DECATUR, Georgia — An end to global poverty certainly sounds both daunting and expensive, considering that more than three billion people live on the equivalent of less than $2.50 per day. To complicate the problem, solving poverty is not simply a matter of increasing the average income of the poor–it is also about improving their quality of life by providing adequate housing and utilities such as electricity, proper sanitation, access to health care and sufficient nutrition.
Yet doing all of that is much more feasible than many might expect. According to a 1998 United Nations estimate, providing education, water, sanitation, nutrition and basic health care to the entire population of every developing country would cost $40 billion. Adjusted for inflation, the cost to end global poverty would be approximately $58 billion today.
In 2012 alone, the 100 richest people in the world earned a combined $240 billion, over four times the estimated amount required to end global poverty. Alarmed by the widening chasm between those living in “extreme wealth” and extreme poverty, Oxfam has called on world leaders to close the global wealth gap by implementing measures such as a worldwide minimum tax on corporations, expanding free public services around the globe, and adjusting wages to be proportional to capital profits.
Another way to raise the money necessary to eradicate poverty would be to eliminate global tax havens, or states that collect little to no taxation in an attempt to woo corporations and wealthy individuals to their soil. By banning this practice, an extra $189 billion in tax would be collected annually–enough to end global poverty three times over.
Jeremy Hobbs of Oxfam notes that “we can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for a few will inevitably benefit the many. Too often, the reverse is true.”
Of course, Oxfam is not the only organization striving to end global poverty. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is first on the list of the UN’s eight millennium goals. In 2010, five years ahead of schedule, the UN celebrated reaching its target of cutting poverty rates in half. Despite this achievement, there is still work to be done. Although fewer people now live in “extreme poverty”–that is, on $1.25 or less per day–than they did in 1990, 1.2 billion people still experience that condition.
That is a lot of people, and lifting them out of poverty is certainly no small task, yet it is a task that is much more doable than many people might think. If our billionaires chipped in a fraction of their incomes or if governments worldwide made some selective reforms, we would collectively have the money in very little time. Using that money to build schools, health clinics and houses would be a much longer process, but one from which the world’s poor would benefit immensely.