The War on Poverty

Jesus Christ — Nabi Isa to Muslims — is quoted in the Bible (Al Kitab) as saying: “The poor you will always have with you…” That out-of-context quote has been used to justify the neglect of the poor, and to argue that the fight against poverty is a lost cause. Thus a holy book has been badly used by those who take a dim view of humankind.

But the fight against poverty is by no means a lost cause. Not if progress in the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals means anything.

World leaders agreed in 2000 to go after eight ambitious goals, the most basic of which is to halve the number of the world’s poor by 2015. That goal will be met.

The World Bank says the percentage of extremely poor people in developing countries will fall from 29 percent in 1990 (the MDG base year) to 12 percent in 2015.

The number of people who have access to clean water will also be halved. The number of girls in school are now about equal to that of boys.

But the rate of infant mortality will not be halved. And perhaps a couple of other MDGs will not be met.

As an individual nation, Indonesia is on track to halve its poverty rate. The government recently announced that as of September last year the poverty rate was 11.66 percent, down from 12.36 percent in 2011. The target is 8 percent for 2014.

The question is: After the goals are attained — or not attained in 2015 — what next?

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon answered that question by naming President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and British Prime Minister David Cameron co-chairs of a high-level panel to advise him on the post-2015 global development agenda.

The 26-man panel will submit a report in September, setting “a bold and practical vision” on how to complete what the MDGs started.

The high-profile involvement of the president in the work on the panel is an honor for Indonesia. It’s also a great responsibility. Much of the fortunes of humankind in the next two decades will depend on the quality of the vision that the high-level panel will conjure, and the vigor of its global implementation.

If the process succeeds, it will be a legacy of the Yudhoyono presidency — not only to Indonesia but also to the world.

Late last week, the co-chairs and the panel met for the second time in Monrovia, Liberia. There are no reports yet on the outcome of that meeting, but it’s well known that Indonesia is pushing for sustainable growth with equity and for reform of the global financial architecture.

Like many countries, it is also pushing for freer trade, social safety nets, universal access to education and health services, and matching the economic agenda with initiatives on climate change, human rights and good governance.

In a real sense, this could be the second phase in humankind’s final war against poverty.

The first phase is the MDG phase, during which the international community has been attacking poverty at a time that’s not really auspicious for development.

The MDGs were launched when East Asia was just beginning to recover from the crisis of 1998, and they’ll conclude as the world struggles to recover from the global crisis of 2008.

If so much progress can be made with the MDGs, even at a very bad time, then it’s reasonable to deduce that poverty can be beaten. Nations have the resources to remove the thorn of poverty from the flesh of the human condition. They know how to do it.

All they need is to work harder and in greater concert than they have ever done.

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