Stand Up Against Poverty 2009

17 Oct 2009

I am pleased to be here today to represent the United Nations Development Programme on behalf of Ms. Beate Trankmann, Resident Representative (a.i.).  Ms. Trankmann regrets that she could not be here today because of unavoidable circumstances, but requested me to deliver, on her behalf, this message to all of you gathered here on this special occasion.

Thank you for joining us in this event to observe the World Food Day and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  It was a conscious decision to host both these events together since one cannot talk about alleviating poverty without eliminating hunger.

Every year millions of people across the world read the poverty pledge, on this day, to remind world leaders of their promise to halve extreme poverty by 2015. This resolve, to reduce poverty and extreme hunger, is also one of the eight goals that are collectively known as the Millennium Development Goals or the MDGs. The Millennium Declaration, which spells out these Goals, says that “We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected”.  The event ‘Stand up Against Poverty’ follows from the Millennium Declaration and symbolizes our solidarity and support with some of the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the world. The event, though only a symbolic gesture, helps to remind us as we get closer to the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals, that there is still almost a billion people in the world who are surviving on less than a dollar a day. The issue, however, is not only of insufficient resources but of rethinking our priorities and delivering on the promises to create a more equitable world.

This year, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty comes at an opportune time. Last week in Bangkok, UNDP released the Human Development Report for 2009.  In terms of Human Development, Sri Lanka ranks 102nd out of 182 countries. The HDI rank for Sri Lanka is the best in the South Asia region.  There is another index though, that focuses specifically on poverty. Since 1997, the HDR has been carrying an index called the Human Poverty Index. Simply put, the Human Poverty Index is a measure of deprivation. The HPI concentrates on deprivation in the three essential elements of human life: longevity or living a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living. This year, the poverty index for Sri Lanka is 16.8% which gives the country a rank of 67 out of the 135 developing countries for which the index has been calculated. The index based on data collected in 2007, shows that Sri Lanka has made considerable progress in alleviating poverty.

This progress is also evident from another set of indicators-the MDGs. The latest MDG data available from the Department of Census and Statistics indicates that the country is well on track to achieving the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by the 2015 deadline. Based on incomes received, in the year 2002, 26.1 % of the population was living below the poverty line in Sri Lanka (approximately Rs. 3000 per person per month). This number improved to 15.2 % by 2007.  Of course, there are challenges as well. The data indicates that there are regional variations and the prevalence of poverty varies considerably between districts, with Colombo reporting the lowest figure of 5.4 per cent and Nuwara Eliya reporting the highest figure of 33.8 per cent. The poor are mostly concentrated in districts such as; Ratnapura, Monaragala and Nuwara Eliya. Also, the population in the Northern and Eastern provinces is lagging behind, due to the conflict and deserves special attention, now that the war has ended.   The Government of Sri Lanka has already taken steps to address issues at local levels. In fact, the Government with the support of UNDP is working on an MDG Strategy for Sri Lanka to develop clear strategies and targets for areas that are lagging behind.

This year the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty draws our attention to another urgent problem affecting our planet-climate change. In most situations, it is the poorest people in the world who bear the brunt of climate-related disasters. A person living in a developing country is 79 times more likely to suffer from a climate-related disaster than someone living in a developed country. Because of climate change, it is estimated that up to 600 million more people in Africa could face malnutrition as agricultural systems break down; an additional 1.8 billion people could face water shortage, especially in Asia; and more than 70 million Bangladeshis, 22 million Vietnamese, and six million Egyptians could be affected by climate-related flooding. Efforts to combat poverty will, therefore, remain unsuccessful unless they are linked to efforts dealing with climate change.
UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, in her message for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty calls upon the international community to tackle the impoverishment associated with climate disasters in the developing world. She says, “When the international community meets on climate change in Copenhagen this December, the negotiators could do a deal which is positive for our climate and for poverty reduction and development. This year, as we mark the International Day to Eradicate Poverty, let's remember that if we don’t put this fight to eradicate poverty at the heart of any international climate change agreement, we are effectively leaving the world’s poor to “sink or swim" by themselves as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said. The international community has a collective responsibility to ensure that this does not happen”.