Have We Really Achieved Goal 1 of the Millennium Development Goals?
Update 3.20.2012: This post was published in the New York Times. Click here to read.
A recent World Bank report shows that the number of people living in extreme poverty declined by more than 100 million between 2005 and 2008, a historic milestone. Equally exciting is the finding that the Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty by half has already been met, five years ahead of schedule.
However, giant numbers and statistical conceits of 1.3 billion people living on less than the World Bank extreme poverty yardstick of $1.25 a day can conceal as much as they reveal. The reality is that there is not one tidy definition of poverty, nor is the progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) equal for all groups.
Within the population classified as those living in extreme poverty, those who receive the least attention and support are people who manage to survive every day on about half or even less of the $1.25 threshold—the ultrapoor.
The ultrapoor are disproportionately female and rural, more likely to be members of indigenous populations, and more likely to have a disability. People who live in ultra-poverty often don’t have enough to eat, literally living hand to mouth. They must frequently resort to survival strategies of migrating from their homes for months in search of low-paid, often exploitive wage labor in brick kilns and large farms. They are too poor even for small microcredit loans, and often are overlooked by government poverty programs and even many large international poverty organizations. They lack assets, savings, social connections or other resources to fall back on.
When the United Nations meets in September 2015 to add up the final results on its admirable and ambitious MDGs, it is likely that the ultrapoor will stand as the population with the least progress out of poverty. Numbering in the hundreds of millions, they need attention—now—by policy makers, funders, nonprofits and others who are committed to rooting out poverty at its deepest levels.