UN academic criticizes longstanding failure of international institutions for why the world is losing the fight against poverty

Amy Langley, Chief International Officer

19 Jul 2020

The final report from outgoing UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, has condemned international efforts to fight global poverty as “scandalously unambitious”, claiming that the world has “squandered a decade” and that “support for poverty elimination has largely evaporated”.

Despite the UN’s sustainable development goal (SDG) to end poverty by 2030, the report published in early July concludes that States’ and instutions’ efforts are “completely off track”. On the contrary, Alston states that those suffering extreme poverty are likely to be worse off in the coming years. This situation, he claims, is the result of shocks and pressures such as the novel coronavirus and climate change, in addition to “misplaced triumphalism” from States and organisations who have done little more than create “colourful posters and bland reports”.

Critical to the less-than-noteworthy progress, Alston explains, is the persistent reliance on the private sector in efforts to eradicate poverty – a decision that has proven no more effective than public action. The result of involving large corporations and relying on international investment is that multinationals “draw guaranteed profits from public coffers, while poor communities are neglected and underserved”.

Another key factor, says Alston, is that the singular and inaccurate measure of poverty – the World Bank’s international poverty line – is deceptive and most often incorrect. The measurement has provided an erroneous confirmation of declining poverty, failing to account for impoverished women, migrant workers and refugees in many situations. He argues in his report that the international poverty line is “set so low and arbitrarily as to guarantee a positive result and to enable the United Nations, the World Bank, and many commentators to proclaim a Pyrrhic victory”.

Covid-19 has undoubtedly had negative effects on all across the globe, but the brunt of its repercussions will be felt by those already improverished, notes Alston in his report. The pandemic is expected to increase the risk of starvation, the rate of unemployment and the dropping of persons below the poverty line exponentially. However, he clarifies that the “international community’s abysmal record on tackling poverty, inequality and disregard for human life far precede this pandemic”.

“Poverty is a political choice and will be with us until its elimination is reconceived as a matter of social justice” the report concludes. In moving forward, Alston urges that “Covid-19 and the accompanying economic debacle should provide an impetus to revisit the framework of the 2030 agenda”.

Read the final report of the Special Rapporteur here: https://chrgj.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Alston-Poverty-Report-FINAL.pdf