International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is an international observance celebrated every year on October 17 throughout the world. The first commemoration of the event took place in Paris, France, in 1987 when 100,000 people gathered on the Human Rights and Liberties Plaza at the Trocadéro to honour victims of poverty, hunger, violence and fear at the unveiling of a commemorative stone by Father Joseph Wresinski, founder of the International Movement ATD Fourth World. In 1992, four years after Wresinski’s death, the United Nations officially designated October 17 as The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Poverty is the scarcity or the lack of a certain (variant) amount of material possessions or money. Poverty is a multifaceted concept, which may include social, economic, and political elements. Absolute poverty, extreme poverty, or destitution refers to the complete lack of the means necessary to meet basic personal needs such as food, clothing and shelter. The threshold at which absolute poverty is defined is considered to be about the same, independent of the person’s permanent location or era. On the other hand, relative poverty occurs when a person who lives in a given country does not enjoy a certain minimum level of “living standards” as compared to the rest of the population of that country. Therefore, the threshold at which relative poverty is defined varies from country to another, or from one society to another.

After the industrial revolution, mass production in factories made producing goods increasingly less expensive and more accessible. Of more importance is the modernization of agriculture, such as fertilizers, to provide enough yield to feed the population. Providing basic needs can be restricted by constraints on government’s ability to deliver services, such as corruption, tax avoidance, debt and loan conditionalities and by the brain drain of health care and educational professionals. Strategies of increasing income to make basic needs more affordable typically include welfare, economic freedoms and providing financial services. Poverty reduction is still a major issue (or a target) for many international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank.

Extreme poverty, absolute poverty, destitution, or penury, was originally defined by the United Nations in 1995 as “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services. In 2008, “extreme poverty” widely refers to earning below the international poverty line of $1.25/day (in 2005 prices), set by the World Bank. This measure is the equivalent to earning $1.00 a day in 1996 US prices, hence the widely used expression, living on “less than a dollar a day. The vast majority of those in extreme poverty – 96% – reside in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, The West Indies, East Asia and the Pacific; nearly half live in India and China alone. The reduction of extreme poverty and hunger was the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG1), as set by 189 United Nations Member States in 2000. Specifically, MDG1 set a target of reducing the extreme poverty rate in half by 2015, a goal that was met 5 years ahead of schedule. This goal was created to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, and the international community, including the UN, the World Bank and the United States, has set a target of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

Early in his career as an activist, Wresinski recognized that governments tended to ignore the plight of those living in poverty, leading to feelings of rejection, shame, and humiliation. As a result, one of the primary goals of the Day is to recognize the struggles of the impoverished and to make their voices heard by governments and ordinary citizens. Participation by the poorest of people is an important aspect of the observance of the Day.

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