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International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
                       New York, 17 October 1996
                   Message from James Gustave Speth
Administrator, United Nations Development Programme

Today marks the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
On this day, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
re-dedicates itself to a decade-long, global effort to replace
hunger, helplessness and despair with opportunity, hope and the
promise of a better future. Poverty places an intolerable burden on
the human spirit. We cannot accept that it will always be with us.
The modern world has the resources, the know-how and the expertise
to relegate poverty to the pages of history. That is why UNDP, with
the enthusiastic backing of our Executive Board, has made the fight
against world poverty its central and overriding priority. UNDP now
spends nearly 90 per cent of its core resources in countries with
90 per cent of the world's poorest people. We have committed the
full force of all our energies to the gravest human challenge of
our time--an effort which will also galvanize and energize the
various efforts of the United Nations around a great and just

Picture a moment what being poor really means--beyond the vast
numbers of nameless, faceless people who many think live only in
faraway places. Poverty is a hungry and thirsty child who cannot
understand why there is no food and no water. Poverty is an elderly
woman with no heat in winter, a woman with a lifetime of hard work
behind her and only a damp chill as her reward. Poverty is a
fisherman whose waters--and livelihood--have been spoiled by
pollution through no fault of his own. But being poor is more than
a lack of food, shelter and livelihoods. Poverty means
marginalization--the exclusion of millions of people in countries,
rich and poor, from the benefits of progress. Poverty also means
polarization--the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots,
both between countries and within countries. 

Inequities breed joblessness and hopelessness, anger and
despair--and all too often violence and conflict. The world must
make a place for everyone to share in its bounty. And the poor need
more control over the forces shaping their lives. They need the
opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty and social exclusion
and enter a world of equity and justice. 

The income gap between the richest and poorest 20 per cent of the
world's people has not been narrowing in the past 30 years. It has,
in fact, doubled. Each day, 68,000 people join the ranks of the
poor--families living on less than one dollar a day. Let us ask
ourselves what the future could possibly hold for the children in
these families.

The goal to eradicate extreme poverty is not some lofty idealism
when we see how many industrial countries over the course of this
century have done just that. In this sense, conquering poverty is
not just a moral imperative but a feasible objective.

With the spirit of the 1995 Copenhagen World Summit on Social
Development as our guide and inspiration, UNDP is helping to forge
a world partnership geared to replacing poverty with equity. We
have set our goals to provide sustainable livelihoods, to advance
the well-being of women and to regenerate the environment.

UNDP offices throughout the world are sponsoring and organizing
events to observe the International Day for the Eradication of
Poverty. The activities, which take place during the week of 17-24
October, are designed to encourage and assist governments and their
people to develop national poverty eradication strategies as well
as plans of actions which are comprehensive, participatory and

Within this framework, UNDP is working with governments to help
them identify the nature and scope of poverty in their respective
countries. We are supporting initiatives that provide equitable
access to assets including skills, credit, jobs and sustainable
livelihoods, land and environmental resources, linkages to national
and international markets and information systems, citizenship
rights and legal rights for women and minorities. 

The real potential of the next century will not be found in stocks
or technology or minerals. The real potential of the future will be
found in the three billion people now living in poverty who
collectively represent the greatest potential for growth and
opportunity the world has ever seen.

Unless we address the problems of poverty now, none of the great
goals the international community has set--peace, stability, human
rights for all, preservation of the environment--are achievable in
a world where one half of the people find themselves shut out of
opportunity and the benefits of a global society.

Poverty is the great denier. It denies comfort, dignity, freedom,
participation. Today we deny the great denier its handiwork. I call
upon every individual who cares about justice and human dignity to
join the global campaign to eradicate poverty. We have the
know-how. We have the resources. Today, we need the commitment. 

Choices is published four times a year by the Division of Public
Affairs, United Nations Development Programme, One United Nations
Plaza, New York, New York 10017, USA, 
Tel: (212) 906-5315, Fax: (212) 906-5364,

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 1996 the
International Year for the Eradication of Poverty. UNDP
Administrator James Gustave Speth has adopted poverty eradication
as the organization's "job number one." But what does poverty
really mean? 

When CHOICES asked that question of people around the world, their
answers were often startling in their eloquence and simplicity.
They were also as varied as societies themselves. In many
instances, poverty was defined as a scourge that denies people a
minimum level of income and the basic necessities of life, such as
food, clothing and shelter. But it also went much deeper than that.
One metaphor for poverty that appeared more than once was that of
a dark hole, from which people were unable to emerge. For
indigenous peoples, it meant destruction of nature, which for them
represents wealth. For still others, it meant the loss of freedom,
dignity and basic human rights. Mahatma Gandhi was said to have
described poverty as "the worst form of violence." 

On 17 October, the day set aside to mark the international year,
people around the globe will be launching national campaigns to
fight poverty in all of its forms. As a point of departure, CHOICES
is pleased to present the following essay -- a collection of voices
from around the globe.  

DESCRIBING POVERTY : 61 WAYS                                      
"I have seen poverty all over the world -- villages, suburbs and
cities, at home and abroad. I've seen babies with swollen bellies,
mothers who can't obtain health care for a sick child, girls who
are denied the right to attend school and families who are forced
to live on top of disease-laden sewage canals because they lack the
political clout to bring about change on their own behalf. Poverty
can mean that a child with promise as a pianist will never feel the
keys under her hand and that a father who struggles to earn a
living will never make enough to send a deserving child to high
school or college. It can mean that a community fighting to survive
will not be able to organize itself to confront its social or
economic problems.

"We can only overcome the scourge of poverty if, as a global family
of nations, we commit to investing in the world's greatest
resource: our people. Giving all men, women and children the tools
of opportunity -- education, health care, employment, legal rights
and political freedoms -- does not just serve humanitarian
purposes. It is the key to economic, social and political progress.
When individuals flourish, families flourish. And when families
flourish, communities and nations will flourish as well." --
Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of the USA

"Poverty is the denial of all human rights. It is not created by
the poor. It is created and sustained by the 'system' we have built
around us." -- Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director, Grameen Bank,

"Poverty means you live in huts with grass thatched roofs. The poor
carry water in clay pots rather than in modern but expensive
jerrycans. Even pots used for cooking are homemade. The poor
receive from the rich and have to eat cassava." -- Jackline
Namutosi, age 8, Kampala, Uganda

"Wealth is a blanket we wear (the land). Poverty is to have that
blanket taken away." -- John Hardbattle, founder, First Peoples of
the Kalahari, Botswana

"Poverty to me is the situation of the least developed countries.
The state of these countries is the ultimate test of the world's
social and economic health." -- Kari Nordheim-Larsen, Minister of
Development Cooperation, Norway

"Poverty means ill-health, which prevents you from working." --
Zahida, market vendor, Male, Maldives

"I am cooking now and I don't know when next I'll cook a proper
meal and when I'll be able to live in a proper place; that is
poverty. I am squatting because landlords would not accept me with
eight children. It is depressing and frustrating." -- Shirley
Jupiter, single mother of eight, Ruimveldt squatters settlement,
Georgetown, Guyana

"Poverty ... means powerlessness and low status. It means a culture
of silence. It means bearing children on the street. It means the
lack of privacy, dignity and any kind of security." -- Mahila Milan
(a women's collective of pavement dwellers), Bombay, India

"Poverty to me is being enslaved to seeking a crumb of bread
instead of freedom to love and enjoy life." -- Jalal Baayo,
dentist, Tripoli, Libya

"Poverty, in the end, is a state of dispossession and deprivation
in which people are not only deprived of their income, but also of
opportunity, empowerment and, most important, dignity." -- James
Gustave Speth, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme

"Poverty may be defined as a state of physical, spiritual or
financial deprivation, preventing people from attaining their full
potential and realizing their self-fulfilment." -- Navinchandra
Ramgoolam, Prime Minister of the Republic of Mauritius 

"Poverty is a cancer that gnaws at the fabric of society and
threatens peace on a worldwide scale." -- Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
former President of Haiti

"Poverty means remaining uneducated, working harder, having a low
economic status and a child every year." -- Hira Kumari Maharjan,
age 40, housewife and volunteer social worker, Nepal

"Poverty means never having quite enough to eat." -- Kevin
McDonald, panhandler, New York City

"Poverty is crisis. Beans at 35 lempiras, that alone empties the
account. Giving a child half an egg because of how much they cost
-- that, too, is poverty, and then they don't even let us work." --
María Antonia Padilla, fruit seller and single mother with three
dependent children, Tegucigalpa, Honduras 

"Watching my mother struggle on little or nothing to provide her
children with a decent standard of living." -- Anonymous student,
age 13, Barbados

"An individual living in a state of poverty is unable to provide
for his or her most basic necessities: food, shelter and clothing.
The inherent potential of a human being never gets an opportunity
to emerge as life becomes a constant struggle for survival." --
Arzu Rana Deuba, First Lady of Nepal

"To me real poverty is a poor woman. If she who bears the brunt of
poverty becomes poor, then humankind is finished. I say this
because the problems of poverty are always dumped on women. They
usually do a good job anyway, so humankind survives." -- Baboucar
Gaye, journalist, the Gambia

"Poverty is a woman sending her children out to beg in traffic
rather than to school because otherwise there will be nothing to
eat. The mother knows she is repeating a cycle that trapped her,
but there is no way out that she can see." -- Alicia Gentolia,
urban social worker, Philippines

"Poverty is not realizing your own intrinsic wealth." -- Murray
Hochman, artist, New York City 

"Poverty is being stuck in a deep hole, being able to see the light
and people freely walking around, but not having the voice to shout
for help or a ladder to climb out." -- Abdulrazak Raubi, systems
analyst, Zueitina Oil Company, Tripoli, Libya

"Poverty is the situation of someone who has no support and no one
they can count on for the future." -- Anonymous, Kayesi, Mali

"Poverty means that God forgives our thefts." -- Tony, homeless
"street kid," age 10, Angola

"Poverty to me is the impossibility of living in your own home. It
is life in a refugee camp and the lack of opportunity for my
children to get a proper education." -- Vugar Ibrahimov, age 42,
refugee from Azerbaijan       

"Poverty is having to take from the rich to be able to eat." --
John Rodriguez, homeless "street kid," age 12, Bogotá, Colombia

"Poverty is what forced me to leave school and work in the central
market."--Anonymous, age 15, Bahrain

"Poverty expands whenever society sinfully undermines the human
right to realize oneself spiritually, socially and economically."
-- Halfdan Mahler, MD, Director-General Emeritus, World Health

"If I have food, music and brandy, there is no poverty for me." --
Anonymous Gypsy, Bulgaria

"Poverty is the squatter mother whose hut has been torn down by the
government for reasons she cannot understand. That night she sits
amid the ruins of her home, listening to her children coughing in
the dark. She doesn't know what will happen the next day, but she
fears it will be worse than what happened that day." -- Dennis
Murphy, Coordinator, Urban Poor Associates, the Philippines

"For me poverty is a kind of deprivation from something which every
human being has a natural right to have... the poverty of the
lonely, the unloved, the outcast -- the unwanted -- who are hungry
not only for bread but for love. I think the poorest of the poor
are those who are not yet touched -- rather, those who have not
allowed themselves to be touched -- by God's love...." -- Mother
Teresa, Calcutta, India

"Poverty means waking up without perspective. It is a state in
which you feel degraded, and as a result, rejected by society.
Poverty robs you of your aspirations for the future." -- Zelda
Alfred, Representative of Tobago's Association of NGOs, Trinidad
and Tobago

"Poverty is lack of opportunity, lack of freedom. It is hunger and
malnutrition, disease and lack of basic social services. It is a
policy failure that degrades people -- those who suffer it, and
those who tolerate it. It is an equity gap between countries and
within countries. Poverty is still the gravest insult to human
dignity. Poverty is the scar on humanity's face." -- Gro Harlem
Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway

"Poverty to me means working for more than 18 hours per day, but
still not earning enough to feed myself, my wife and two children."
-- Rudeen Kean, age 28, cyclo driver, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

"Poverty is the destruction of nature: the forest, land, animals,
rivers and lakes." -- Elsa Scadd, Amerindian, age 66, Amerindian
Research Unit, University of Guyana, Guyana

"Poverty means that your children are crying and you have nothing
to feed them." -- Nadejda Chirica, Deputy Chief, Division of the
Department of Foreign Economic Relations, Ministry of Economy,
Chisinau, Moldova

"Poverty is to be marginalized, to be deprived of the freedom to
choose and of the hope for change. Suppressing the reality of
poverty is the strongest shield of the privileged against change.
This is true for nations and for individuals. Change is a moral
imperative." -- Poul Nielson, Minister for Development Cooperation,

"Poverty is hunger, illness and the lack of opportunity for a child
to reach his or her potential." -- Charles F. MacCormack,
President, Save the Children Foundation, USA

"Poverty is a serious crime. It causes you to do bad things. It
encourages people to live in bondage." -- Dembo Singhateh, the

"Poverty is a hidden feeling of inferiority which makes a person
feel different from others...."--Dahi L. Al-Fadhli, economist,
NADINE GORDIMER ON POVERTY                                        

I like the bold concept of a year dedicated to the eradication of
poverty, the refusal to throw up hands, internationally, and accept
that a certain level of poverty has been part of the human
condition since Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise, and will be
with us forever. 

Others better qualified than I will point out how the untapped
and/or wasted resources of the world, in its soil and in its seas,
could indeed eradicate what the term "poverty" means as it is
immediately conceived: lack of food. Feed the world, and that will
be the end of poverty. And, of course, no one could argue that
sustenance itself is not the priority. And that, further, with the
wars that plague us, in the case of the communities of the
oppressed and the communities of the aggressors, ordinary people
are starving victims alike, and must be succoured without moral
discrimination. To quote Bertolt Brecht in my own rough
translation: "First fill the belly, then talk right and wrong."

But poverty has aspects other than lack of bread or rice or maize
meal -- basics that keep the body alive.

In my own country, South Africa, lack of clean water has become one
of the definitions of poverty, existing in communities that
nevertheless have enough to eat.

The apartheid regime callously accepted that this kind of poverty,
among others, was the lot of black communities; a trickle in a
polluted river bed serving as both drinking water and for washing
clothes and flesh was the reticulation available to them. An
academic named Kader Asmal came back from political exile and as
Minister of Water Affairs in our government led by the African
National Congress defined this aspect of poverty. In two years he
has established installations that pipe clean water to thousands of
people who never before had access to it.

Food and water; they go together in eliminating the material
aspects of poverty, along with shelter. For a long period, for many
people in the more prosperous parts of the modern world,
homelessness was something that existed elsewhere. It was truly a
Third World phenomenon. The few clochards in Paris, picturesque
rather than a matter for social conscience, the panhandlers as part
of the tough bums-and-millionaires character of New York--at home,
theirs was token destitution that could be bought off with a
handful of small change. But now the Third World of poverty rather
than geographical definition is everywhere; every city in the world
is a warren of people with nowhere to live. Plastic and cardboard
shelters are the defining architectural style of the late 20th
century. Feed the world, and that will not be the end of poverty
while men, women and their children squat in mud and dust, sun and

Even beyond these material manifestations is another poverty. I
want to speak of the deprivation of the intellect, of the world of
ideas, from which millions suffer often without knowing it,
condemned to plod through their lives at the lowest level of human
consciousness. This goes beyond mere ignorance, though it begins
with the fact of vast-spread illiteracy; many who can read and
write can do so only listlessly in respect of the most humdrum
demands of daily life. 

The exploration of the truly human fullness of existence and of the
ever-expanding limits of our consciousness with conceptual tools
that rouse curiosity, wonderment at why we are here on earth, what
influences and forms our attitudes to one another, to other
creatures, to that layer of being, our environment, which encases
us -- the mind that has no access to these, no access to music
beyond pop jingles, literature beyond the bubble text of comics,
beauty of form beyond the poses of cover girls, is in a state of
poverty. First feed the belly, then talk aesthetics? Yes. But let
us understand poverty as the sum of all its hungers, the conscious
and the unconscious ones of its victims. Our responsibility is
all-encompassing, this and every year.

Nadine Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.
RRojas Research Unit/1997