John Garrison, civil society specialist at the World Bank in Washington, DC, made a good point. He said when he started working in the Bank, he was always corrected as regards his take on curbing poverty: “Reduce, not eradicate.”
Those two words (“reduce” and “eradicate”) might seem the same. After all, either way, the intent remains the same: to do something about poverty. However you look at it, it is still poverty that we all want to get rid of. When we are getting rid of it is a subject of a continuing debate that would last for at least yet another century.
John makes sense. Why reduce and not eradicate?
This is where we might have to pull together our expectations in terms of economic development, quality of life, better healthcare, improved infrastructure, more efficient delivery of social and basic services, and the like. We might just be too harsh on ourselves, as we are on government or on institutions whose business it is to curb poverty.
Among us ordinary individuals, “eradicate” is a stronger word as it connotes commitment. It pushes forward an end goal, a much stronger thought that we all need to be drawn towards. Yes, it is quite a tall order as it is no different from declaring you will quit smoking the next day after being addicted to it for many years. But it paints a picture of a greater understanding of a need. It is a process, gradual at that.
On the other hand, eradicate leans towards the extreme. It denotes complete absence of something — poverty, in this case. You can just close your eyes and think of people smiling, of all children happily waking up every morning and lining up by the door of schools, all revved up for yet another enriching day. You can picture out a world wherein everyone belongs to the middle class, where your peso’s purchasing power extends to cover a bit of your wants and not just needs. It can place poor countries such as the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Vietnam, Solomon Islands, Samoa and others in East Asia and the Pacific and South Asia at the middle rung of the ladder of some of the world’s emerging superpowers. It can very well be utopian. Realistically, it is unrealistic. Or is it not?
The World Bank now pushes for a goal of ending poverty by 2030.
I asked John when I attended the World Bank Annual Meetings in Washington, DC: “What makes the Bank optimistic this time when even the MDGs, which have become a household name, have proven to be unsuccessful?”
John explains that that there is promise by the fact that the United Nation’s campaign has at least led to the accomplishment of half of the deliverables of the eight-point MDGs. He then emphasized the need for governments to work together, for good governance to be put in place, for systems to be reviewed, and for citizenship participation to be enhanced. He added that in this campaign, everybody is quite optimistic that there will be substantial infusions of capital, funding and assistance that would go towards addressing interlocking issues related to poverty. Agree.
But can we really end poverty by 2030?
Taking John’s sharing, at least we can “reduce” poverty. This is a good thing and something that we all should be sourcing promise and hope from. With the world’s population growing by the second, and the number of the world’s poor who live on a dollar and 25 cents a day keeping pace, a reduction in poverty can simplistically be understood as an increase in income and livelihood opportunities for the poor. You slowly pull up those at the bottom in a way that increase in population does not catch up with the rate at which poor people reap real development on the ground.
“Reduce poverty”, while may not be so strong a message as “eradicate poverty”, is more realistic and proactive. It pulls down our expectations without necessarily dampening our enthusiasm to initiate change. While we may not agree with projected rates of development, we can at least rest on self-calculated levels of progress against which we can gauge the extent to which poverty has been reduced. It is no different from losing weight. The idea alone of losing a pound, while may not be enough to others, presents enough achievement that demonstrates some will to change for the better.