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We could be the generation that ends extreme poverty

Thursday, September 26, 2013

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While debates about poverty often focus on raising people above an income poverty line such as US$1.25 a day, we all know that poverty is much more than this.

It is the suffering of hunger and poor health, the experience of violence and discrimination, and a lack of education, employment and healthcare. Could we be the generation to end all of this?

Progress has already been achieved across a range of dimensions of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. The rate of child deaths has fallen by 40% from 177 per 1,000 births in 1990 to 98 per 1,000 in 2012.

The percentage of children enrolled in primary school increase from 53% to 77% in a similar time frame. In the last decade, 185 million people have gained access to safe drinking water.

But that still means more than 3.2 million children die every year in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Millions of children remain out of school and lack basic health, water and sanitation and hundreds of millions of people continue to live below the extreme poverty line.

The job the Millennium Development Goals – the current set of global development goals - started is not finished.

Whether we can finish that job is a question that Save the Children and others have been considering in the context of a global process now underway to develop a set of global development goals to replace the MDGs when they expire in 2015.

In a new report released on September 25, 2013, Getting to Zero, Save the Children finds we can indeed be the generation that ends extreme poverty.

Our report examines the prospects for ending different dimensions of poverty – or to put it another way, getting to zero. This is the point where no one is left behind on key development goals. The report considers the extent to which tackling inequality and governance could accelerate progress in those areas, namely ending preventable child deaths, ensuring children don’t drop out of school, and achieving universal access to water and sanitation.

The findings are clear – under business as usual, globally, as a continent, or as a region we will not eliminate these dimensions of poverty by 2030.

If we focus in on rates of child mortality in East Africa – only Malawi, Rwanda and Tanzania will be able to end preventable child mortality by 2030 if they progress at their current pace.

Ethiopia will come close. Other countries will need to make a step-change in their rates of progress – if current trends continue by 2030 Kenya will still have a child mortality rate of 32 per 1,000, Uganda would be at 40 per 1,000, Sudan at 61 and South Sudan at 71.

Of even greater concern in the region are Burundi, which is predicted to still see one in ten of its children die before their fifth birthday and Somalia, where progress has stalled since 1990 with one in six children dying from preventable causes.

However, our analysis shows that reducing income inequality and improving governance accelerates rates of change considerably, bringing us much closer to our zero goals in the region.

For child mortality, tackling income inequality and governance could mean saving an additional 850,000 lives a year in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 and ending most preventable child deaths.

And by taking extra steps to provide assistance to reach the poorest and most marginalised people and invest in proven solutions for service delivery, we could achieve zero goals in all of these areas.

We could be the generation that ends extreme poverty.

These findings are remarkable. They remind us how far we’ve come since the MDGs were agreed in 2002 and set out some of the key steps needed to finally eliminate extreme poverty from the planet.

It will be harder in some countries and regions to achieve these goals, either because they are starting from a more challenging position or a struggling with conflict and fragility.

In sub-Saharan Africa, if successful in making the necessary changes in inequality and governance that our analysis suggests, the region would need to accelerate child mortality reduction by a further 4% a year to end preventable child deaths and accelerate access to water by just 1% a year to achieve universal access.

While this will of course be challenging, similar dramatic improvements have been achieved in the region in short periods of time. For example, Rwanda achieved an average reduction in child mortality of over 10% a year between 2000 and 2011, and Liberia and Malawi of over 6%.

What we need now is a strong and ambitious global development framework that is capable of translating the lessons of such positive experiences and our analysis on what is in theory possible by 2030 into reality.

World leaders are gathering in New York this week to discuss exactly this. They must work toward a new framework with zero goals and concrete targets to spur the action that we know will be needed to achieve them –to tackle inequality, improve governance and strengthen development partnerships so that all countries and socioeconomic groups can get to zero.

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