chapter  2
1 Pages

The History of the Income Poverty MDG

The history of the MDGs in general, and of the poverty income goal in particular, is a story that reflects the evolution of, and debates within, thinking in development studies and policy. In trying to understand MDG 1 more deeply in terms of the origins of the initiative, MDG 1 needs to be connected to its evolution through the 1990s from the OECD International Development Goals (IDGs) to a UN MDG. Indeed, MDG 1 should not be seen as a final end or a snapshot in time (not least because it is only halving global poverty); rather, MDG 1, its precursor as an OECD IDG and ensuing future initiatives in any post-2015 framework can be interpreted as part of a fluid and evolving process through which the world increasingly seeks collaborative action to reduce poverty and deprivation. In short, a process of “norm-generation” (Fukuda-Parr and Hulme 2011), in which the ways that poverty is conceived of and measured continue to be contested, but one measure-the dollar-a-day-becomes iconic and the “first among equals” in terms of the set of goals. The 1990s were characterized by a rapid evolution in thinking about poverty. This was epitomized,

for example, by the launch of the UNDP’s (1990-present) Human Development Report (HDR) series and by the World Bank’s World Development Reports on poverty (World Bank 1990-present). More generally, such evolution took place in the global policy arena in a succession of international summits of the UN and beyond, especially in the first half of the 1990s. Probably the most significant of these in framing what would later become MDG 1 was the Copenhagen World Summit on Social Development (WSSD) in 1995, which provided a seminal contribution in elevating poverty as a core issue alongside other human development dimensions (e.g. education, health). Yet no specific objectives, targets and metrics were envisioned by the final declaration from the WSSD, which called for an aim of “poverty eradication”. Concurrent with the WSSD process, at the High-Level Meeting of the Ministers of Development

Cooperation of the OECD-DAC members in 1996, a major publication was launched that included a list of seven IDGs1 (OECD 1996). Among them was the goal framed as “… the proportion of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries should be reduced by at least one-half by 2015” (OECD 1996, 9). Importantly, the two frameworks set out different scopes for poverty action: the IDG goal was both

more specific and in some ways narrower than the broader goal of the WSSD. While the WSSD called for the complete eradication of poverty, the IDG document envisioned the halving of “extreme” poverty. Also, the UN approach was generally framed around a human rights approach, while the DAC’s was more “technical” in nature. Finally, they diverged in the level at which goals are set. For the UN, individual governments should be the duty holders in terms of dates, targets and related planning; for the DAC, the goals are global in scope and thus their duty holders were somewhat ambiguous. Both the UN and DAC had attempted to set “authoritative” development goals related to poverty reduction, creating the possibility of two different sets of goals, from two different sources and perspectives (see discussion in Hulme 2009). In March 2000 the UN Secretary General launched a report, We the Peoples: The Role of the United

Nations in the twenty-first Century (UN 2000a). The report proposed some amendments to the set of goals as listed by the IDGs as well as the UNDP, and on poverty reduction the Secretary General stated: “I call on the international community [… ] to adopt the target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, and so lifting more than 1 billion people out of it, by 2015” (UN 2000a, 12). In other words, the report supported the IDG-sponsored poverty goal. The reconciliation between the approaches was also advanced by the WSSD summit’s follow-up in

2000 in Geneva, which called for “… policies and strategies to reduce the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by one half by the year 2015” (UN 2000b, 18). The goal had moved towards the OECD-DAC version both by explicitly describing “extreme” poverty as the target and by moving from eradication to halving poverty as the target. The Geneva event and its outcome declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly preceded the Millennium Declaration in September 2000, by only a few months, hence laying the basis for MDG 1/Target 1 on poverty. The declaration was an attempt to unify the global development agenda, with the UN seeking to be the global agenda-setter,

National or international poverty lines or both 133