offering a robust case that we can be the generation to end extreme poverty, hunger and preventable child deaths, and put the world on a more equitable and sustainable development path.

This success owes much to the composition and commitment of the HLP itself. Learning the lessons of their own development experience and the European economic crisis, African and Asian representatives rightly fought hard to ensure an emphasis on sharing the benefits of growth, reducing inequalities and transforming economies to help lift their people out of poverty.  

Latin Americans on the HLP, representing large emerging economies, ensured a truly universal framework with responsibilities for all nations to deliver a more sustainable and cleaner future for us all.

And all delivered a critical focus on human development – health, education, nutrition, water – the foundations of our individual well-being and that of whole societies and economies. 

Save the Children is particularly pleased to see the HLP propose global targets to end extreme income poverty, end preventable child and maternal deaths, end hunger, eliminate violence against women and children and ensure all people benefit from more open, transparent and accountable governance.

It also makes it clear that equitable progress across different income and social groups needs to be tracked – and that no goal will have been reached until all of these different groups have felt the benefit.

The transformational impact of just tracking the progress of the poorest and most marginalised should not be underestimated. Inequalities experienced because of one’s gender, age, disability, location or income are the biggest challenge to development progress – children in poorer households are almost 3 times more likely to suffer malnutrition than children in richer households. In some cases, inequality is a matter of life and death: in Nigeria, for example, the poorest children are twice as likely to die of preventable causes than the richest children. 

This is an unacceptable state of affairs and we commend the HLP for tackling such inequalities head on.

The report is not as strong as we would have liked in some areas. We would have wanted a much clearer emphasis on universal service delivery, particularly universal and affordable health coverage, ensuring all children achieve access to comprehensive social protection systems, a target to explicitly reduce income inequality and more emphasis on disaster risk reduction and preparedness, which will be so critical in the face of climate-related disasters which disproportionately affect those already living in poverty. 

Nevertheless, we urge governments to heed these ambitious proposals as they deliberate the future global development goals, starting with a special event at the UN in September. 

There is much to debate about the detail, but importantly the HLP has delivered a vision that can speak to governments the world over. And it’s time for them to listen. With less than 1,000 days until the current set of development goals (the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs) expire in 2015, governments must decide on the goals that will guide us all to 2030. They have the HLP report, they have recommendations from civil society, and most importantly they have the voices of their citizens to guide them. 


Kate Dooley

Senior Advocacy Adviser – Post-2015 & Multilateral Institutions, Save the Children

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