This week European citizens will head to the polls to vote for their representatives in the European Parliament, in an election that has seen many subjects dominating the headlines. Yet there is one important topic that has barely had a look-in and been all but ignored in the news: global poverty.
Let us begin by imagining a small sum of money, two euros to be precise. What can we buy with two euros? In a typical European city, not much. A small beer, perhaps. A cup of coffee. Maybe a loaf of bread. But not much more. Let us imagine, now, that we only have two euros to spend today: say hello to the new fad diet: the one day, two euro diet. But what if we only had two euros tomorrow, also, and the day after, and the day after that, and so on?
This sum is not random. The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living with less than €1.70 per day based on purchasing power parity. If you want to get a better idea of life for a family with less than €2 per day, the site Dollar Street can give you a clear picture of what eating, drinking, travelling, cooking and sleeping look like on household budgets of between two and thirty euros per day.
Now, how many people are forced to live below the World Bank threshold? Five million? Fifty million? The staggering total is over 700 million. I certainly underestimated the amount and struggled to believe the total figure at first. Yet, to be even more precise, throughout the world 736 million people live in extreme poverty, which amounts to 10% of the world’s population. That means that 10% of humanity live without sufficient nutrition, without a good education and without any prospects.
Nothing will change for them if the world ignores their plight. If we don’t know, how can we care? But once we know, how can we not care? Talking about the scale of the problem, raising awareness of the issue does make a difference.
I am a volunteer for a non-profit organisation called ONE which is advocating for the end of extreme poverty by 2030. At this very moment, more than 300 volunteers around Europe are campaigning and contacting candidates to the European Parliament to ask them to join forces with us. We ask them to sign a pledge which has 4 main points: a new partnership with Africa; a European Union that respects the equality of all people; EU aid focused on health, education and economic empowerment, particularly for women and girls. Finally, we asked them to fulfil a promise the EU has already made. The member states committed to investing 0.7% of their gross national income in overseas development. It is not a high percentage, really. However, in 2018 only four countries reached the target: Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
I want to see this promise fulfilled. It is extremely important to do so if we want to reduce the number of people living with less than two euros a day from 700 million to zero. Of course, ending extreme poverty by 2030 is a difficult target. But it is achievable, as the statistics show. Indeed, we have already had significant success. Extreme poverty has dropped in the last 25 years, from 36% of the global population to just 10%. However, we are not moving fast enough. 10% is still far too high. Moreover, if we look at the world’s least developed countries, the number of people living in poverty is actually on the rise. It currently stands at 56.2% of the population of those countries. If we look to the future as it stands right now, 9 out of 10 people will be poor in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2030.
Ending extreme poverty in all its forms and everywhere should be a priority for candidates. In fact, it’s already a priority for voters, as 7 out of 10 Europeans believe that tackling poverty in developing countries should be a key objective of the EU. As the world’s largest aid donor, the EU has the power to lead the way to a sustainable future for everyone, both at home and abroad. Future European leaders need to commit to this future for Europe and the rest of the world and take measures to end extreme poverty, once and for all.