UN chief decries rising levels of global extreme poverty as a ‘moral indictment’


UN Secretary General António Guterres has described current levels of global poverty as a ‘moral indictment of our times’ noting that for the first time in two decades, extreme poverty was on the rise.

Guterres stated this in his message to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, globally celebrated on Oct. 17.

Guterres said that the COVID-19 pandemic had wreaked havoc on economies and societies around the world, with some 120 million more people falling into poverty in 2020.

“A lopsided recovery is further deepening inequalities between the global North and South. Solidarity is missing in action – just when we need it most,” Guterres said.

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According to him, the fight against poverty must also be a battle against inequality.

The UN chief said that vaccine inequality had enabled COVID variants to mutate and “run wild”, condemning the world to millions more deaths and prolonging an economic slowdown that could cost trillions of dollars.

“We must end this outrage, tackle debt distress and ensure recovery investment in countries with the greatest need,” he stated.

Guterres outlined a three-pronged global recovery approach to ‘Building Forward Better’ that begins with stronger political will and partnerships to achieve universal social protection by 2030.

He said that for a transformative recovery to end the endemic structural disadvantages and inequalities that perpetuated poverty even before the pandemic, the world must invest in job re-skilling for the growing green economy.

“And we must invest in quality jobs in the care economy, which will promote greater equality and ensure everyone receives the dignified care they deserve,” he said.

Recovery must be inclusive so as not to leave so many behind, “increasing the vulnerability of already marginalised groups, and pushing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ever further out of reach,” Guterres added.

“The number of women in extreme poverty far outpaces that of men. Even before the pandemic, the 22 richest men in the world had more wealth than all the women in Africa – and that gap has only grown,” he said, adding, “we cannot recover with only half our potential”.

Economic investments must target women entrepreneurs; formalise the informal sector; focus on education, social protection, universal childcare, health care and decent work; and bridge the digital divide, including its deep gender dimensions, he said.

In addition, the UN chief said to build a resilient, decarbonised and net-zero world, the recovery must be sustainable.

He urged everyone to listen far more to those living in poverty, address indignities and dismantle barriers to inclusion, in every society.

“Today and every day, let us join hands to end poverty and create a world of justice, dignity and opportunity for all.”

In his own message, UN Development Programme (UNDP) chief, Achim Steiner spoke of numerous initiatives underway to help communities to build forward better.

Steiner spoke against the backdrop that people living in poverty were bearing the brunt of climate change.

The UNDP chief pointed to UNDP’s 2022 – 2025 Strategic Plan as a bold pledge to lift 100 million people out of multidimensional poverty.

Describing access to renewable energy as a “vital lever” to creating decent green jobs while driving down carbon emissions, Achim echoed UNDP’s ambitious commitment to work with partners to provide 500 million additional people with access to clean, affordable energy by 2025.

“Efforts like the UNDP Climate Promise are vital, helping 120 countries to reduce emissions while boosting the resilience of vulnerable communities.

“Also, it is helping to end poverty and shaping a future that will balance the needs of both people and the planet,” he said.

The International Day can be traced back to 17 October 1987, when more than 100,000 people gathered at the Trocadéro in Paris – where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 – to honour the victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger, the UN correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports.

They proclaimed poverty a violation of human rights, affirmed the need to ensure respect for these rights, and inscribed their commitments on a commemorative stone – replicas of which have been unveiled around the world, including in the garden of UN Headquarters in New York.

Since then, people have gathered every year on Oct.17, to show their solidarity with the poor. (NAN)

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