The Future of Poverty

by Rich Stearns, World Vision US President on March 28, 2016

Mothers and children wait at a World Vision outpatient therapy program in South Sudan to receive treatment for malnutrition. South Sudan is one of the world's most fragile places.

The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof called it “the most important thing happening in the world today.” Yet it is something few people talk about. Something almost no one knows about. 
What is it? According to Kristof: “a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy, and disease.” Whatever stories you read about in the news, watch on your video screens, or stumble across online, they often focus on disaster or tragedy. It isn’t front-page news that millions of people fly commercial airlines safely every day. So we may overlook one of the most astounding achievements in our time. 
Consider that since 1990: 
  • 2 billion people have gained access to clean water. 
  • 156 million people are no longer hungry. 
  • Malaria infection rates are down by a third in Africa. 
  • Tuberculosis deaths have fallen by 45 percent. 
  • Maternal mortality rates have been cut in half.
These are incredible gains. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty is now half of what it was 25 years ago. And the United Nation’s new Global Goals for Sustainable Development have set a target of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.
Despite the progress, that’s an incredibly ambitious goal. More than 17,000 children younger than 5 still die every day of preventable causes. Nearly 800 million people are chronically hungry, and 663 million people lack clean water. 
If we are going to continue the progress made throughout the last 25 years, we have to work much harder to reach every last person in poverty. While child mortality rates fell in some countries, in others they barely budged. While some communities have solved their hunger problems, in others hunger never abated. Attacking the root causes of poverty is simply easier in some places than in others. 
Putting it differently, the low-hanging fruit has been picked. To end extreme poverty, we have the hardest work ahead of us. In about 50 countries—characterized by conflict, natural disasters, poor governance, and other chronic issues—almost no progress has been made in defeating poverty. These marginal places will soon represent more than 50 percent of the world’s poor, even though they have only 20 percent of the world’s population. 
Poverty in these fragile countries is deeper and more entrenched than elsewhere. They are the home countries of many of the world’s 60 million refugees. These countries are also home to: 
  • 77 percent of the world’s school-age children who are not in school
  • 70 percent of the world’s infants who die of preventable causes
  • 65 percent of the world’s people without access to safe water
  • 60 percent of the world’s undernourished people.
I believe Jesus calls us toward the places where pain and suffering is deepest. I like to think of the church as the body’s white blood cells. White blood cells travel throughout the body looking for wounds and infections. Then they attack, rushing to the hurting places to heal and mend what has gone wrong. 
That’s World Vision’s mission. We go to the hurting places, the ragged edges of our world, because that’s where Jesus calls us. I believe this is the essence and example of Jesus’ life. When asked if he was really the Messiah, Jesus responded: “Go back and report . . . the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:4-5). 
As we work to eliminate extreme global poverty, with the hardest tasks ahead of us, we know this has always been Jesus’ work. It is our privilege to join him.
This article was originally posted in the World Vision Magazine.
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