With concerted effort, poverty, suffering can be sharply reduced

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December 15, 2014

In Edmonton, significant progress has made been in eliminating homelessness. The WCR's last issue reported that since the city began its Ten-Year-Plan to End Homelessness five years ago, more than 3,200 formerly homeless people have been housed and 84 per cent of those people have successfully retained their housing. As well, in the first several years of the initiative, the number using overnight shelters declined, a situation that has changed this year due to the large influx of people seeking jobs here.

The success of the Edmonton initiative shows that, while eliminating homelessness may be impossible, genuine progress in overcoming seemingly intractable social problems can be made if a community forms the will to do so.

Examined globally, progress is being made in realizing at least six of the eight millennium development goals (MDGs) established in 1990. On the key goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, major reductions have been made over the past 24 years in every part of the world, except sub-Saharan Africa. For example, according to the UN Development Program (UNDP), about 173 million fewer people suffered from chronic hunger in 2011-13 than in 1990-92.

In terms of other MDGs, a higher percentage of children today receive a primary education, child mortality has been markedly reduced, gender equality has increased as has maternal health, and the incidence of deadly diseases has been reduced.

However, the amount of overseas development assistance from wealthier nations has increased only marginally. The only significant setback has been with environmental sustainability where global carbon dioxide emissions are almost 50 per cent greater than their 1990 totals.

The UNDP does not relate the reasons for improved social situations – such reasons are complex and beyond any reasonable effort to quantify. All one can say is that, while the world has a long way to go to eliminate its worst forms of social suffering, progress is being made.

Perhaps this realization can encourage individuals, organizations and governments to re-double their efforts to meet the diverse needs of the poor, both in Canada and abroad. In Canada, more than 841,000 people – a population almost as large as that of Edmonton – use a food bank every month.

Food Banks Canada argues that number can be cut with more affordable housing, improved literacy, more effective social assistance, better supports for low-income families with children and a clearer focus on reducing the extremely high rates of food insecurity in Canada's North.

This plan should not be ignored. We know concerted efforts can make a difference to the suffering experienced by our brothers and sisters. It is incumbent upon us and our governments to make those efforts.