Post 1-MDGs, SDGs, and Poverty

Poverty is most frequently thought of in terms of income, whether in terms of Absolute poverty or Relative poverty. UNESCO defines absolute poverty as a measure of poverty in relation to the amount of money necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Relative poverty defines poverty in relation to the economic status of other members of the society: people are poor if they fall below prevailing standards of living in a given societal context. Focus is on people that make $1-3/day and pay 30-40x more than their middle class counterparts, when, stated by Jacqueline Novogratz, poverty is a ‘condition about choice and lack of freedom.’

A lot of times we, as citizens in rich countries, believe that poverty is a choice when really it is not. People do not want to be in poverty, but lack of freedom, resources, infrastructure, etc. keep people from advancing. Jacqueline Novogratz’ TED talks illustrate this point. She tells stories of women that she has met in parts of Africa that showcase the capabilities of people when given the right resources. She also makes it a point to say that instead of always giving hand-outs, richer countries should engage with others from, not just people in Africa, but people in other poor countries. Instead of always providing the assistance and asking ourselves why they are still in poverty, we need to ask how we can help the poor do it for themselves. Jacqueline states that the way to end poverty is to, “build viable systems on the ground that delivers critical and affordable goods and services to the poor that are financially sustainable and scaleable.” If, for example, the United States builds a well for clean water in Africa, that’s great until something happens and people need water but can’t access it. In addition to building the well, there needs to be some sort of training on how to build other wells and how to use and upkeep the well so it will last longer. Instruction needs to be in place so the poor can do it for themselves instead of constantly relying on richer countries to come in and save the day.
sdg-picturegBecause poverty is a very important topic, it is on the top of the list for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goal of SDGs is to implement realistic objectives to combat rapidly arising global issues like climate change, extreme poverty, and environmental health among others. SDGs need to involve the interaction of complex systems such as economic, social, environmental, and governance. In a perfect world the interaction of these systems would go smoothly and countries would work together, but that is not the reality. For example, when government spending was cut promoted by the World Bank and IMF (Neo-liberalism), there were worsening effects for the international world. Some examples are that Africa saw and increasing in poverty, child mortality, and declining life expectancy. Latin America and Asia saw economic crises and a growing threat of inequalities.


The United States for a while would not directly promote Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) proposed by the UN because of tensions between the two, regarding the Iraq war. The US felt that MDGs were ‘UN-dictated aid quotas’. Because of these tensions important opportunities were missed to foster international goodwill and highlight its development efforts. Another international player who did not facilitate MDGs was the World Bank. They did not facilitate ground efforts because of bureaucratic resentment toward the UN because the UN had a prominent role on development issues and also because there was a general distrust that countries would provide financing for these MDGs. The US and the World Bank were termed “Players on the Bench” by John McArthur in Own the Goals.
One way that people think poverty can be solved is by supplying more aid money. More aid money is a temporary fix for a long-term problem. As discussed before, if there are no plans in place to instruct people to use the aid, then it will only promote dependence. By the same token, aid is only as good as the recipient’s economy and government. If internal affairs are below par, then aid money cannot help make up for those problems. Ways to combat this issue that richer countries can do, are take action against corrupt leaders, assist in Research and Development efforts, and enhance global labor mobility. There is no one policy or action that can eradicate the world’s problems, that’s just wishful thinking. SDGs and MDGs are a step in the right direction, but ultimately it boils down to the willingness of Earth’s inhabitants to want to make a change regarding environmental health, the health of our fellow men, and other pressing issues regarding the world we live in.
Jeffrey Sachs, The Age of Sustainable Development
John W. McArthur, Own the Goals
Birdstall et al, How to Help Poor Countries


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