UN Strategy to Combat Poverty

Till the end of the ‘60s, the prevailing view among international organisations was that the best strategy to combat poverty is to promote economic growth in developing countries by building the economic infrastructure, encouraging investment, liberalizing  the economy and raising the efficiency of production. This view presumes that the income from the increase in GDP will benefit in one way or another all sections of society which will lead in due time to the elimination of poverty. This is not necessarily true because some recent studies showed that the size of poverty may even increase despite significant economic growth as happened in the case of some Latin American countries during the ‘80s. Dr. Mahbubul Haq, Director Policy Planning Department, World Bank (1970-82) and Federal Minister for Planning Development in Pakistan (1982-88), said it is realised that economic growth does not filter down automatically to masses except in the modern urban sector and at very high rates of GNP growth. He added that “the unqualified worship of the GNP growth and production efficiency is long since over, even most ardent advocates of economic growth make at least a ceremonial bow to the objectives of social justice and distribution.” A leading professor of public policy and administration wrote that “poverty is growing in magnitude throughout the world and spreading like a rampant communicable disease. Even affluent societies such as the United States have found no effective solution to their chronic problems of hardcore pockets of poverty.”

In the light of the failure of economic growth approach to alleviate poverty, the international organisations amended their strategy. The World Development Report (1990) recommended a dual approach to reducing poverty.

  • Efficient labour-intensive growth based on appropriate market incentives, physical infrastructure, institutions and technological innovation.
  • Adequate provision of social services, including primary education, basic health care and family planning services.

However, the report added — rather shyly — that “transfer [of money] are needed to help those who would not otherwise benefit: the extremely destitute, the sick, and the aged, and safety nets must be provided to protect those most vulnerable to income-reducing shocks.” The report estimated that this strategy – if followed - shall reduce poverty by the year 2000 from over one billion to 825 million. The statistics of the United Nations in its conference on social development (Copenhagen 1995) showed that the magnitude of poverty increased by 200 million than that of 1985 to become 1.3 billion (520 m in East Asia, 13 m in the Arab world). It is interesting to note that the World Bank report admitted the importance of providing a safety net for the weak members of the society. Islam realised this fact 1400 years ago when it decreed zakah.


Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission. 

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