Photo:©Sadek Ahmed

Building forward together

Ending Persistent Poverty, Respecting all People and our Planet

The COVID-19 pandemic that gripped the world during the past year has resulted in reversing decades of progress in the fight against poverty and extreme poverty. According to the World Bank, between 88 and 115 million people are being pushed into poverty as a result of the crisis, with the majority of the new extreme poor being found in South Asian and Sub-Saharan countries where poverty rates are already high”. In 2021, this number is expected to have risen to between 143 and 163 million. These ‘new poor’ will join the ranks of the 1.3 billion people already living in multidimensional and persistent poverty who saw their pre-existing deprivations aggravated during the global pandemic. As a matter of fact, the measures imposed to limit the spread of the pandemic often further pushed them into poverty – the informal economy which enables many people in poverty to survive was virtually shut down in many countries.

As we embark on the post-COVID recovery and getting back on track with the Sustainable Development Goals, many are talking of “building back better,” but the message is clear from the people living in extreme poverty that they do not want a return to the past nor to build back to what it was before. They do not want a return to the endemic structural disadvantages and inequalities. Instead, people living in poverty propose to build forward.

Building forward means transforming our relationship with nature, dismantling structures of discrimination that disadvantage people in poverty and building on the moral and legal framework of human rights that places human dignity at the heart of policy and action. Building forward means not only that no one is left behind, but that people living in poverty are actively encouraged and supported to be in the front, engaging in informed and meaningful participation in decision-making processes that directly affect their lives. In building forward, we need to let ourselves be enriched by the wealth of wisdom, energy and resourcefulness that people living in poverty can contribute to our communities, our societies and ultimately to our planet.

Face painted with the map of the world and happy people and plants stacked on top

Virtual commemoration

Friday October 15th, 2021
10am to 11:30am EDT

Register below and join us for a time of togetherness and dialogue bringing the expertise and experience of people living in persistent poverty, civil society organizations, UN agencies and government representatives - for the design and implementation of solutions require the mobilization of all sectors of society.

Background

In a world characterized by an unprecedented level of economic development, technological means and financial resources, that millions of persons are living in extreme poverty is a moral outrage. Poverty is not solely an economic issue, but rather a multidimensional phenomenon that encompasses a lack of both income and the basic capabilities to live in dignity.

Persons living in poverty experience many interrelated and mutually reinforcing deprivations that prevent them from realizing their rights and perpetuate their poverty, including:

  • dangerous work conditions
  • unsafe housing
  • lack of nutritious food
  • unequal access to justice
  • lack of political power
  • limited access to health care
poster with hands holding up people

Poverty Facts and Figures

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have pushed between 143 and 163 million people into poverty in 2021.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have increased poverty by 8.1% in 2020 relative to 2019 (from 8.4% to 9.1%).
  • The number of people living under the international poverty lines for lower and upper middle-income countries is projected to have increased in the poverty rate of 2.3 percentage points.
  • Almost half of the projected new poor will be in South Asia, and more than a third in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In the Middle East and North Africa, extreme poverty rates nearly doubled between 2015 and 2018, from 3.8 percent to 7.2 percent, spurred by the conflicts in the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Yemen.
  • Current projections indicate that shared prosperity will have dropped sharply in nearly all economies in 2020–21, as the pandemic’s economic burden is felt across the entire income distribution.
  • COVID-19 has already been the worst reversal on the path towards the goal of global poverty reduction in last three decades.
source: World Bank

Related organizations and information

UN documents

As the international community embarks on the Third Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, an estimated 783 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, compared with 1.867 billion people in 1990. Economic growth across developing countries has been remarkable since 2000, with faster growth in gross domestic product (GDP) per capita than advanced countries. This economic growth has fuelled poverty reduction and improvements in living standards. Achievements have also been recorded in such areas as job creation, gender equality, education and health care, social protection measures, agriculture and rural development, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. [Resolution A/73/298]

A father and his son wear protective masks on a street in Queens, New York, during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The estimates of the potential short-term economic impact of COVID-19 on global monetary poverty through contractions in per capita household income or consumption show that COVID-19 poses a real challenge to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty by 2030 because global poverty could increase for the first time since 1990 and, depending on the poverty line, such increase could represent a reversal of approximately a decade in the world’s progress in reducing poverty. In some regions the adverse impacts could result in poverty levels similar to those recorded 30 years ago. Under the most extreme scenario of a 20 per cent income or consumption contraction, the number of people living in poverty could increase by 420–580 million, relative to the latest official recorded figures for 2018. [WIDER Working Paper 2020/43]

illustration of people with clock, calendar, to-do list and decorations

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.