Could we become the generation that eliminates extreme poverty?
2015 is a key year in the fight to abolish extreme poverty.
In September, the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or ‘Global Goals‘ will be finalised. These goals will underpin the plan for what we do to tackle extreme poverty. Whilst the goals may have been mostly decided what will be crucial is how we measure success on them. So the choices our leaders make – and the choices we campaign for them to make – are absolutely crucial.
SDGs successors of the Millennium Development Goals
Put into action in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals pledged to tackle poverty on a variety of fronts, including nutrition, education and health. These targets were hoped to be achieved by 2015, and have been widely criticised for failing to meet this deadline, and for being too broad and ill-defined. While these criticisms will hopefully help to shape the SDGs into more measurable and achievable aims, I feel much of the criticism obscures wider facts about progress on world poverty.
Yes, the Millennium Development Goals failed to fully achieve their objectives.
Yes, the goals themselves could have been more realistic, and interventions more effective.
This does not mean their impact has not been tremendous.
Between 1990 and 2015, extreme poverty was halved thanks to effective interventions. The mortality rate for children under 5 more than halved, while maternal mortality fell by 45%.
Across developing nations, enrolment in primary education reached 91%.
Those are astonishing achievements. If we achieved this in the last 25 years, think what we could achieve in the next 25.
A Scientific Approach
In addition to these gains, we now know more than ever about what works when we try to beat poverty. We are able to know this by approaching aid programs and interventions in a scientific, evidence based way.
Before we decide to give a critically ill person a brand new medicine, it has to be rigorously tested. We need to run observations and experiments to make sure the medicine is safe and does more good than other similar medicines.
We need to be doing the same for the methods we use for tackling extreme poverty.
This sometimes leads to unexpected results.
For example, many people are against the idea of giving money directly to the very poor. We instinctively fear that it will encourage dependence, and may believe the money will be wasted on alcohol, drugs or other non-essentials. For this reason, offering the very poor micro loans to start growing businesses or specific donations of food and equipment are often viewed as being the best options to reduce poverty.
Yet there is evidence that just giving people money – and respecting their own judgements on how best to spend it – is highly effective in improving conditions for the world’s poorest people, even in the long term. You can find out more about how social experiments reveal surprising truths about the best ways to fight poverty in Esther Duflo’s brilliant TED talk.
Keeping the Sustainable Development Goals on the agenda
So, we know there is a precedent for significantly reducing extreme poverty when we have goals in place, and more knowledge than ever about how best to fulfil these goals. So far so good. What we still need to ensure is that the SDGs stay high on the agenda of world leaders.
Everyone can help achieve this by speaking up about why the SDGs are important to them personally.
Our MPs work for us and want to listen to our concerns. You do not have to be an expert on international development or poverty, you just have to use your voice. Your MP is a fellow human being and they likely know as much as you do about international development.
You can write to, email or call your MP, or better yet, request a meeting with them to ask how they are backing the SDGs and tell them why they are important to you.
Or you can make an impact via social media.
Results UK – who campaign on development issues and lobby the UK government – have just started their ‘Health For All’ campaign, and are asking people to create 30 second videos about why they want to achieve health for everyone, a key area of the new Sustainable Development Goals.
These videos will be shown to MPs from across the country, and could help to influence vital decisions. They can also be shared again and again to raise further awareness and encourage others to speak out themselves. You can view my video here.
As I said at the start of this piece, 2015 is a key year in the fight to end global poverty once and for all – but only if we help make it so.
Engaging with the evidence for what works in this fight – and engaging in our own fight to have this recognised and reflected in policy – is what will make this truly possible.
Want to find out more about the SDGs and spread the word? Check out the campaign to spread the word and make the SDGs (‘Global Goals’) famous!