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Rising poverty a ‘moral indictment of our times’: Guterres 

A homeless family in Yangon in Myanmar has few social support structures it can call on.
ILO Photo/Marcel Crozet
A homeless family in Yangon in Myanmar has few social support structures it can call on.

Rising poverty a ‘moral indictment of our times’: Guterres 

Human Rights

For the first time in two decades, extreme poverty is on the rise, the UN chief said in his message released on Friday, marking the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, on 17 October. 


Describing current levels of poverty as “a moral indictment of our times”, Secretary-General António Guterres said that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on economies and societies around the world, with some 120 million more people falling into poverty last year. 

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“A lopsided recovery is further deepening inequalities between the Global North and South”, said Mr. Guterres. “Solidarity is missing in action – just when we need it most”. 

Fighting two battles 

The fight against poverty must also be a battle against inequality. 

The UN chief said that vaccine inequality has enabled COVID variants to mutate and “run wild”, condemning the world to millions more deaths, and prolonging an economic slowdown that could cost trillions of dollars.   

“We must end this outrage, tackle debt distress and ensure recovery investment in countries with the greatest need”, he spelled out. 

‘Building forward better’ 

Mr. Guterres outlined a three-pronged global recovery approach to ‘Building Forward Better’ that begins with stronger political will and partnerships to achieve universal social protection by 2030. 

For a transformative recovery to end to the endemic structural disadvantages and inequalities that perpetuated poverty even before the pandemic, the world must invest in job re-skilling for the growing green economy, according to the UN chief. 

“And we must invest in quality jobs in the care economy, which will promote greater equality and ensure everyone receives the dignified care they deserve”, he said. 

Raising women up 

Recovery must be inclusive so as not to leave so many behind, “increasing the vulnerability of already marginalized groups, and pushing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ever further out of reach”, Mr. Guterres added. 

“The number of women in extreme poverty far outpaces that of men. Even before the pandemic, the 22 richest men in the world had more wealth than all the women in Africa – and that gap has only grown”, he upheld, adding, “we cannot recover with only half our potential”.  

Economic investments must target women entrepreneurs; formalize the informal sector; focus on education, social protection, universal childcare, health care and decent work; and bridge the digital divide, including its deep gender dimension, he said.  

Building momentum 

To build a resilient, decarbonized and net-zero world, the recovery must be sustainable, which was the UN chief’s third point. 

He urged everyone to “listen far more” to those living in poverty, address indignities and “dismantle barriers” to inclusion, in every society.  

“Today and every day, let us join hands to end poverty and create a world of justice, dignity and opportunity for all.” 

The majority of people in Madagascar live in extreme poverty.
ILO/Marcel Crozet
The majority of people in Madagascar live in extreme poverty.

Help on the ground 

In his message, UN Development Programme (UNDP) chief Achim Steiner spoke of numerous initiatives underway to help communities to Build Forward Better. 

Against the backdrop that “people living in poverty are bearing the brunt of changing climate”, he pointed to UNDP’s Strategic Plan 2022-2025 as a “bold pledge to lift 100 million people out of multidimensional poverty”. 

Describing access to renewable energy as a “vital lever” to creating decent green jobs while driving down carbon emissions, Mr. Achim echoed UNDP’s ambitious commitment to work with partners to provide 500 million additional people with access to clean, affordable energy by 2025.  

“Efforts like the UNDP Climate Promise are vital, helping 120 countries to reduce emissions while boosting the resilience of vulnerable communities” and also “helping to end poverty and shaping a future that will balance the needs of both people and planet”, he said. 

Renewing commitments 

The International Day can be traced back to 17 October 1987, when more than 100,000 people gathered at the Trocadéro in Paris – where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 – to honour the victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger.  

They proclaimed poverty a violation of human rights, affirmed the need to ensure respect for these rights, and inscribed their commitments on a commemorative stone – replicas of which have been unveiled around the world, including in the garden of UN Headquarters in New York. 

Since then, people have gathered every year on 17 October to show their solidarity with the poor.  

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