Millennium Development Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

Sr. Patricia Connolly[1]

MDG 1“Since they were first adopted, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have raised awareness and shaped a broad vision that remains the overarching framework for the development activities of the United Nations.”[2]

In September 2010, when heads of state met at the UN to analyze the achievements and gaps of the MDGs over they last 10 years (with hope for achieving the Goals by 2015), they found a very mixed picture.

An overall flaw in MDG reporting became evident: the targets were global and not country or region specific. That deficiency is now being addressed to give countries and the UN a more realistic framework for sustainable development. Added to the challenge of unclear data are the multiple crises in economics, fuel, food, etc. that rocked the world community in 2008-2009 and continue to take their toll, especially on the most vulnerable.

Nonetheless, all world leaders recommitted themselves to the MDGs and put forward an action plan to meet the goals and protect the most vulnerable among us from the devastating effects of multiple crises.

Goal 1:  Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger — truly an ambitious goal — is the focus of this reflection. The three targets for Goal 1 are:

Target 1.A: Halve the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 per day.

Target 1.B: Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people. (Interesting to note, this target was only added in 2005!)

Target 1.C: Halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Underweight children under 5 years of age are prioritized in efforts to meet this goal.[3]

Target 1. A: INCOME. After 10 years, poverty has declined in many countries and regions. The Millennium Development Goals Report 2011 asserts that by 2015, the global poverty rate will fall to 15%, which is below the original 23% target. However, that trend primarily reflects the remarkably rapid growth in China and India and does not reflect the slower rate in the least developed countries.

Those whose development needs intensified were those excluded from growth because of sex, age, ethnicity or disability. In addition, with rapid urbanization occurring, especially in developing countries, there are growing disparities between urban and rural areas. Burgeoning cities simply do not have the capacity to absorb the increase in population.  The UN Report calls all of those challenges “daunting.”

A reality check for people of faith who are called to embrace an “option for persons living in poverty”: when this target is met to halve extreme poverty by 2015, there will still be another half mired in extreme poverty. How to keep the focus on them will be a continuing challenge.

Target 1.B: WORK. The International Labor Organization (ILO) led the campaign to insert this target into the MDG agenda to reduce poverty. It was added in 2005 and embraced as a long-term way out of poverty. With the onset of the economic crisis shortly after, the hopes of meeting this goal in the current environment are grim. Worldwide, 1 in 5 workers and their families are living in extreme poverty ($1.25 per person per day).

In developing countries, the majority of workers are engaged in what is called “vulnerable employment.” It is characterized by informal working arrangements, lack of adequate social protection, low pay and difficult working conditions – in short, work that is difficult, dirty and dangerous.

Full and productive employment for women with access to paid work is negligible in half of all the regions of the world. Those who were employed in manufacturing were especially hard hit by the recession.

Pope Leo XIII addressed the situation of workers during the Industrial Revolution. What might be today’s justice-steeped response to “vulnerable employment” and its consequences?

Target 1.C FOOD. “No, I didn’t eat. Yesterday was not my day to eat.” A Sister working in the Nairobi slums shared this heart-wrenching response. It came from her inquiry about a small child’s listlessness.

The children! Today, nearly a quarter of children in developing countries are underweight because of shortages of nutritional food, rising food prices and lack of access to improved sanitation, which results in high percentages of diarrhoeal diseases. Moreover, for children and adults, poor agricultural practices, land grabs by developed countries and drought are compounding the problem now and for the long-term.

In many regions of the developing world, the hunger-reduction target, according to all UN indicators, will not be met by 2015.

The Response: Now and On-going

To keep attuned to the international progress towards sustainable development, follow:

  • World leaders, who after reviewing the progress and lack of it in meeting the MDGs, challenged each other to pursue global partnerships among developed and developing countries and challenged businesses to work towards economic growth that is sustainable, inclusive, and equitable. Such growth must include equal consideration of persons, the environment and the economy. Truly, “one size does not fit all.” Therefore, planning must be suited to the realities of each nation with the developing nation included as an equal partner in such planning.
  • The Rio+20 Conference, planned for June, 2012, has as its theme, “Green Economy within the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development.” It is hoped that an integrated approach will result in better results for all people and the planet they share. It can be followed and input is invited at www.uncsd2012.org.

To join the move towards sustainable development:

What might a person and a community of justice, based in faith, disturbed and challenged by the above realities do? The responses are multiple; collaboration is imperative. To name a few:

  • Study the growing efforts to encourage a “Social Protection Floor” in each country. Such a plan would ensure basic services for each person. It is envisaged as a floor of services that each person can stand on with dignity and security and then reach beyond. The effort is led by the ILO, WHO and growing number of worldwide groups. (Click here for a full description.)
  • Sign on to the NGO Committee on Social Development at the UN, headed by a number of Catholic sisters and priests. A campaign has been launched to collect a million signatures to push governments to ensure a Social Protection Floor to all citizens. You can learn more about it and sign on as well as encourage others to do the same.

[1] Patricia Connolly is the Non-Governmental Organization Representative for the Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, in special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.

[2]BAN Ki-MOON, Secretary General, evaluating the MDGs at the 10 year mark focused on the vision and the direction they have given united efforts for development focused on the most vulnerable nations and persons.

[3]The particulars of each target, stories of successes and strategies to address failures are documented at www.un.org/millenniumgoals.

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