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Tackling poverty in a world of 7 billion

You will soon be one of seven billion people.

An Afghan family stands beside a mud bricks shelter in Kabul © EPA/SABAWOONThe world’s population will hit the seven billion mark on 31 October 2011 when - according to UN estimates - the world’s seven billionth citizen will be born.
The seven billionth citizen will be born “into a world of contradictions,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. “We have plenty of food yet millions are still starving. We see luxurious lifestyles yet millions are impoverished.”

As the number of people increases, so do the challenges - among them poverty and inequality.

“Poverty involves more than just a lack of income or a daily struggle for basic sustenance. It is not confined to economic deprivation but extends to social, cultural and political deprivation,” UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay said.

Persons living in poverty are often portrayed as authors of their own misfortune. But poverty is “a multifaceted situation from which it may be difficult – if not impossible, to escape without assistance,” said Magdalena Sepulveda, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

“The prejudices against the poor are so deeply entrenched that they inform public policies, and preclude policy makers from addressing the systemic factors that prevent persons living in poverty from overcoming their situation”, she emphasized.

The gap between rich and poor is widening. The austerity measures adopted to facilitate the recovery during the current economic crisis have exacerbated the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”, she noted. “It is now clear that the poorest and most excluded bear the brunt of the crisis, while the incomes of the richest segments of society continue to soar in many of the countries affected by the crises.”

But how do we tackle poverty in a world of 7 billion?

“Addressing extreme poverty, including in the face of population growth is not a question of sufficient resources,” said Sepulveda. “It is, above all, a political question about how resources can be equitably and sustainably distributed.”

“The greatest challenge to poverty eradication is rising inequality, which not only undermines the ability of the poorest to realize their human rights, but threatens development initiatives, impairs economic growth, and contributes to social unrest and instability. The eradication of extreme poverty, therefore, requires States to prioritise the human rights of the poorest, in order to reverse the tide of inequality and close the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, she said.

According to the latest UN figures, the world’s population is projected to reach seven billion on 31 October, surge past 9 billion before 2050 and then reach 10.1 billion by the end of the century if current fertility rates continue at expected levels.

Everyone - individuals, governments, businesses and organizations - can take action to create a more sustainable and fair world. This is the message of the 7 Billion Actions campaign, launched by the UN Population Fund in July 2011 to build awareness of the opportunities and challenges of a world of seven billion people.

Through an interactive website, social networks and mobile phone projects, 7 Billion Actions encourages people and organizations around the world to put forward ideas and commit to actions to create a fairer, more sustainable global society. Population growth can provide opportunities for economic growth; political will is required to ensure that growth is equitable and helps reduce and eliminate poverty, in line with human rights standards.

25 October 2007

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