Aim higher to end extreme poverty and hunger by 2030: A reflection from the Addis Ababa Action Agenda
Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa was busy hosting the Third UN Financing for Development Conference (FFD3) from 13 to 16 July 2015. Main streets were blocked to shuttle heads of states and over 5,000 delegates from some 193 countries around the world.
Alongside the main conference, topics of discussion were expanded through over 200 side events, which were instrumental to cover critical global matters in a more settled and focused environment. It was great to see representatives from governments, the private sector and civic society work together to set the global course for ensuring sustainable development be taken forward over the next 15 years.
Older people on the agenda
The Ethiopian Elderly and Pensioners National Association representatives and HelpAge International staff were among the delegates attending. We had the specific objective of ensuring the visibility of age in the agenda and the inclusion of older people's voices and priorities in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Our delegates shook hands with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and had a meeting with one of his most prominent officials, Dr Amina J Mohammed, who showed commitment to ensure not only that older people have visibility and a voice in the SDG/FFD process, but also that there are concrete programme frameworks and plans of action in place to ensure their voices are heard and their rights and needs are addressed. This is integral to ensure no one is left behind.
If successfully implemented, all the 17 SDGs agreed for 2015-30 will contribute directly or indirectly to improve the lives of older people.
Goal one focuses on ending poverty in all forms everywhere, while goal two aims to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Goal three is implicit in its involvement of older people by guaranteeing the wellbeing of individuals of all ages and ensuring they lead healthy lives. Goal five is aimed at eliminating violence against all women. Each one is directly relevant and justifies the critical development pathways.
We took the opportunity to attend a side event titled Achieving Zero Hunger: The Critical Role of Investments in Social Protection and Agriculture. As many older women and men in Africa live below the poverty line, the event was very important to our focus. Having such an ambitious goal of reaching "zero hunger" is important for millions of older people living in poverty, and I believe it is possible to achieve this aim given the abundance of global resources. But what is required is a genuine commitment, the reprioritisation of resource allocation and the courage to deliver the stated goals.
In order to hit the ground running, having such specific global goals are fundamental. For example, to deliver goal two, which aims to eliminate hunger, pro-poor investments are required in all sectors. Most importantly, delivery of this goal necessitates increased investment and support to small holders' agriculture, rural development infrastructure, decent work and social protection. Many older people are farmers and small holders who struggle with lack of investment and the absence of a basic pension.
Making social protection a priority
Many older people do not have a regular income either, and have to work in the informal sector or as farmers to supplement any savings they may have. As older people may be constrained in the type of work they can do, they need both opportunities to work in environments that are age friendly and have access to social protection programmes that deliver regular income in old age and ensure access to appropriate and affordable social services. The implementation of basic social protection responds to HelpAge's vision and mission that every older person should have the support to overcome hunger and poverty.
Where will the money come from?
Making social protection a priority may be hampered by a lack of sufficient resources. The recent UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report states that the "business as usual" scenario would not provide enough investment to eliminate hunger by 2030. According to the report, US$267 billion per year, or equivalent to 0.3% of world economic output in 2014, is required on average to fund social protection and additional pro-poor investments. Political will is needed to invest properly in pro-poor programmes, and social protection must be a core priority for all countries.
While we appreciate the attention given to social protection in the new post-2015 development goals, the question is whether the political will is there to make the investment happen. Even if the FAO figure of US$160 year for each person was available, this could only buy two goats or a calf a year for someone living in poverty in a country like Ethiopia. Extreme poverty and hunger will not be wiped out unless more financial resources across a range of issues are invested.
Where in the past there has been a reliance on direct overseas development assistance, FFD3 has earmarked the financial potential of domestic resource mobilisation through improving tax regimes, promoting private investment, and reducing corruption and embezzlement. Unfortunately, these mechanisms have their own challenges.
Most delegates were sceptical they would have a quick impact and were reticent to assure the direct flow of financial resources unless governments, notably in the "south", do their best to put their houses in order. For these reasons, we shall still question whether ending extreme poverty or eradicating hunger in the coming 15 years is another false promise to some 846 million people living in these circumstances across the world.