Development is not just a set of abstract figures, it is about people. It is not a matter for economists and planners alone. People cannot develop without culture and the freedom to create.

No figures can capture the wretchedness that is the lot of the poor.

WITH the passage of October, one more International Day for the Eradication of Poverty has come and gone, a global Garibi Hatao that has been hardly more effective than the national one. Nearly half the population of India lives below a poverty line that has, to put it mildly, been drawn just this side of the funeral pyre. To be poor in India is to be unable to manage the basic elements of human subsistence. No per capita income figures, no indices of calorie consumption can capture the wretchedness that is the lot of the Indian poor, whether destitute amidst the dust of rural India or begging on the sidewalks of its teeming cities.To be poor is to be born of a malnourished mother in conditions where your survival is uncertain; to survive with inadequate food, clothing and shelter, without the stimulation of learning or play; to grow unequipped intellectually or physically to be a productive member of a striving society. That such conditions still afflict 450 million Indians is worse than a tragedy: it is a shame.

As a United Nations official, I have often had to address the question of poverty and persistent underdevelopment, which are high among the principal challenges facing the organisation. And the U.N. has begun to argue, I think compellingly, that poverty is no longer inevitable. For the first time, long-cherished hopes of eradicating poverty seem attainable, because the world has the material, natural and technological resources to do so within a generation — provided that concerted political will and sufficient resources are brought to the task.

This is not just rhetoric: over the last three decades, more than 20 industrial states, and more encouragingly, more than a dozen developing countries, have eliminated absolute poverty. Others can do it too.

The wealth of nations has increased seven-fold since 1945. The astonishing proliferation of billionaires is not the only indication of that. Overall, the proportion of people living in poverty has declined; yet, thanks to population increases, the number of poor has risen considerably. Almost one-quarter of the world’s population still lives in poverty. Income disparities between the richest 20 per cent and the poorest 20 per cent of the world’s population have doubled since 1960, from 30:1 to 61:1. The statistics point to the increasing number of people (1.5 billion today) with incomes of less than $ 1 a day; about three billion people, half the world’s population, live on less than $2 a day.

There are 750 million people unemployed and another 750 million underemployed. Some 160 million children are moderately or severely malnourished. About 110 million do not attend school. Another 1.5 billion are without clean drinking water; 800 million have no health services whatsoever; 35 million people suffer from HIV/AIDS. And poverty in old age remains the most common human experience around the world.

Technology offers both a hope and a danger. The worldwide web is bringing us all closer together with rapid and inexpensive communications; it is helping farmers in developing countries tap into market opportunities in the developed world. But the gap between the technological haves and have-nots is widening, both between countries and within them. The Information Revolution, like the French Revolution, is a revolution with a lot of liberti, some fraterniti, and no egaliti. So the poverty line is not the only line about which we have to think; there is also the high-speed digital line, the fibre optic line — all the lines that are transforming so many lives but leaving so many more others out. There are still too many who are literally not plugged in to the possibilities of our brave new world.

It is necessary, too, to tackle poverty on a broad front. After all, what is the use of providing a farmer with high-yielding varieties if his crop cannot fetch a fair price? What is the point of providing development aid when poor countries lose more to trade barriers and declining commodity prices? What could be more cruel than immunising a child only to see it die of starvation? What is the use of education if unemployment is the only reward awaiting the educated?

Indeed, there are broader questions, too, that the U.N. tends to ask whenever poverty is discussed — questions of sustainable development and of good governance — what is the merit of economic growth if it benefits only the rich? Who can sustain creative energy under conditions of instability or corrupt institutions?

There are no simple answers to these complex questions, but the world is rising to the challenge they pose. In doing so, I fee

Source: The Hindu