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2017 as the Year of Poverty Alleviation: Links and problems

2017 has been declared the ‘Year of Poverty Alleviation’ by President Maithripala Sirisena and a committee, headed by the Minister of Special Assignments, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, has been appointed to oversee the implementation of programmes relevant to poverty alleviation. The declaration provides a clear policy directive for prioritising poverty as a national issue. In the light of this, it is useful to look at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the concept of Leave No One Behind (LNOB) as a key principle in tackling poverty.

The SDGs were brought into effect on the January 1st 2016 and are currently in their first 1,000 days of implementation. With seventeen goals and one hundred and sixty-nine targets, the goals aim to "end poverty and hunger, in all forms and dimensions and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment."

The SDGs were born out of the failure of the MDGs to reach those who are marginalised. They leave behind the top-down processes that were central to the MDGs and turn to more holistic and inclusive goals. The SDGs address multidimensional needs, from poverty to the environment, as opposed to the MDGs which were relatively limited in their scope. It is in keeping with this universal nature of the goals that the concept of LNOB was integrated into the SDGs. LNOB recognises that "no goal should be met unless it is met for everyone," and that specific interventions are needed to target the poorest of the poor.

What is the link between LNOB and poverty reduction? The underlying rationale behind the principle of LNOB is to ensure that the SDGs: target all people without bias or discrimination, go beyond ‘averages’, and address inequalities of opportunities and outcomes. LNOB commits to reaching the ‘furthest behind first’, by prioritising those worse off, and in most need of help. It thus specifically expresses an intent to identify groups of the poor who are often unnoticed, and recongnises the need to address the inequalities in opportunities and outcomes these groups face.

The principle of LNOB is thus important for poverty reduction in that it recognises that specific groups are excluded by inequalities in opportunities and outcomes and that this needs to be addressed by designing development goals that aim to address the issues faced by the poor and vulnerable. This recognition is important in identifying those at the very bottom and in starting conversations among policy makers, researchers and the media about who is being left behind. This is potentially the link between the SDG principle and the declaration of 2017 as the Year of Poverty Alleviation by President Maithripala Sirisena.

However, this link is not a new one in Sri Lanka. Most tested poverty reduction programmes such as Samurdhi have been implemented for many decades. However, many groups, such as the working poor, female headed households, groups of the elderly and the destitute, to name a few, continue to remain outside of Samurdhi and other state-funded programmes that specifically aim to target poor and vulnerable groups. The fact that these categories of the poor, who face multiple vulnerabilities continue to remain outside of the very programmes that aim to target them, raises critical questions related to; how the poor are defined and poverty measured, beneficiary targeting and implementation of programme interventions, and graduation or exit out of the programmes for beneficiaries who no longer meet the programme criteria. These categories of the near poor, may not fall within the ‘furthest behind’ definition, but are nevertheless vulnerable to fall into poverty due to their inability to absorb household or community level shocks like inflation, death of an income earner or a natural or man-made disaster which bears on their livelihoods and contributes to them falling into poverty suddenly. These categories of the vulnerable near poor need to be targeted too if poverty reduction is to be meaningful and sustained in the long term. In this respect the idea of ‘going beyond averages’ in the LNOB must be interpreted broadly to include those households that are on the brink of poverty to effectively and efficiently reduce the number of those that are not only in poverty now but those who are likely to fall into poverty in the near future.

This is the 1st article of a series of four articles by the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) on ‘Leave No One Behind (LNOB)’.

Source: The Island