Bono says Yes We Can end extreme poverty while UN reports Why We Might Not

Flickr, Phil Romans

Bono loves data and said so in his February TED talk, which was recently released in video. He says the promise of ending extreme poverty turns him on.

“If the trajectory continues we get to the ‘zero zone.’ For number crunchers like us, that is the erogenous zone,” says Bono. “And it’s fair to say, by now, that I am sexually aroused by the collating of data.”

Extreme poverty has been halved from 43% of the world in 1990 to 21% by 2000. The current trends show that extreme poverty could end by 2030, say the World Bank, ONE and CGD.

However, the most recent data (aka UNDP’s Human Development Report (HDR) 2013) suggests that ending extreme poverty will get harder if we don’t take more action:

“Environmental inaction, especially regarding climate change, has the potential to halt or even reverse human development progress. The number of people in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless environmental disasters are averted by co-ordinated global action,” says the report.

The report includes the annual Human Development Index (HDI), a measure of the development progress of 187 countries. Bono and UNDP both agree that there have been impressive global gains against extreme poverty over the past few decades. However, the driver of the change comes from the larger countries like India, Brazil and China. Meanwhile, smaller countries are not left behind. Rwanda, Angola, Niger and Mail join ten other countries that have improved by an annual rate of over 2% each year in the HDI since 2000.

Dominican Republic
Dominican Republic

Countries like the United States, Norway and Australia rank high on the index, but it changes when inequalities are taken into account. For example, the United States falls from second overall to sixteenth when inequality is taken into account.  The overall HDI for the US is 0.94, but it is not the case for all groups. For example, Latino residents average 0.75 and African-Americans average 0.70.

South Asia is home to the most number of people living in poverty with an estimated 612 million multidimensionally poor living in India. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) found that African countries carried the highest percentages of ‘MPI poor’ with Ethiopia and Libera having populations where over 80% face multidimensional poverty.

Both Bono and the UNDP argue that the momentum building since 1990 must be maintained so that the gains against poverty are not lost. Bono names the Global Fund as an important institution and points towards the success of child mortality where rates have declined over the past decade so that 7,265 fewer children die each day.

“Have you read anything, anywhere in the last week that is remotely as important as that number?” he exclaims to the audience.

What stand in the way of getting into Bono’s ‘zero zone?’ He cites corruption, inequality and apathy. The answers? Technology, transparency and investment. The base of the solution is to do what the ONE Campaign has been doing for the past few years, advocate to politicians to continue funding lifesaving programs like the Global Fund.

The HDR focuses on different areas. It says there are four areas for maintaining development momentum:

enhancing equity, including on the gender dimension; enabling greater voice and participation of citizens, including youth; confronting environmental pressures; and managing demographic change.

Environmental change stands as one of the most significant obstacles, says the report. “Although low HDI countries contribute the least to global climate change, they are likely to experience the greatest loss in annual rainfall and the sharpest increases in its variability, with dire implications for agricultural production and livelihoods,” says the report. It puts greater pressure on developing countries who face problems like food insecurity.Untitled

The solutions to reducing poverty are sometimes counter-intuitive. The report cites the example of Mexico using conditional cash transfers to improve child health and the explosion of mobile banking in Kenya. The evidence points to the fact that solutions are coming from the global South.

“The countries of the South have thus been using their own ideas and energy to create a new momentum for human development,” says the report.

Better coordination and support will ensure that the four target areas can be met, says UNDP Administrator Helen Clark in the introduction to the report.

“Many other countries across the South have seen rapid development, and their experiences and South–South cooperation are equally an inspiration to development policy,” she writes.

That sentiment is found in the closing of the report. It shows an optimism that fostering South-South relationships can propel global development forward. For Bono, it is the people who ultimately hold the power to end extreme poverty.

“We are going to win, if we work together as one. Because the power of the people is so much stronger than the people in power,” he says to close out his talk.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]