The Tyranny of Poverty

cristina-diez-atd-fourth-worldby Cristina Diez. Twitter: @ALifeInDignity

The second session of the high-level political forum (HLPF) to take place after the adoption of Agenda 2030 will be hosted in New York in July 2017 and will focus on the issues: “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world”. The first two words of this theme are especially relevant, as the Agenda recognizes that “eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge[1].

The second idea of the theme — promoting prosperity — won’t help the agenda, as parts of the world have prospered for many years while depleting planetary resources and increasing inequality.

Prosperity is positive only if it is shared; otherwise it is a tool for domination and exclusion.

But it is the third idea — in a changing world — that I would like to address. The world is certainly changing, and with the results of the November elections in the United States, many people have the feeling that the world as they know it is falling apart. But for people living in extreme poverty, for those who are so isolated, excluded, and impoverished that their destitution is passed from one generation to the next, the world doesn’t seem to change. Dictatorships and democracies come and go, political parties come and go, international agendas come and go, and they are as poor and excluded as their parents were. Technology may shape the world around them, but they continue to walk long distances to fetch water, to sleep in the streets, to lose their children to preventable diseases or to child services, and to live in shame and humiliation.

This year’s HLPF could change this situation by creating the space and the conditions to enable people living in extreme poverty to participate [2] in monitoring and reviewing the agenda.

Obviously this participation is not easy, but it is possible[3] and should start at the local level and build up towards the national and international levels. We encourage Member States to include in their delegations people with direct experience of poverty. We also encourage governments to hold open, transparent, and participatory national reviews, first because governments are primarily accountable to their citizens; and second because the fifteen-minute review at the HLPF session is inadequate.

Nevertheless, participation should not start and end with the national reviews; it should be embedded in the whole process, beginning with planning, and following with implementation.

Let’s remind governments that they have agreed in goal 16.7 of the Agenda for Sustainable Development to “ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels[4] and that they have also agreed to implement all the “integrated and indivisible[5] goals and targets. The consensus that emerged among people living in poverty in the participatory research Challenge 2015: Towards Sustainable Development that Leaves No One Behind points to participatory good governance as one of the key elements necessary to eradicate poverty. In this regard we regret that goal 16 is not scheduled for review during the 2017 HLPF because poverty, a multidimensional reality, is not only about material deprivation but also about lack of political voice and power.

Following are four charts[7]:


These charts show us that there is poverty in all countries, including the richest and most prosperous, like Norway and Belgium; that relative poverty rates remain high in many countries, including Portugal, Belgium and Slovenia where 13.5, 10 and 9.5 percent (respectively) of the population live in poverty; and that poverty and inequality have increased in many developed countries in recent years. As these countries will be taking the floor during the 2017 HLPF, we look forward to learning about the results of their national voluntary reviews. We hope they take seriously the challenge of reducing poverty and inequality and present new policies and programs that open up dialogue to foster the participation of all people, especially of those who have direct knowledge of poverty because they suffer it in their daily lives. And it is this suffering that governments made a commitment to end when they agreed “to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty[8].

Cristina Diez is the main representative of the International Movement ATD Fourth World to the United Nations and the Director of International Relations Training in New York. In her role she coordinates a team that follows sustainable development, social development, financing for development and human rights.

[1] Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015, A/RES/70/1, 21 October 2015, page 1

[2] For more information about participation visit

[3] For guidelines about participation of people living in extreme poverty consult: Making Human Rights Work for People Living in Extreme Poverty

[4] Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015, A/RES/70/1, 21 October 2015, page 25

[5] Ibid, Preamble

[6] Source: OECD Income Distribution Database (IDD)

[8] Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015, A/RES/70/1, 21 October 2015, Preamble



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