About the Authors:

Rishav Sharma & Abhishek Majumdar 

Rishav Sharma is currently pursuing LL.M (Environment and Natural Resource Laws) from TERI School of Advanced Studies

Abhishek Majumdar is also pursuing LL.M (Environment and Natural Resource Laws) from TERI School of Advanced Studies Apart from being a research scholar and an Advocate with key interests in constitutional and environmental law, Abhishek is passionate about causes like climate change, habitat loss, wildlife conservation, animal rights and social justice. He is also a published writer with writings on legal topics as well as non-fiction. 

Poverty in the Global Dynamics

Economic standards are used to define poverty, which is based on income levels and access to fundamental human needs like food, water, and shelter.[1] Poverty has been defined by the World Bank as a “‘pronounced deprivation in well-being’. It can be defined narrowly or more broadly, depending on how well-being is understood”. Narrow definitions of well-being are typically linked to commodities, i.e. whether households or individuals have enough resources to meet their needs.[2]

The measure of absolute poverty is “poverty below an official line of what households should be able to count on to meet their basic needs”[3]. Poverty is “often defined this way in developing countries, as it focuses attention on vital human needs, and helps with measurement and cross-country comparisons”[4]. It is well articulated in Amartya Sen’s work, that poverty as capability deprivation. And that “well-being arising through people’s ability to function in society”. Poverty arises when “people lack key capabilities and so have ‘inadequate income or education, or poor health, or insecurity or a sense of powerlessness, or the absence of rights such as freedom of speech’. Viewed in this way, poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon and less amenable to simple solutions.”[5]

When we talk of poverty from a global perspective, the trends which are commonly observed include a common understanding of what is poverty, what constitutes poverty and what are the various types of poverty and how different “ceilings” are prescribed to define poverty from the perspective of a developed nation vis-a-vis a developing nation. But such accounts do not take into consideration a ‘globally defined poverty measure that identifies people who cannot fulfil their basic needs – i.e., absolute deprivation’.

The definition of poverty needs to be “relative as well as absolute and a societal reference point is needed. People should be able to live not only free from starvation and disease, but also in accordance with social.”[6]

Eradication of Poverty: A Roadmap of Three Decades of Eradicating Poverty

The ’90s was the decade when global poverty was declared a challenge while identifying core issues i.e. poverty eradication, employment generation, and social integration. The United Nations General Assembly designated the 17th of October as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty in a resolution passed on the 22nd of 1992. [7] The World Summit for Social Growth, held in Copenhagen in March 1995, was the largest gathering of its kind, with participants pledging to create an environment conducive to social development on economic, social, cultural, and legal levels.[8] The focus for the decade (1997-2006) was determined to be “Eradicating Poverty is an ethical, social, political, and economic necessity of humanity,” per another resolution. [9]

The resolution acknowledged the three pillars of sustainable development that included economic development, social development, and environmental protection to achieve a higher quality of life. Followed by the second theme for the decade 2008-2017, ‘Full employment and decent work for all’, through its resolution.[10] Where formal recognition was given to the difference in economic growth in different countries. Affirming to the fact that global poverty is the biggest challenge the world is facing and eradication would require global cooperation along with the objective of MDGs. According to the resolution,[11] the theme for the third decade (2018-2027) is ‘Accelerating global actions for a world without poverty’. The objective affirmed to align with Agenda 2030 and 17 sustainable development goals. Along with this for collective effort, 10 principles were enunciated[12]

Tale of Two Action Plans

With the embarkment of the 21st century, 189 members at the international forum resolved 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.”[13], a united time-bound commitment was enunciated whereby, eight humble goals were set as a blueprint to eradicate poverty by the year of 2015. This ambitious target required global cooperation and partnership, which was one of the humble targets of the MDGs. The report published by the United Nations on MDGs had shown remarkable progress. [14] The report indicated the first slope in abject poverty in developing countries since the inception of the monitoring trends. However, the same report pointed out that the number of people living in slums has risen to an upper estimate of 864 million.[15] According to Leonor Briones, while speaking on behalf of civil societies in 2005 when the MDGs were reviewed that

the Millennium Development Goals will not be achieved by 2015, (if) the environment continues to be devastated, and global issues on trade, debt, and official development assistance remain unresolved.[16]

The instability of the triads of sustainability i.e environment and society and economic development were daunting to the future as well as undermining the objectives.  It became unassailable to say that MDGs became a mere exaggeration. Whereas, some pointed out that the objectives of the MDGs were unrealistic.[17] Some academicians criticized the action plan for being too simple, as many developed countries had achieved the objective i.e Primary Education.[18] Whereas, some found the objectives to be imprecise ie., halve world poverty. Furthermore, the MDGs redefined the conceptual meaning of development with the eradication of poverty. This diluted the demand of the third world countries to get special treatment in trade, finance, and debt.[19] Adding to this Amartya Sen in his book ‘Development as Freedom’ has emphasized the definition of development. According to him, “development is a process that expands the real freedom that people enjoy, this includes freedom from poverty, a democratic setup, ample economic opportunities, and so on.”[20] The consensus build in the international community based on the framework of MDGs revolved around the eradication of poverty. To this Charles Gore, made a critical remark pointing out that:

this consensus has not effectively reduced poverty as it is based on a ‘Faustian bargain’, in which international commitment to promoting economic development and reducing global income inequality has evaporated, and national and international policies have focused on promoting global integration rather than production and employment.[21]

At the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, the scope of sustainable development was expanded to include a sustainable lifestyle for all people and a stable, resilient planetary life support system. David Griggs established the first framework for sustainable development in the same year, which comprised six preliminary aims. [22] David Griggs developed a framework that built on the MDGs while also relating to the other pillars of sustainable development.

A similar framework was accepted on the 25th day of September 2015. the United Nations in New York adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and 17 SDGs. These sustainable goals were interconnected forming a complex web that connects to all the three pillars of SDGs.  In the Preamble, the member nations have resolved ambitious universal agendas for 15 years (2030). The intergovernmental action plan is to keep in consideration three P’s namely People, Planet, and Prosperity.[23]

The integrated sustainable approach is much more efficient and viable, but the global pandemic in the decade has pushed more than 71 million people into abject poverty in the year 2020.[24] Even though, following the monitoring trend extreme poverty would not have been eradicated by 230. According to the same report, by the end of the decade, there still would be 6 percent of the population living in abject poverty.[25]

Problems and Solution

Global poverty has been accepted as a challenge to the global community, in simple words, it can be termed as an evil originating from several aspects. The biggest challenge is the way we look at abject poverty. The data that supplements our knowledge about diminishing poverty is flawed according to scholars. As the public conscience is rising. The measurement of global poverty has always been surrounded by strong arguments. The measurement line is a stagnant one devised in 1985 at 1$ per day based on the Purchasing Power Parity model. However, the lack of acknowledgement of the inflation and the difference between the developed and the third world countries makes the measurement system complicated. The line is drawn at 1.91$ following the PPP model by the World Bank.[26] This differentiates between the people living in abject poverty in developed countries and developing countries. T.N Srinivasan puts a strong argument against the definition propounded by the World Bank. In his argument, he stresses that poverty is multidimensional. The classification should not be based just on expenditures but on several factors, including the state’s socioeconomic and political situation. Furthermore, if poverty is defined as “a lack of well-being,” then poverty cannot be measured by a monodimensional global poverty line proposed by the World Bank, because lack of well-being includes many facets that would necessitate acknowledgement of those facets, such as national life expectancy, food security, and so on.[27]

Class Antagonism and Global Poverty

Recently, Oxfam published a report[28] namely, ‘Time to Care’. In the report, the organization published appalling statistics regarding economic inequalities. According to the report, the richest 1% of the population has accumulated twice the wealth in comparison to more than 6.9 billion people. The inequality in social fabrication is one of the key reasons why poverty eradication has become a herculean task. In another report[29] published by Oxfam, it has been stated that “the wealth of the billionaire in the time of the global pandemic has increased by 3.9 trillion dollars between March 2020-December 2020. While the number of people living under 5.50 USD per day could have increased by more than 200 million people”. The staggering difference and the failure of the capitalist model and trickle-down economy are exposed. However, Thomas Pogge[30] argues that this is the time when global poverty can be easily eradicated. “The global annual consumption of 2735 million people is about 440 billion USD and their collective shortfall is approximately 330 billion USD per year”. The poverty gap is less than 1% of the gross national income of high-income countries.

In conclusion, our research allowed us to understand that global poverty is a multidimensional problem and requires a modest framework, both at the domestic level as well as international level. The disparity between the rich and poor could be levelled by equal distribution of income and opportunity. The integrated approach may not be able to eradicate poverty, but it has the potential to uplift the marginalized classes.

Global cooperation where innovation is exchanged and special status is given to the third world project could be a viable option for eradication of global poverty. Furthermore, a systematic collection of data could supplement the cause. In the time of a global pandemic, eradicating global poverty requires certain short term action plans. This could include measures aimed at controlling the spread of the disease, since the health sector is under immense pressure and the health of those in abject poverty is at greater risk, given the fact that they do not have access to healthcare subjects and/or cannot afford the same, to begin with. Secondly, there is an inherent need to institutionally incentivize those sections of the society who have lost employment amid the pandemic, i.e., the introduction of schemes aimed at benefitting the unemployed strata of the society. The latest report on SDGs has pointed out the dilapidated condition of those surviving under poverty. According to the report, decades of progress towards poverty eradication have either been halted or reversed because of the global pandemic.[31] Around 124 million people were pushed into extreme poverty,[32] which has worsened the cases of malnutrition[33] and has created a mass hysteria as millions lost their jobs[34]. The time of crisis requires critical policies to mitigate the damage of the crisis. The world requires a bottom-up approach against the top-down approach, to cater to all the facets of sustainability.

[1]Allison Meade, What is Global Poverty?, The Borgen Project, (August 21, 2013), https://borgenproject.org/what-is-poverty/.

[2] Brigitte Rohwerder, Poverty and Inequality: Topic guide, GSDRC, (June, 2016), https://gsdrc.org/topic-guides/poverty-and-inequality/measuring-and-analysing-poverty-and-inequality/measuring-poverty/.

[3]Coudouel, et al., Poverty measurement and analysis,The PRSP Sourcebook, World Bank,  (2002), siteresources.worldbank.org/INTPRS1/Resources/383606-1205334112622/5467_chap1.pdf

[4] Supra note 2.

[5] J. Haughton, et al., Handbook on poverty and inequality,World Bank, (2009), http://go.worldbank.org/4WJH9JQ350

[6] Emma Samman, et al., Eradicating global poverty: a noble goal, but how do we measure it?, Development Progress working paper, ODI, (June, 2013), www.developmentprogress.org.

[7] United Nations General Assemby, Observance of an Internatioanal Day for the Eradication of Poverty 47/196, 31Mar 1993, http://undocs.org/a/res/47/196

[8] United Nations, Report of the World Summit for Social Development, 6-12 March 1995, https://undocs.org/A/CONF.166/9

[9]United Nations General Assemby, Observance of the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty and proclamation of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty50/107, 26 Jan 1996, https://undocs.org/A/RES/50/107

[10]United Nations General Assemby, Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008–2017) 63/230, 19 Dec 2007, https://undocs.org/A/RES/63/230

[11]United Nations General Assemby, Implementation of the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008–2017) 72/233, 30 Jan 2018, https://undocs.org/A/RES/72/233

[12] UN System-wide Plan of Action for Thrid UN Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2018-2027) on Accelerating Global Actions for a World Without Poverty, 27 Feb 2018, https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2020/03/SWAP-Poverty-Booklet-Digital-Feb27.pdf

[13]  Ian Towsend, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) & the September 2010 UN review summit, 28 June 2010

[14] UN, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2012, https://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/MDG%20Report%202012.pdf

[15] Ibid

[16]RobbertoBissio, After the Fall: A New Deal is Imperative, September 2010, Socail Watch International Secretariat, https://www.socialwatch.org/book/export/html/12033

[17]Carlos Oya, ‘Africa and the MilleniumDevelopement Goals (MDGs): What´s Right, What’s Wrong and What’s Missing.’ Revista de Economia Mundial, 2011, http://www.sem-wes.org/revista/arca/rem_27/rem27_intro.pdf

[18]Sikiko Fukuda-Parr, Global Goals as a Policy Tool: Intended and Unintended Consequences, 10 Jun 2014, Journal of Human Development and Capibilities, https://doi-org.ezproxy.sau.ac.in/10.1080/19452829.2014.910180

[19] Ibid

[20]Amartya Sen, Development As Freedom, 2000, p-3

[21] Charles Gore, The MDG Paradigm, Productive Capacities and the Future of Poverty Reduction, 13 Jan 2013, IDS Bulletin, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1759-5436.2010.00106.x

[22]Griggs, D., Stafford-Smith, M., Gaffney, O. et al. Sustainable development goals for people and planet, 20 Mar 2013. https://doi.org/10.1038/495305a

[23] Preamble, Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/21252030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development%20web.pdf

[24] The Sustianable Development Global Report 2020, https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2020/The-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Report-2020.pdf

[25] Ibid

[26]SudhirAnand, Paul Segal, Joseph.E.Stiglitz, Debates on Measurement of Global Poverty, 2010, DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199558032.001.0001

[27] Peter Edward, The Ethical Poverty Line: A moral quantification of absolute poverty, 08 Aug 2006, Third World Quaterly,https://doi-org.ezproxy.sau.ac.in/10.1080/01436590500432739

[28]Max Lawson, AnamParvez Butt, Rowan Harvey, Diana Sarosi, Clare Coffey, Kim Piaget, Julie Thekkudan, Time to Care, 20 Jan 2020, https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/620928/bp-time-to-care-inequality-200120-en.pdf


[29]EsméBerkhout, Nick Galasso, Max Lawson, Pablo Andrés Rivero Morales, AnjelaTaneja, Diego AlejoVázquez Pimentel, The Inequality Virus, 25 Jan 2021, https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/621149/bp-the-inequality-virus-250121-en.pdf


[30] Thomas Pogge, Poverty and Human Rights, 2005, https://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/poverty/expert/docs/Thomas_Pogge_Summary.pdf


[31] United Nations, The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2021, (UN, New York, 2021)

[32] Ibid. p.no.8

[33] Ibid. p.no.9

[34] Ibid. p.no.15