Poverty reduction remains sluggish


  Tracking MDG-1 

Himanshu Shekhar

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) were set by United Nations (UN) and adopted by world leaders in the year 2000. These goals were to halve the proportion of poverty and hunger, to achieve universal primary education, to promote gender equality, to reduce child mortality, to improve maternal health, to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, to ensure environmental sustainability and to develop a global partnership for development. These goals were set to be achieved by 2015.

It was promised at the time of the launch that the entire international community will work together to make sure that human development reaches to everyone and everywhere. We are in 2010 now, and it means that there are just five years left to achieve these targets. Keeping the progress report of MDG in mind, it seems quite difficult to achieve these targets by 2015 at least as far as India is concerned.

The first of the goals is, “to reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day, to Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people and to Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.” There are just five years left and almost every country is finding it difficult to achieve the first goal. It is worth mentioning that the first goal is very important because most of the goals are interlinked with this. Reducing poverty will lead to the end of hunger and if unemployment will be reduced then a number of problems are likely to be solved automatically.

Some countries are persistently saying that just because of the economic slowdown, they are unable to make progress with expected pace. Even, UN has also admitted that economic slowdown was a major setback for MDG. It would be quite early to say that perhaps MDGs will not be achieved and this statement of UN seems just an initiation of face saving exercise.

But, the picture looks grim after going through the data available with different agencies. Despite much claims, 852 million people, mainly in the developing nations, are still facing the heat of hunger. India is home for 221 million hungry people. It means, almost one fifth of Indians are facing the acute problem of hunger. However, policy makers of this country love to draw a rosy picture of inclusive development but numbers are telling the truth. If current trends continue, India will fail to meet the hunger MDG.

Politics over poverty is not new in India. It is also evident from the estimates of poverty by various committees. According to the Arjun Sengupta committee, poverty is at 77 percent and the N.C. Saxena committee report puts it at 50 percent. The World Bank estimated it at 41.6 percent. And the most recent report on poverty by The Suresh Tendulkar commission puts poverty at 37.2 percent. It’s quite difficult to go with any one of these estimates but this is crystal clear that a major part of population is struggling for survival. It is important to mention that in 1990, poverty was at 51 percent and according to that it was decided at the time of launching MDG to bring it down to 25 percent by 2015.

Is it possible? According to an estimate, during 1990-2005 the number of people living with poverty in India has increased by 20 million despite some improvement in terms of percentage. During the period, there was some discontentment between population growth and policy measures, which was needed for poverty eradication keeping the population growth at the centre. Despite the much hyped high growth rate of Indian economy in the recent past, India has the second highest poverty rate—after Nepal—among all Asian countries. Isn’t it enough to understand the real story of much claimed development, GDP numbers and inclusive growth?

On the other hand, in the same period of 15 years, China managed to reduce the numbers of poverty by 475 million. In 1990, 60 percent of Chinese were in the bracket of poor and in 2005 this percentage came down to 16. Can we learn anything from China?

 (This is the first article of a series on MDG. The next will appear on Thursday.)

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