Global poverty needs global priority

Publishing our new Global Poverty Guide this week has been something of an act of penance.

I can’t quite explain why it wasn’t the first Guide to appear. Poverty anchors the orbit of OneWorld topics and we tend to forget that its own story needs telling. I found some consolation in discovering that the resources section of Oxfam’s website lists nine “issues in depth” without reference to poverty.

Nevertheless, it’s a misguided sense of priorities that has allowed global poverty to appear as our 16th Guide. Perhaps as a consequence I’ve occasionally been caught unawares when casual acquaintances enquire as to my solution to global poverty.

Ironically, the answer of course is a reordering of priorities. I was reminded of this in the July budget speech of the new Indian Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, who had this to say:

“The first challenge is to lead the economy back to the high GDP growth rate of 9 per cent….. The second challenge is to deepen and broaden the agenda for inclusive development…

Whilst he doesn’t use the word “priority”, the implication is clear that he wants high growth first, and poverty reduction second. This is despite the pressing needs of the 800 million rural poor who have just voted him into office.

Nevertheless, this is the prevailing development model, in Africa as well as South Asia. Greater minds than mine are exercised in researching the subject of pro-poor growth but for me the debate has dragged on for too long and we have to nail our colours to the mast.

Did all that record growth in Africa in the years leading up to the recession reduce poverty? I fear not. And the collateral damage to the climate from consumption-based world growth is slamming the door on poverty eradication.

The new Guide also tries to sort out the muddle of measuring poverty. Within the last couple of weeks I’ve read a statement attributed to a senior representative of Goldman Sachs to the effect that 5% of the global population lives in poverty. I’ve also seen an article on Choike stating the figure to be 50%.

Both parties concerned have an agenda and are exploiting the weakness of poverty statistics. Anyone concerned about global poverty must understand how it is measured and the considerable shortcomings in compiling results.

The immense time-lag in poverty figures is a real frustration for campaigners, desperate to understand the consequence of recession, rising food prices and climate change. This weekend the papers are full of the most detailed economic statistics from around the world, effective to the end of July, just 10 days ago. The best we have on global poverty dates from 2005.

We could do much better. It’s just a question of priorities.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK