Ending global poverty must be the prime concern of the UN

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai
World Forum for Peace & Justice

October 17, 2023

Through resolution 47/196 adopted on 22 December 1992, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared 17 October as the “International Day for the Eradication of Poverty”…”It proclaimed that poverty is a violation of human rights and affirmed the need to come together to ensure that these rights are respected.” President Nelson Mandela was absolutely right when he said, “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

Csaba Kőrösi, President of UNGA (2022) in his message elaborated that “In our age, poverty is not a natural phenomenon. It is now a matter of a policy choice..It is a matter of choosing to end poverty. Nationally and internationally…And committing to its complete eradication.”

Likewise, the message of Mr. Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations is on the mark, “In our world of plenty, poverty should have no home…Ending poverty is the challenge of our time. But it is a challenge we can win…On this important day, let’s renew our commitment to a world free of poverty. Over a billion people are deprived of basic needs like food, water, health care and education.”

I totally agree with the Secretary General that the most urgent approach should be the elimination of poverty and the securing for every man, woman, and child a right to flourishing health, a clean environment, comfortable housing, healthcare, nutritious food and education. The goal is not a choice but a moral obligation.

As suggested by the Secretary general, we must also focus on universal literacy and education. As Socrates explained, the unexamined life is not worth living. Or as philosopher Sam Johnson amplified, there is the same difference between the learned and unlearned as between the living and the dead. and as Al-Quran says, “Are those who know equal to those who do not know? These observations are made not to deride or degrade the uneducated, but to underscore the criticality of education to making life morally meaningful and fulfilling between ashes to ashes and dust-to-dust.

The ”Concept Note” put forth by the United Nations says, “October 17 shines as a ray of hope, a day to honour the millions of people enduring the silent and sustained violence of poverty. It’s our chance to live up to the promise of putting the furthest behind first, to stand together with them and pledge our commitment to ensure that dignity in practice for all becomes a reality.” ‘The Concept Note’ quotes the “United Nations, Report of the Secretary General, A/61/308, para. 58), which says, “It represents an opportunity to acknowledge the efforts and struggles of people living in poverty, a chance for them to make their concerns heard, and a moment to recognize that poor people are in the forefront in the fight against poverty.”

The ’Concept note’ further added that “The World Bank estimates that one billion young people will try to enter the job market, but less than half of them will actually find formal jobs. People directly impacted by extreme poverty will face discrimination, unable to obtain decent work because of their socioeconomic status, lower levels of education and training received as well as the stigma attached to being poor.”

I could not agree more with the analysis of the World Bank on this approach. One of the top priorities of world powers should be the ending of all racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, like Islamophobia, Xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, etc. Think of the horrifying quantity of violence in the world whose fundamental cause can be traced back to such social divisions. It infects every country on the planet. And if even one person suffers from invidious discrimination, then all are threatened, and civilization has been tarnished.

I do believe that the issue of poverty eradication should be the main focus of the world powers including the United Nations. Never before have so many suffered amidst liberty and luxury for the few. The wealth of single individuals exceeds the wealth of many nations. In highly developed countries, the number of persons living past 80 years is soaring. In deprived and convulsed countries, the average longevity is but half that age. While citizens of some African countries are starving, the rich countries are beset with obesity. Discrepancies of these types are morally disturbing. The United Nations is ideally suited to ending these shocking inequalities because it hosts all the nations of the world and endows each with identical voting power in the General Assembly. The poorest and the weakest are equal to the richest and the strongest.

Dr. Luis Felipe López-Calva, Global Director for Poverty and Equity of the World Bank wrote today, (October 17, 2023), “With all that we have learned in recent decades, we have a chance to make a real difference going forward. A world free of poverty on a livable planet is in our line of sight. But it can only happen if we take action now.”

It is characteristic that national or international organizations employ quantitative benchmarks to measure success in meeting enumerated objectives, like the eradication of poverty. For instance, a longstanding objective has been for each nation to contribute a specified percentage of its gross domestic product for humanitarian or foreign aid. Companion quantitative benchmarks have been set for literacy, vaccinations, annual income, longevity, smoking, etc.

There is nothing inherently mischievous about these development yardsticks. But they should never distract from our recognition that the highest in our objective consists of non-quantifiable characteristics. These would include acts of charity, humility, courage, benevolence, magnanimity, self-restraint, and non-vindictiveness. It would seem to me to turn logic and morality on their heads to award higher social development acclaim to a nation whose citizens were universally economically prosperous, literate, healthy, long-lived, non-polluting, but also mean-spirited, selfish, and egotistical than to a nation whose citizens were impoverished, plagued by disease, but were generous in time, effusive in hospitality, austere in habits, and selfless for the community.

Al-Qur’an very beautifully tries to inculcate these feelings about generosity and kindness by saying that, “And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive.” Correspondingly, Prophet Muhammad urges the believers to be the embodiment of goodness when he said, “He is not a Muslim who eats his fill when his neighbour goes hungry.” I do believe that out of sheer thoughtfulness, goodwill and generosity, serving humanity will become an instrument in eradicating poverty significantly.

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is the Chairman, World Forum for Peace and Justice.
He can be reached at: WhattsApp: 1-202-607-6435. Or. gnfai2003@yahoo.com

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