Empowering Communities and Building Resilience: The United Nations’ strategy to eradicate poverty

Written by Julio Herrera Estrada

The beginning of 2016 marked the start of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were agreed upon by the United Nations last September. These 17 goals, broken into 169 specific targets, are set to last through 2030 and address a wide range of interrelated issues such as poverty alleviation, improved health and education, gender equality, sustainable use of natural resources, and biodiversity conservation. The SDGs replaced the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that lasted from 2000 to 2015. Many of the MDGs were successfully met, but huge gaps still remained on issues including access to drinking water, income inequality, and gender inequality (here’s the final report).

The first goal in both the MDGs and the SDGs focuses on poverty. The initial goal was to help at least half of the people who had less than US$1.25 per day (the definition of extreme poverty) rise above that threshold between 1990 and 2015. This goal was successfully met as the proportion of extreme poverty was cut from 49% to 14% by 2015. SDG #1 now calls for reducing this proportion to zero as well as addressing poor communities above the extreme poverty line. Moreover, this goal raises two key needs:

  1. Empowerment of communities to have the ability to rise from poverty, and
  2. Building communities’ resilience against climate, social, and economic shocks

Seeking countries to take ownership of this SDG and acknowledging that poverty looks differently around the world, it encourages each country to use their own definitions of poverty and to design “nationally appropriate social protection systems.” It suggests countries to ensure that poor communities have access to basic social services, financial services, property rights, sustainable livelihoods, and entrepreneurial opportunities. While there is also a call for increasing mobilization of resources towards poverty alleviation and the creation of a supportive international environment, the United Nations is encouraging development from within.

Empowering Communities and Building Resilience: The United Nations' Strategy to Eradicate Poverty
Source: Pixabay.com

In this context, resilience is the ability of people and communities to reduce their exposure and vulnerabilities to natural hazards such as droughts and floods, or economic or social shocks. This is an important aspect to address, given that a recent report by the World Bank found that climate change related hazards would push back 100 million people below the extreme poverty line by 2030, if development efforts do not take them into account and emphasize building resilience.

The good news is that this framework to combat poverty in the next 15 years is addressing the roots of the problem and is treating it as a multi-faceted issue where advances in gender equality, employment, social services, and infrastructure are also recognized as critical. Nevertheless, the resources needed to achieve this goal will put it in conflict with the SDGs that address the conservation of our climate and the planet’s natural ecosystems. There is little doubt that huge strives in creativity, innovation, and will to change some of our habits will be needed if we are to achieve all 17 SDGs.


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Julio Herrera Estrada is a 5th year PhD Candidate in the Environmental Engineering and Water Resources Program, and the Editor-in-Chief of Highwire Earth. His research focuses on the mechanisms and human impacts of droughts, and the policies that can help make our resource management sustainable and resilient. Follow him on Twitter @JulioSustDev.