Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble


Lester R. Brown

Chapter 7. Eradicating Poverty, Stabilizing Population: Introduction

The new century began on an inspiring note when the countries that belong to the United Nations adopted the goal of cutting the number of people living in poverty in half by 2015. And as of 2005, the world is ahead of schedule for reaching this goal. There are two big reasons for this: China and India. China’s economic growth of 9 percent a year over the last quarter-century and India’s acceleration to close to 6 percent a year over the last decade are together lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. 1

In China, the number living in poverty dropped from 648 million in 1981 to 218 million in 2001, the greatest reduction in poverty in history. India is also making impressive progress on the economic front. Under the dynamic new leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who took office in 2004, and his skilled team, poverty is being attacked directly by upgrading infrastructure at the village level. Targeted investments are aimed at the poorest of the poor. If the international community actively reinforces this effort in reform-minded India, hundreds of millions more could be lifted out of poverty. 2

It is time for the international community to make sure that India has the resources needed to maintain the momentum it has built. With India now on the move economically, the world can then begin to concentrate intensively on the remaining poverty concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa and a scattering of smaller countries in Latin America and Central Asia.

Several countries in Southeast Asia are making impressive gains as well, including Thailand, Viet Nam, and Indonesia. Barring any major economic setbacks, these gains in Asia virtually ensure that the U.N. Millennium Development Goal for reducing poverty by 2015 will be reached. 3

That is the good news. The bad news is that sub-Saharan Africa—with 750 million people—is sliding deeper into poverty. Hunger, illiteracy, and disease are on the march, offsetting some of the gains in China and India. Africa, selected as a focus of discussion at the G-8 meeting in July 2005, needs special attention. 4

In an increasingly integrated world, eradicating poverty and stabilizing population are national security issues. Slowing population growth helps eradicate poverty and its distressing symptoms, and, conversely, eradicating poverty helps slow population growth. With time running out, the urgency of moving simultaneously on both fronts is clear.

In addition to the goal of cutting the number of people living in poverty in half by 2015, the other U.N. Millennium Development Goals include cutting the number who are hungry in half, achieving universal primary school education, providing access to safe drinking water for all, and reversing the spread of infectious diseases, especially HIV and malaria. Closely related to these are the goals of reducing maternal mortality by three fourths and under-five child mortality by two thirds. 5

While goals for cutting poverty in half by 2015 appear to be running slightly ahead of schedule, those for halving the number of hungry are not. The number of children with a primary school education appears to be increasing substantially, however, largely on the strength of progress in India. And mortality of children under five fell from 15 million in 1980 to 11 million in 2003 and is expected to continue falling. 6


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