Global Issues TED Talks

What does extreme poverty look like today? Some nuanced and insightful readings

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Bono-at-TED2013In today’s talk, Bono — U2 frontman, founder of the anti-poverty organization ONE, and 2005 TED Prize winner — reflects on the past decade’s dramatic reduction in extreme poverty worldwide. “Exit the rockstar, enter the evidence-based activist, the factivist,” he says.

Bono: The good news on poverty (Yes, there's good news) Bono: The good news on poverty (Yes, there's good news) Since 2000, according to Bono’s data, eight million more AIDS patients are getting antiretroviral drugs; eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa have cut their rates of death due to malaria by 75 percent, and the mortality rate for kids under five has fallen by 2.65 million per year—that’s 7,256 lives saved every day.

“This fantastic news didn’t happen by itself. It was fought for, it was campaigned for, it was innovated for. And this great news gives birth to even more great news,” Bono says: the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day has declined from 43 percent in 1990, to 33 percent in 2000, to 21 percent in 2010. “If you live on less than $1.25 a day, if you live in that kind of poverty, this is not just data,” Bono says. “This is everything.”

According to Bono’s calculations, if this trend continues, 2028 will see zero percent of the population living in extreme poverty.

“The opportunity is real, but so is the jeopardy. We can’t get this done until we accept that we can get this done,” says Bono. “Inertia is how we screw this up. Momentum is how we bend the arc of history down towards zero.”

Don’t miss this inspiring talk with a powerful message about the past 3,000 years of history. And for anyone interested in what it means to live in extreme poverty today, here is a series of nuanced essays and interviews that give insight.

  1. In February 2010, John Lee Anderson reported from post-earthquake Haiti in The New Yorker. The piece follows Nadia Francois, who was deported back to Haiti from the U.S.; through her story, we see a country not only ravaged by poverty, violence and political upheaval, but also “almost uniquely victimized by nature,” Anderson writes.
  2. Until recently, Mali “was widely viewed as a gentle if very poor democracy,” Joshua Hammer wrote in The New York Review of Books last month. “But the country has long combined poverty, radical Islam, and tendencies to armed rebellion.” In 2011, he writes, that “combustible mix” came to a head as northern Mali became a terrorist haven.
  3. In her book Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo chronicles life in a slum in Mumbai, India, based on three years of research. In this interview in Guernica, Boo discusses her aim to investigate “what I didn’t know: how people get out of poverty,” she says. “Mumbai, especially, had so many contradictions. You have this manifest prosperity, but then more than half of its citizens lived in slums. The life expectancy in Mumbai is seven years shorter than the country as a whole. How can that be in one of India’s wealthiest cities?”
  4. In 2011, Philip Gourevitch wrote for The New Yorker about a cycling team in Rwanda through which boys like Gasore, an orphaned street kid, found second chances.
  5. Rio will host the World Cup in 2013 and the Olympics in 2016. Which puts the spotlight on “the persistent presence of the militias and drug gangs controlling its favelas, these fearfully poor but hardy communities located all across town,” Misha Glenny wrote in FT Magazine last fall. “The juxtaposition of opulence and misery in Rio highlights the moral disgrace of Brazil’s historical legacy. At the same time, it forces the authorities to make good on the genuine commitment of President Dilma Rousseff and her two predecessors to banish the scourge of chronic inequality.”
  6. In 2011, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a decade-later follow-up to her book Nickel and Dimed, in which she went undercover as a minimum-wage employee to report on the extreme hardships Americans in poverty faced.