The drive to overcome extreme poverty and hunger has been at the heart of global efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals since their adoption a decade ago. Up until the food, fuel, and financial crises in the last two years, developing countries were making progress in reaching this goal, although at different paces. The food crisis of 2008 may seem to be past. But it has not gone away. For the first time in history more than one billion people go to bed hungry each night.
We must redouble efforts to target support to the poor and vulnerable.
Investments all along the food chain to increase agricultural productivity and produce will help to alleviate hunger and overcome poverty because 75 per cent of the world’s poor live in rural areas in developing countries. Most depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Low-income countries need better safety net programmes to protect their poorest people while also equipping them to develop their skills so as to move out of the poverty trap and into better paying jobs.
The goal of improving nutrition can have multiple positive effects as it is linked to maternal and child mortality, education, and health. The World Bank is working with the World Food Program and Unicef to connect better nutrition with safety net programmes such as school feeding and food for work. Through partnerships we hope to tap into new knowledge about nutrition supplements and other ways to improve the diets of the poor.
The world economy’s recovery is uneven and uncertain, without the surge in jobs that people need. We must recover lost ground and step up the pace to overcome poverty. Developing countries offer abundant opportunities for investments with healthy returns that can create new sources of global demand.
Growth potential is not limited to a few emerging markets. Better policies have improved growth performance and opportunities in many low-income countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa, which recorded annual growth of six percent in the five years preceding the crisis.
In order to create new and better jobs, updating people’s skills is essential to improve their prospects. Developing and emerging countries face serious demographic challenges — from a record number of young job-seekers in Africa and the Middle East, to shrinking work forces in Eastern Europe and Central and East Asia.
An effective focus on workers – employing all of them, and employing them to their greatest productivity – is vital. Countries will need to have systems that build skills by guiding youngsters through early childhood development, emphasising nutrition, stimulation, and basic cognitive skills; that ensure that once at school, there are sufficient resources, and a solid emphasis on results and performance in the wider school system; that build relevant skills through higher education and on-the-job training; and that encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.
Recovery will also depend on a private sector rebound. Businesses will invest and create jobs if they can turn a profit. Countries will need to create a more attractive investment climate by establishing clear rules, implementing regulatory reforms to make it easier to do business, and by making financing available to small and medium firms for private investment as well as to poor people themselves.
Countries also need to strive for better governance and against the rot of corruption. Governments, working with development partners, need to move quickly to create more opportunity. This includes expanding opportunities for girls and women as economies will not be successful if they discriminate against half their population.
As the development community takes stock of its MDG progress at the UN this week, we need to look beyond and behind the numbers to see what we can learn from them and our efforts to date. We need to invest in what works and fix what doesn’t. And as we do, we always need to keep in mind that this work is ultimately about empowering people. The human spirit can accomplish amazing things. We need to give everyone that opportunity.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2010.