Giving birth to a poverty-free world

Reduction of poverty among children is central to a world without extreme poverty  

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Thursday 22 July 2021
Democratric Republic of Congo; photo: IStock Images

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has increased poverty, cutting across rich and poor countries. It is certain by now that the world will miss the Sustainable Development Goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

There are regions where poverty has been concentrated — like South Asia and the African continent. For generations, poverty has been chronic in these places. It is expected that with the recovery from pandemic, poverty will decline to pre-2020 levels. After that, the challenge of poverty eradication will be back to the old geography.

But, there are signs of change in both the demography and geography of poverty by 2030. As one looks at various poverty scenarios for the future, particularly the World Data Lab that hosts the World Poverty Clock giving live poverty eradication numbers, it emerges clearly that poverty will be further concentrated in a few countries of Africa.

These countries are conflict-ridden and unstable politically as well as socially. They have a history of not being able to reduce poverty. One way, the hope of an extreme poverty-free world hinges on eradicating poverty in the most difficult situations.

The World Data Lab estimates that two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor will live in 39 countries classified by the World Bank as “fragile states” by 2030. These are the countries with “high levels of institutional and social fragility” and “affected by violent conflict”. But within these fragile states the countries in Africa — particularly Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — will have the bigger share of the poor.

According to an analysis by the Brookings:

Geographically, poverty is increasingly concentrated in Africa and success in ending poverty globally will largely depend on African fragile states.

Currently, there are four fragile states in the top 10 countries with the poorest population. In 2030, this would go up to five countries. The two top countries with poor populations would be Nigeria and DRC accounting for one-third of the world's total extreme poor.

To put it another way, as the Brookings analysis indicates, whether a newborn will be poor would depend on his/her place of birth. To be born in a fragile country, specifically Nigeria and DRC, means one would be poor and endure extreme poverty. These countries already have high poverty among children.

For instance, 50 per cent of Nigeria’s extreme poor population consisted of children (under the age of 15 years). According to Brookings that analysed World Data Lab’s poverty numbers, half of children in the fragile states were extremely poor. Using this data, it concluded that “if a child is born in a fragile state, it has a 50 per cent chance to grow up in extremely severe conditions.”

Poverty among children is always considered as perpetuation of the situation in which their parents grew up with. One can argue this as a trans-generational shifting of poverty thus having a higher chance of becoming chronic among the population groups concerned.

Last year, the Multidimensional Poverty Index prepared by the United Nations Development Programme and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative found that half of the 1.3 billion poor were under the age of 18. It means that the world already has a high population of child poverty.

So, the world's focus on eradicating poverty has to be on the well-being of children. First, to ensure that a newborn shouldn’t be a victim of its parental situation. Second, even if born poor, the children must be helped enough to escape the poverty trap.  To put it in context, poverty eradication has to be a children welfare programme. And that makes it a difficult though desirable development goal, bigger than the 2030 one.

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