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Berlin, Germany - November 04: Antonio Guterres, High Commissioner for Refugees of UNHCR, attends a press conference in german foreign office on November 04, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Michael Gottschalk/Photothek via Getty Images)


World of polycrisis – poverty on the rise



“HALFWAY to the deadline for the 2030 Agenda, the SDG Progress Report; Special Edition shows we are leaving more than half the world behind. Progress on more than 50 percent of targets of the SDGs is weak and insufficient; on 30 percent, it has stalled or gone into reverse. These include key targets on poverty, hunger and climate.

Unless we act now, the 2030 Agenda could become an epitaph for a world that might have been.” – An excerpt from the foreword by Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, in the recently released “The sustainable development goals [SDGs] report 2023: special edition” by the UN.

The neoliberal assault and, within it, mainly austerity and lesser role of regulation in markets over the years has weakened the public health sector. Global supply chains on one hand, and on the other, diminished the capacity of governments to act mainly as the facilitator of private sector and fixer of market failures.  Governments have been captured reducing their much-needed role of being active players in economy, so as to safeguard the interests of the citizens against the “profit-over-people” mindset of the private sector.

One of the main outcomes of the neoliberal assault has been that the signal of over-profiteering and short-termism in markets was given paramount importance. Attention to long-term and more important needs of economies, for instance in terms of fast-unfolding climate change crisis, and a number of coronavirus epidemics warnings that were not heeded, resulted in serious cracks in terms of, for instance, economic, public health sector, and supply-chain resilience that came to the fore in recent years, as frequency and intensity of climate disasters increased, and as the coronavirus became a pandemic.

Resultantly, absolute poverty, which was on a decreasing trend globally for a number of years before the Covid-19 pandemic that hit in 2019, got reversed, and absolute poverty has seen a rising trend in recent years. This indeed put a serious dent on the SDG goal of ending poverty.

A recently released report titled “Global multidimensional poverty index 2023” by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative highlighted less-than-satisfactory progress in terms of meaningfully moving towards this goal as “In 2015 the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 set out to overcome the greatest global challenge: ending poverty in all its forms.

At the midpoint to 2030, people’s lives continue to be battered in multiple ways simultaneously. Globally, an array of challenges impedes poverty reduction – widespread inequality, political instability and conflict, a climate emergency, Covid-19 pandemic recovery, and cost of living and other crises.

Measures of multi-dimensional poverty attempt to offer clear priorities for addressing poverty, going beyond monetary deprivations. Across 110 countries, 1.1 billion of 6.1 billion people are poor. Poor people live in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia: 534 million (47.8%) in sub-Saharan Africa and 389 million (34.9%) in South Asia.” Hence, as per the report, half of the poor people lived in sub-Saharan Africa.

We live in a world of polycrisis– from existential threats of climate crisis, and the pandemicene phenomenon, to rising income inequality, and difficult debt situation overall globally. Renowned economist Adam Tooze, in his 28 October 2022 Financial Times (FT) article headlined “Welcome to the world of polycrisis” pointed out in this regard “Pandemic, drought, floods, mega storms and wildfires, threats of a third world war — how rapidly we have become inured to the list of shocks.

With economic and non-economic shocks entangled all the way down, it is little wonder that an unfamiliar term is gaining currency – the polycrisis. A problem becomes a crisis when it challenges our ability to cope and thus threatens our identity. In the polycrisis the shocks are disparate, but they interact so that the whole is even more overwhelming than the sum of the parts.”

Hence, it is in this context of the polycrisis that the challenges in the way of attaining Sustainable Development Goals have become all the more severe, and therefore, require a more meaningful multilateral effort. That said, the progress in this regard has been far less than satisfactory, with most negative effect of this on developing countries, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic overall, and especially for those countries that are highly vulnerable to the climate crisis and in the context of reducing fiscal space, rising inflation, and increasing debt burden in particular.

In the same foreword, the UN secretary-general highlighted in this regard “The Covid-19 pandemic and the triple crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are having a devastating and lasting impact.

This has been amplified by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has driven increases in the prices of food and energy and in the cost of access to finance, creating a global cost-of-living crisis affecting billions of people. Developing countries are bearing the brunt of our collective failure to invest in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many face a huge financing gap and are buried under a mountain of debt. One in three countries is at high risk of being unable to service their debt. Climate finance is also far below commitments and developed countries have not delivered the US$100 billion that was promised annually from 2020.”

There is indeed a need for both greater multilateral spirit, and transformation of the global financial architecture, as pointed out in the same foreword by the UN secretary-general: “But to deal with the root causes of this dire situation, we need deep reform of our outdated, dysfunctional and unfair international financial architecture.

We urgently need financial institutions that are fit for purpose; that ensure the benefits of globalisation flow to all; and that deliver on their mandate by providing a safety net for all countries in troubled times. In short, we need a new Bretton Woods moment. Developing countries should have proportionate voice and representation in global decision-making institutions and processes.”

About the writer: Kaduwo is a researcher and economist. Contact [email protected] call/WhatsApp +263773376128 

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