Poverty reduction is a global agenda. The rich countries have long been coming up with various formulae to make poverty history. The leaders of the seven richest countries had promised that they would write off the debts of the most indebted nations in order to reduce global poverty. Meanwhile, the UN itself has set its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through which it has been envisaged that global poverty would be reduced by half within the next one decade, that is, by 2015. The countries bearing the appellation 'least developed' are so because they are scourged by poverty. For such countries, Bangladesh being no exception, the preparation of their own poverty reduction strategy papers has been made mandatory to qualify for development assistance from the bilateral and multilateral donors. In a word, there is a global awareness and associated campaigns to rid the world of poverty.
So far so good. That the question of poverty alleviation has now become a global agenda and that the rich countries are not going to confine their role in this fight against poverty to mere lip service is undoubtedly a very encouraging development in the recent times. But what does poverty really consist in? Is it simply a matter of having less amount of monetary wealth than required by a person or a society or is it something more than that?
In actual fact, poverty is a very complex issue that begins with the want of monetary or other forms of material wealth, but ends with a total degeneration of the subject morally, intellectually and otherwise. That is why, the talk of poverty alleviation is not an issue concerned merely with writing off debts, making more budgetary allocations for different sectors of the economy or helping the poverty-stricken families with some credit to generate self-employment for themselves. There should be a more holistic approach towards the problem of poverty to overcome it. And that approach must also include enlightenment of the people afflicted with poverty through providing them with basic education. A report quoting Unesco by John Boone published in this paper last Sunday has candidly debunked some myths about the crusade against poverty now in force globally, especially those being touted by the rich nations. There are some 771 million adults in the world who cannot read or write. In the present situation, people of some 30 out of 73 countries may not meet the deadline of halving their adult illiteracy rate by 2015 as set by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2000. So, addressing literacy should come under sharper focus by the governments concerned as well as the donors, if they really want to improve the condition of health, ensure higher income, provide better shelter and finally do away with the curse of poverty from the surface of the earth.
What Unesco's Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report said in its fourth edition on this score is simply alarming. One fifth of the world's adults and some 100 million children of primary school age are still out of schools. The condition of the womenfolk is no better. As they constitute 64 per cent of the total adults of the world, one can well understand their situation from the aforementioned state of adult literacy globally. And their overall condition has remained virtually the same during the last one and half decades.
The donor agencies, the governments concerned and even the non-governmental organisations have not dealt with the issue of mass literacy with due priority. And the donors providing development assistance to their partners in the developing and least developed countries had a paltry chunk of only 2.0 per cent of total allocation for basic education in the recipient countries.
Bangladesh and its development partners need also to consider the issue of basic literacy for children as well as adults in a fresh light and integrate the same with poverty alleviation efforts seriously.