Bridging the gap from poverty to decent work

More than one billion people in the world live on less than one dollar a day. In total, 2.5 billion struggle to survive on less than two dollars per day. Every year, eleven million children die, most under the age of five and more than six million from completely preventable causes like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.

Against this scenario, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (17 October) will be commemorated on Monday, 18 October, with the theme “From poverty to decent work: bridging the gap”. The Day presents an opportunity to acknowledge the efforts and struggles of people living in poverty, to hear their voices and concerns and to recognize that poor people are at the forefront of the fight against poverty.

Through its resolution 47/196, of 22 December 1992, the General Assembly declared 17 October as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and invited all States to devote the Day to presenting and promoting, as appropriate in the national context, concrete activities with regard to the eradication of poverty and destitution. The resolution further invites intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to assist States, at their request, in organizing national activities for the observance of the Day, and requests the Secretary-General to take, within existing resources, the measures necessary to ensure the success of the Day’s observance.

Back in time

The observance of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty can be traced back to 17 October 1987. On that day, over a hundred thousand 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 gathering proclaimed that poverty is a violation of human rights and affirmed the need to come together to ensure that these rights are respected.

These convictions are inscribed in a commemorative stone unveiled on that day. Since then, people of all backgrounds, beliefs and social origins have gathered every year on 17 October to renew their commitment to the eradication of poverty and to show their solidarity with people living in poverty. Replicas of the commemorative stone have been unveiled around the world and serve as a gathering place to celebrate the Day.

During the implementation of the first Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006), several United Nations summits and conferences resulted in negotiated outcomes focused on national, regional and international efforts for poverty eradication. These include the UN Millennium Declaration, the Monterrey Consensus of the International Conference on Financing for Development and the 2005 World Summit Outcome.

Despite these commitments to poverty eradication, the progress made in reducing poverty world-wide has been uneven. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has emphasized that “With the right investments and concrete action, we can build upon the gains, fulfil our commitments, and ensure that every man, woman and child has the opportunity to make the most of their potential.”

Expanding decent work opportunities

In December 2007, the General Assembly proclaimed the Second UN Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017) with the theme of “Full employment and decent work for all”, reiterating that eradicating poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world and a core requirement for sustainable development, especially for developing countries. The proclamation recalls the outcomes of the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth special session of the General Assembly.

The Second Decade aims at supporting, in an efficient and coordinated manner, the internationally agreed development goals related to poverty eradication, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It stresses the importance of reinforcing the positive trends in poverty reduction in some countries and extending such trends to benefit people worldwide. It further highlights the importance of achieving inclusive growth, including full and productive employment and decent work for all.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the number of workers in vulnerable employment worldwide is estimated to be more than 1.5 billion, equivalent to over half (50.6%) of the world’s working population.

The ILO estimates that the global unemployment rate reached 6.6% in 2009, up 0.9% from 2007. Youth have been disproportionately affected by the global economic and financial crisis and the global youth unemployment rate rose from 11.8% in 2007 to 13.4% in 2009.

The observance this year will share ways in which to promote decent work, taking into account the existing efforts and experiences of people living in poverty, as well as youth, their families and those working in the informal sector.

During the recent MDG Summit, Member States committed themselves to accelerate action against poverty. The Secretary-General reminded the international community that “there is more to do for the mother who watches her children go to bed hungry” and that it must stay true to its “commitment to end the dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty.”

For more information: