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Why Ending Extreme Poverty Isn't Good Enough

A courtyard in the village of Paltupur, Uttar Pradesh, India. India has the second highest percentage of malnourished children in the world, according to the 2012 annual Global Hunger Index

A courtyard in the village of Paltupur, Uttar Pradesh, India. India has the second highest percentage of malnourished children in the world, according to the 2012 annual Global Hunger Index Photograph by Sanjit Das/Bloomberg

At this year’s spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF, the world’s global finance ministers signed up to an ambitious target for progress against poverty. “We believe that we have a historic opportunity to end extreme poverty within a generation,” they declared, pledging to reduce the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day worldwide to 3 percent by 2030.

That would be a huge achievement. After all, for most of history, most of humanity has lived on less than $1.25 a day.  As recently as 1990, more than two-fifths of the population of the developing world lived in extreme poverty, and even today, the proportion remains close to one-fifth. Yet even lifting all the world’s poor above the $1.25-a-day line would hardly constitute victory in the war against extreme poverty. If anything, we need to get a lot more ambitious.