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A first step for the global poor – shatter six myths

Abject poverty takes a terrible toll. We can stop it. But we must start by separating fact from fiction.

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Could it be possible to eradicate abject poverty in one lifetime? Ever since it was first asked, the question has seemed an improbable wish – a salve for the heart, untenable to the mind. But today, the answer is as clear as it is imperative: Yes.

The idea that every living person can have the basics essential to human survival – and from there, begin to climb the ladder of economic development – is a prospect within reach. It does not require a master plan that solves all the world's problems. It does demand that wealthy nations change their approach in ways both subtle and significant.

It also means that the world's poorest – the last billion people who barely survive on the equivalent of less than $1 a day – must turn from lifetimes of bleak experience and look with higher expectations toward what is possible.

Today, the "average" person on the edge of survival is a child. Within the next hour, 1,200 more of them will perish. There are no easy solutions. But there is a clear path toward progress.

What's mistaken

Let's start by unpacking a few myths that impair popular thinking about global poverty.

 

Not so. In 1981, 1.5 billion people survived on less than $1 a day, according to World Bank household surveys. By 2001, that number had dropped 27 percent, to just over 1 billion. That means well over 400 million people no longer face the lethal burden of extreme poverty. The diverging exception is sub-Saharan Africa, where rich nations must operate differently – and can.

 

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