Poverty is a subject that has been on the world’s development agenda since time immemorial. According to Sachs (2005b), prior to the onset of the industrial revolution, almost everyone lived in poverty. The advent of new scientific knowledge and technological advancement gradually turned the scenario around such that today, only one billion of the world’s seven billion inhabitants live in poverty. Nevertheless, although this fraction may seem small, a comparison of the global population at the onset of the industrial revolution and the current number of people living in poverty shows that the world has more poor people today than it had when almost everyone was poor.
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This fact makes poverty a serious global problem that needs decisive action. Unfortunately, despite numerous commitments by the developed world to end the poverty menace, it is still persistent. Against this background, this essay explores the possibilities of eliminating the poverty menace from the face of the earth.
The Concept of Poverty
Prior to delving into the possibilities of eliminating poverty, it is important to understand the concept of poverty. Apparently, poverty is inherent in every human society. Every year, the U.S. Bureau of Statistics releases figures indicating that millions of U.S. citizens live in poverty (Sachs, 2005a). However, America’s measure of poverty differs from the measures used in other parts of the world. What qualifies as a poor household in America is far much better off in comparison to a middle income household in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and some parts of Europe. Consequently, poverty is relative.
Due to this reason, the World Bank came up with a standard measure that is used to gauge poverty across the world. Based on the World Bank’s standard measure, a poor household is one that spends less than $1.25 per person per day (Ncube, Brixiova & Bicaba, 2014). In other words, individuals who live on less than $1.25 per day are poor. They face serious economic constraints, which limit their ability to afford their fundamental needs. Consequently, important needs such as education and essential amenities often transcend their economic capabilities.
Poverty Elimination in Perspective
Whether or not poverty can be eliminated has been a subject of public debate for a long time. Proponents of the idea that poverty cannot be eliminated seem to hold a pessimistic view because there is a considerable amount of evidence, which suggests that although the task seems insurmountable, it is achievable. Sachs (2005b) contends that anyone who is doubtful about the feasibility of poverty elimination should consider emerging economic powerhouses such as China, India, and other Asian countries. The economic progress these countries have made in the last few decades bears testimony to the possibility of eliminating poverty.
Although the listed countries are not currently poverty free, the magnitude of socioeconomic transformation that has taken place among their people shows that poverty can be eliminated. Sachs (2005b) observes that the massive reduction of poverty that has been achieved by China and India was due to economic growth. However, economic growth alone cannot eliminate poverty from some regions. They are so poor that they even lack the means of setting themselves on an economic growth path. Sachs (2005b) argues that some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa are so poor that global economic prosperity cannot lift them out of their state. He adds that under such circumstances, the only way to eliminate poverty from such regions is if the global community specifically focuses on the problem (Sachs, 2005b).
Arguably, the world has never been closer to eliminating poverty than it is now. Scientific and technological advancement have spurred global economic growth that has seen many countries lift masses out of poverty. Additionally, it has led to the accumulation of wealth that if dedicated to the eradication of poverty, can end it within a short time. According to Sachs (2005a), the world would only require only $175 billion annually for about two decades to eradicate poverty successfully. This amount is less than one percent of the combined GNP of the world’s rich countries.
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In fact, if all donor countries were to honor the Monterrey Consensus, which requires rich countries to channel just 0.7% of their GNP towards the elimination of poverty, it would only take a few years to achieve this goal. The money that would be available to facilitate the achievement of this goal would be far much more than necessary. For example, the U.S. gives only 0.18% of its GNP towards poverty eradication (Sachs, 2005a).
Some countries, especially those from the Scandinavian region, give higher percentages, but due to the size of the U.S. economy, its donations surpass what any other country across the world gives. If the U.S. honors the Monterrey Consensus, it would donate over $70 billion towards poverty eradication annually. This figure is almost equal to the total amount of money currently given by all donors towards poverty eradication.
These figures are a clear indicator that the world is currently endowed with adequate resources and technologies to eradicate poverty. However, some challenges emerge from elsewhere. Haiti is a perfect example of a country that was in need, but when resources were channeled towards assisting it, most of them ended up in the hands of government officials (Unwin, 2007). This trend is common among poor countries. Their leaders often misappropriate resources meant for development. Perhaps this trend is the reason behind the lack of commitment shown by the donor countries.
Nevertheless, Sachs (2005b) argues that if rich countries choose to end poverty, they should not just give money to the poor countries haphazardly. Rather, the money should be channeled through an elaborate and well-monitored plan. Such a plan should be systematic such that donor countries release funds only after assessing and approving previous expenditures. This tight monitoring may require the donor countries to deploy their own personnel to manage the funds. The idea may seem outrageous to the beneficiaries and can elicit serious criticism. However, if it is the only avenue to a poverty free world, it is worth a try because a world without poverty would be a wonderful place.
Poverty denies people the freedom to live according to their desires. In extreme cases, it is fatal. Unfortunately, poverty could be eliminated from the face of the earth, but those who are in a position to do so choose not to. The world currently has everything it needs to eradicate poverty. Some challenges may be encountered in the pursuit of this noble cause, but the resources, expertise, and technologies required to overcome the challenges are available. Therefore, the idea of eliminating poverty is feasible and is worth trying.
Ncube, M., Brixiova, Z., & Bicaba, Z. (2014). Can Dreams Come True? Eliminating Extreme Poverty in Africa by 2030 (Discussion Paper No. 8120). Web.
Sachs, J. (2005a). The end of poverty (1st ed.). New York: Penguin Press.
Sachs, J. D. (2005b). Can extreme poverty be eliminated? Scientific American, 293(3), 56-65.
Unwin, T. (2007). No end to poverty. Journal of Development Studies, 43(5), 929-953.