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Commentary

Getting to zero

08:34 PM January 01, 2014

With the powerful impact of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in the Philippines and the devastating results, the world has unified around a single cataclysmic event.  How can we harness this good will and common cause to ensure that those affected not only get back to the “status quo ante,” but that the poor in the Philippines also have a better place to live in the future? We shouldn’t, nor can we, forget that over 18 million Filipinos live in extreme poverty, on below P50 a day. Nor should we forget that 57,000 children under five years die every year in the Philippines, many from preventable causes; this number equals approximately 10 Yolandas happening every year to the children of the Philippines. Shocking.

We can be the generation that ends extreme poverty. While debates about poverty often focus on raising people above an extreme poverty line such as $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. Can we be the generation to end all of this?

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Dramatic progress has been achieved across a range of dimensions of poverty. Worldwide, child deaths have almost halved from 12 million per year in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012. And 56 million more children are in school every year. We have halved the number of people living below $1.25 a day. (“Towards the End of Poverty,” Economist, June 1, 2013). However, in the Philippines the challenge is great, and the numbers of poor and extreme poor in the Visayas have more than doubled due to Yolanda.

Whether we can finish the job is a question that Save the Children and others have been considering in the context of a global process to replace the Millennium Development Goals when these expire in 2015. In our report, “Getting to Zero,” Save the Children finds that we can indeed be the generation that ends extreme poverty. Our report examines the prospects for ending different dimensions of poverty—or, as we put it, getting to zero, the place where no one is left behind on key development goals. It specifically considers the extent to which tackling inequality and governance can accelerate progress in these areas: ending preventable child deaths, ensuring that children don’t drop out of school, and achieving universal access to water and sanitation.

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Governance is naturally a hard concept to measure. No single concept can reflect the complexities and nuances that it involves, or the variation in different country contexts. Save the Children’s research, using six worldwide governance indicators, showed a close relationship to high scores on reduced child mortality and reduced inequality. These indicators are: government effectiveness; voice and accountability; rule of law; political stability and absence of violence; regulatory quality; and control of corruption. The global lessons are evident—that unless improvements are made in these six indicators of governance, no country can realistically address the root causes of poverty.

Why also address income inequality? Well, poor and marginalized individuals and groups experience a range of different forms of economic, social, cultural and political inequality. These are the people that are the hardest to reach and those who benefited the least from the past 20 years of rapid economic growth. National averages of prosperity tend to hide the areas with the worst development indicators.

The findings are clear. Under business as usual, we will not eliminate these dimensions of poverty by 2030. However, reducing income inequality and improving governance accelerate the rates of change considerably, bringing us within a whisper of our zero goals. Tackling income inequality and improved governance will reduce child mortality, reduce dropouts from primary school, and provide for a massive increase in access to basic sanitation and water facilities. Economic growth by itself will not eliminate poverty, unless accompanied by extra steps to provide assistance to reach the poorest and most marginalized people and invest in proven solutions for service delivery.  We can achieve zero goals in all of these areas. We can be the generation that ends extreme poverty.

These findings are remarkable. They remind us how far we have come since 1990. Some countries will have a harder time reaching the global targets, but certainly the Philippines has the capacity and resources to eliminate extreme poverty.  We are within striking distance of achieving these global goals here, within our lifetime.

Accompanying the terrible crisis of Yolanda, we have seen the best of humanity. We have all been moved by the global and national outpouring of sympathy, caring and support. Schools and churches, individuals and corporations, foundations, governments and multilateral agencies have all responded graciously and overwhelmingly.

No one will oppose the end of poverty, but what we do toward this end is what matters most. It is now our turn to take this altruistic moment of history and leverage it for all those left behind.  We can get to zero.

Ned Olney is the country director for Save the Children Philippines.

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TAGS: column, ned olney, Poverty, save the children philippines, typhoon `Yolanda
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