By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — A projected rise in global poverty this year—with over a quarter of a billion more people joining the ranks of the world’s poor—threatens to undermine the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the General Assembly back in 2015.
One of the primary goals, listed high up as number one, was the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 2030. But neither is likely to be reached on the deadline.
In a new study released April 12, the UK-based humanitarian organization Oxfam attributed the increase in poverty to three factors: the two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic, rising global inequality and the nearly two-month-old war in Ukraine.
The report, titled “First Crisis, Then Catastrophe”, published ahead of the World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings in Washington DC April 18-24, shows that 860 million people could be living in extreme poverty—on less than $1.90 a day—by the end of this year.
This is also mirrored in global hunger: the number of undernourished people could reach 827 million in 2022.
Asked about the impact on SDGs, Nadia Daar, head of Oxfam International’s Washington DC office, told IDN: “When the SDGs were agreed, the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 was ambitious but achievable.”
To give an idea, between 1993 and 2017, she explained, the world’ extreme poor—those living on less than $1.90/day—fell from 1.9 billion people to 689 million people.
The economic effects of COVID-19 have been a huge blow with multiple millions more people being pushed into extreme poverty—the first significant increase in this measure in decades, she added.
“And now, with the combination of COVID-19, inequality, and rising food prices, we project that 860 million people could be living in extreme poverty by the end of 2022,” said Daar.
She also pointed that “the impacts of the pandemic have meant that it was already highly unlikely if not impossible that we would achieve SDG1 by 2030”.
“The war in Ukraine and its spillover effects have made this target even more unreachable. This is not even considering the bigger picture which sees a devastating figure of almost 3.3 billion people living on less than $5.50 a day.”
“We are at a point where this crisis is quickly turning catastrophic for the world’s most vulnerable countries and people. We are calling on world leaders to act with extreme urgency to agree a global economic rescue plan to protect people from the compounding crises’ harsh impacts,” she declared.
The World Bank has projected that COVID-19 and worsening inequality will add 198 million extreme poor during 2022, reversing two decades of progress.
Based on research by the World Bank, Oxfam now estimates that rising global food prices alone will push 65 million more people into extreme poverty, for a total of 263 million more extreme poor this year —equivalent to the populations of the UK, France, Germany and Spain combined.
“Without immediate radical action, we could be witnessing the most profound collapse of humanity into extreme poverty and suffering in memory,” said Oxfam International executive director Gabriela Bucher.
“This terrifying prospect is made more sickening by the fact that trillions of dollars have been captured by a tiny group of powerful men who have no interest in interrupting this trajectory.”
Danielle Nierenberg, President and Founder of Food Tank, told IDN Oxfam’s report is sobering, “but if we mobilize resources and investment now, we can stave off the worst of the multiple crises taking place across the globe–our climate crisis, our global health crisis, our biodiversity loss crisis, and of course, the many conflicts creating turmoil across the globe”
She said these are all leading to an increase in poverty, hunger, and suffering.
“Governments can take the lead in creating solutions, particularly around our food and agriculture systems, but they can’t do it alone to solve. We need the private sector investment and civil society to give concrete guidance on how to create more environmentally, economically, and socially just economies that can provide accessible and affordable food.”
Asked about the impact of the Ukraine war on the current food shortages, Nierenberg said it is likely that the poorest and the most vulnerable will suffer both in the short and long term because of the Russian invasion and aggression toward Ukraine.
In Ukraine itself, she pointed out, many people are already facing a hunger crisis because they have been forced into hiding and farmers are on the battle instead of planting staple crops like wheat and sunflower.
“That will lead to food shortages that many countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, that have not been seen since World War II.”
“And it’s not only food that will be in short supply, but also agricultural inputs.”.
A recent report from MWAPATA in Malawi finds that fertilizer prices are already rising—meaning that many farmers will not be able to supply nutrients to severely depleted maize fields.
Asked if the SDG’s deadline should be extended beyond 2030 by the UN general assembly, she said these commitments were made during pre-COVID 19, pre-invasion of the Ukraine, and also before the impacts of the climate crisis have become evident daily with wild fires, higher than normal temperatures in the poles, and extreme weather events seen on the front pages of newspapers.
“We have a new normal that we have to recognize and deal with, and the SDGS, while so important, are likely impossible to reach by 2030. We need urgent action to address both the long term and acute impacts of poor policies, poor leaders, and lack of capital and investment in environmentally sustainable food systems,” she declared.
According to Oxfam, as many people struggle now to cope with sharp cost-of-living increases, having to choose between eating or heating or medical bills, the likelihood of mass starvation faces millions of people already locked in severe levels of hunger and poverty across East Africa, the Sahel, Yemen and Syria.
The report notes that a wave of governments is nearing a debt default and being forced to slash public spending to pay creditors and import food and fuel.
The world’s poorest countries are due to pay $43 billion in debt repayments in 2022, which could otherwise cover the costs of their food imports.
Global food prices hit an all-time high in February, surpassing the peak crisis of 2011. Oil and gas giants are reporting record-breaking profits, with similar trends expected to play out in the food and beverage sector.
People in poverty are being hit harder by these shocks. Rising food costs account for 17 per cent of consumer spending in wealthy countries, but as much as 40 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even within rich economies, inflation is super-charging inequality: in the US, the poorest 20 per cent of families are spending 27 per cent of their incomes on food, while the richest 20 per cent spend only 7 per cent, according to Oxfam.
Meanwhile, a new report released April 12 titled Financing for Sustainable Development authored by the UN Secretary-General’s Inter-Agency Task Force on Financing for Development, says the war in Ukraine will further exacerbate the problems in developing countries.
For example, Africa imports 48% of its wheat from Ukraine and the Russian Federation, and with food and fuel prices already 35% and 60% higher in 2021 than 2020 the pressure on struggling economies could be devastating.
The Task Force has expressed “fears the current situation has the potential to deal a crippling blow to the SDGs”.
Among the findings:
About 77 million more people were plunged into poverty last year; the economies of 1 in 5 developing countries reversed to pre-2019 levels; and 70% of 10-year-olds in developing countries were unable to read a basic text, a 17% increase from 2019.
Developing countries only have enough COVID19 vaccine doses for 24/100 people, vs 150/100 for rich countries.
The wealth of the world’s 10 richest men doubled over the course of the pandemic, while the average income of people in the bottom 40% dropped 7%, according to the report.
The report examines how unfavourable financing terms hinder recovery in developing countries and sets out concrete recommendations to bridge the financing divide.
The Inter-agency Task Force on Financing for Development is comprised of more than 60 United Nations agencies and international organizations while the 2022 Financing for Sustainable Development Report: Bridging The Finance Divide is produced by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) in close cooperation with the World Bank Group, the IMF, WTO, UNCTAD, and UNDP. [The link to the report: https://developmentfinance.un.org/]
The findings of the report form the basis for discussions at the ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development follow up, and the SDG Investment Fair, which bring together government officials and investors.
As for concrete proposals, Oxfam is calling for urgent action to tackle the extreme inequality crisis threatening to undermine the progress made in tackling poverty during the last quarter of a century:
- Introduce one-off and permanent wealth taxes to fund a fair and sustainable recovery from COVID-19. Argentina adopted a one-off special levy dubbed the ‘millionaire’s tax’ that has brought in around $2.4 billion to pay for pandemic recovery.
- End crisis profiteering by introducing excess profit taxes to capture the windfall profits of big corporations across all industries. Oxfam estimated that such a tax on just 32 super-profitable multinational companies could have generated $104 billion in revenue in 2020.
- Cancel all debt payments for developing countries that need urgent help now. Cancelling debt would free up more than $30 billion in vital funds in 2022 alone for 33 countries already in or at high risk of debt distress.
- Boost aid and pay for Ukrainian assistance and the costs of hosting refugees with new funding, rather than shift aid funds earmarked for other crises in poorer countries.
- Reallocate at least $100 billion in Special Drawing Rights (SDR), without burdening countries with new debt or imposing austerity measures.
The G20 promised to deliver $100 billion in recycled SDRs but only $36 billion has been committed to date. A new SDR issuance should also be considered and distributed based on needs rather than countries’ quota shares at the IMF. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 April 2022]
Image credit: United Nations