Ending poverty: too ambitious of a goal!?

On September 25, 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Summit takes place in New York to approve a set of 17 global sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets for the next 15 years. The title for the document is Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

SDG Goal 1

The first goal is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030. This goal has five targets.

1.1 Eradicate extreme poverty (living on less than $1.25 a day) for all people everywhere.
1.2 Reduce relative poverty (defined nationally) at least by half.
1.3 Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all including the poor and the vulnerable
1.4 Ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance
1.5 Build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters

How to do it?

1.a Ensure significant mobilization of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, in order to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions
1.b Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions

I have no doubt that the goal of ending poverty is ambitious. Let us take a look at the past 15 years, at the wars that we have started, at the adversaries that we have caused on each other and the planet, and at the lack of willingness that we have shown to help one another. With today’s social, political and economic structures, ending poverty in all its forms and everywhere is nearly impossible.

I think there are also a number of technical problems with the targets of SDG 1. Setting a measure of living on less than $1.25 a day for extreme poverty has many critiques. The $1.25 a day is too low as people with up to $5 a day live hand to mouth. In addition, the purchasing power of dollar (and all other currencies) will decrease in the next fifteen years, as it has dropped in the past fifteen years. When the idea of 1 dollar a day came up in Europe in the late 1980s, the nominal minimum wage was around $3, and today it is around $9. Therefore, that needs to change.

In addition, national definitions of poverty can be malleable. Implementing social protection systems and measures, ensuring equal rights to economic resources as well as access to basic services, and building resilience are all broad multi-sectoral targets.

On a positive note, SDGs may become the reason for changing our social, economic and political systems to meet the goals. I believe the first goal requires all the people, the communities, the organizations, and the countries to work together in order to achieve it.

They say target the moon and you may land among the stars. Even if we achieve half of what we aim to, we will live in a better world.

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