According to calculations by Dr Gideon Polya, over 17 million ‘avoidable deaths’ occur every year as a consequence of life-threatening deprivation, mainly in low-income countries. As the term suggests, these preventable deaths occur simply because millions of people live in conditions of extreme deprivation and therefore cannot afford access to the essential goods and services that people in wealthier countries have long taken for granted.
46,500 lives are needlessly wasted every day – innocent men, women and children who might otherwise have contributed to the cultural and economic development of the world in unimaginable ways. This annual preventable death rate far outweighs the fatalities from any other single event in history since the Second World War, and around half of those affected are young children. Given today’s technological advancements and humanity’s combined available wealth of $263 trillion, it’s perhaps no exaggeration to suggest that the magnitude of these avoidable deaths is tantamount to a global genocide or holocaust.
The World Bank’s definition of what constitutes ‘extreme’ poverty is now based on an international poverty line of $1.90-a-day (previously $1.25-a-day).
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) argue that only by using a higher threshold of $5-a-day would it be possible to fulfil the right to “a standard of living adequate for… health and well-being” – as set out in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights more than 65 years ago. Poverty at this slightly higher level of income has consistently increased between 1981 and 2010, rising from approximately 3.3 billion to almost 4.2 billion over that period.
If the Millennium Campaign had used this more appropriate poverty threshold, MDG-1 would clearly not have been met: rather than halving the number of people living without sufficient means for survival, there are 14% more people living in $5-a-day poverty now than in 1990.
ActionAid and others rightly suggest, however, a $10-a-day benchmark may be a far more a realistic measure of poverty when comparing lifestyles in rich and poor countries, which would mean that an alarming 5.2 billion people live still in poverty today.