Real possibility of ending hunger and extreme poverty

A world without hunger and poverty is no longer a dream.    

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, announced last week that the number of people living in extreme poverty has now dropped below one billion – down from two billion in 1990. The 188 nations that own the World Bank have committed it to the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. 

{mosads}The Bank recently asked faith communities for our collaboration in ending extreme poverty. At the spring meetings of the Bank, faith leaders from around the world are committing to help achieve this great liberation. 

As a Christian, I see the progress that the world is making against hunger and poverty as our loving God moving in today’s world. People from other faith traditions have different ways of thinking about it. However, the feasibility of hundreds of millions of people escaping from material misery is, in almost any spiritual or ethical tradition, both wonderful and sacred.

Increased political commitment is crucial to real progress against hunger and poverty. 

Over the last five years, Bread for the World and other faith groups have had to play defense. Powerful forces in the U.S. Congress have been pushing for deep cuts in all the programs that are focused on people in poverty. 

But thanks in part to a coalition of faith leaders and faith-grounded activists across the country, the cuts to these programs have so far been minimal. Remarkably, we have increased U.S. funding for international development assistance in each of the last four years.    

As people of faith learn about the practical possibility of ending hunger and extreme poverty in our generation, many have ramped up their commitments to prayer and activism for changes in public policy. These changes will put us on the path toward ending hunger – worldwide and in the United States itself. 

Ironically, Americans tend to be more pessimistic about poverty in our own country than in the poorer parts of the world. However, since all sorts of countries – from Bangladesh to Brazil to Great Britain – have made strides against poverty, we know that it is also possible in the United States.   

Our country cut the poverty rate in half during the 1960s and early 70s. The U.S. economy was strong and unemployment low, and we launched an array of anti-poverty programs during the Johnson and Nixon administrations.   

However, poverty has not been one of the top-five priorities of the president and Congress since then. The basic reason our nation’s progress against poverty has stalled is that other things have been more important to us. So 49 million Americans, including 15 million children, still live in families that sometimes go hungry.   

This year, Bread for the World and other faith-based groups must again resist a big push in Congress for deep cuts in all the programs that help people in poverty. However, we also see a few opportunities for bipartisan changes for the better. We could see bipartisan legislation in support of continuing U.S. leadership in international efforts to raise the productivity of poor farmers in Africa. Republicans and Democrats may also come together to reduce the exceptional number of Americans in prison. This has become a significant contributor to poverty in many communities. 

As candidates for president launch their campaigns, a coalition of 100 diverse Christian leaders is asking each candidate to appear on camera and explain what he or she would do to provide help and opportunity to hungry and poor people.   

The real possibility of dramatic progress against hunger and poverty is moving many religious believers to insist that our political leaders help to make this dream come true.  

Beckmann, an economist, is president of Bread for the World. He is also a World Food Prize laureate.


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