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On Ending World Poverty, Obama Urges Against Complacency

  • Aru Pande

President Barack Obama addresses the 2015 Sustainable Development Summit, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, at United Nations headquarters.

President Barack Obama addresses the 2015 Sustainable Development Summit, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, at United Nations headquarters.

U.S. President Barack Obama says the world has much more work to do when it comes to eradicating extreme poverty around the world.

“Right now, some 800 million men, women and children are scraping by on less than $1.25 a day. Imagine that. Gripped by the ache of an empty stomach,” Obama said.

Just hours after arriving in New York City Sunday to attend the United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. president urged the world to act during the closing session of the Sustainable Development summit.

“We can take pride in what we have accomplished, but we can not be complacent.” Obama said. “When 11 boys and girls die every single minute from preventable causes, we know we have more work to do.”

World leaders came together to approve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including ending poverty, achieving gender equality and protecting oceans and terrestrial ecosystems on the sidelines of the UNGA.

Development progress

The global initiative builds on the Millennium Development Goals established in 2000, with 2015 as the target year of, among others, cutting extreme poverty rates in half, halting the spread of HIV and AIDs, and increasing gender parity in primary school enrollment.

In his remarks Sunday, President Obama highlighted the “historic achievements” of the 15-year MDG effort that focused on eight aspirational goals.

“Because the world came together in an unprecedented effort, the global hunger rate already has been slashed. Tens of millions of more boys and girls are today in school,” Obama said. “Prevention and treatment of measles and malaria and tuberculosis have saved nearly 60 million lives.”

The United Nations says that since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than one-half, from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015.

The U.N. also cites child mortality statistics that show the rate of children dying before their fifth birthday has declined by more than one-half.

While President Obama noted that such progress shows “development works,” he said it is a “moral outrage” that hundreds of millions of people continue to live in extreme poverty without proper infrastructure.

Development threats

To rousing applause at the United Nations, Obama said Sunday he is committing the United States to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

“As long as I am president and well after I am done being president, I will keep fighting for the education and housing and health care and jobs that reduce inequality and create opportunity here in the United States and around the world,” Obama said.

The president said the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development cannot be achieved without confronting “insidious threats” including bad governance, a message he also honed during a July trip to Kenya.

“In the face of corruption that siphons billions away from schools and hospitals and infrastructure into foreign bank accounts, governments have to embrace transparency and open government and rule of law,” Obama said.

The American leader said development, including in the United States, also is threatened by income and gender inequality.

Obama hit out against what he called old attitudes that deny rights and opportunity to women. It’s an issue he has raised before in speeches during visits this year to India and Africa.

“Globally, women are less likely to have a job than men, and are more likely to live in poverty,” the president said. “I have said this before and I will keep repeating it. One of the best indicators of whether a country will succeed is how it treats its women.”

President Obama took time out of his speech to urge greater investment in Africa, while also calling for urgent aid to respond to the current refugee crisis - a byproduct of yet another threat to development – war.

He concluded his remarks by highlighting the threat of climate change.
“The world’s poorest people will bear the heaviest burden from rising seas and more intense droughts, shortages of water and food. We will be seeing climate change refugees,” Obama said.

The American president invoked the words of Pope Francis and said fighting climate change “is a moral calling.” He urged the world to unite around a strong, global agreement at the December United Nations climate conference in Paris.

“We need to establish the tools and financing to help developing nations embrace clean energy, adapt to climate change, and ensure that there is not a false choice between economic development and the best practices that can save our planet.”

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