Between 2010 and 2019, the percentage of workers living in extreme poverty steadily decreased from 14 per cent to 6.6 per cent – but now COVID-19 has reversed this trend and innovation is crucial if we are to get back on track
It’s tempting to think that progress moves forward in a straight line. But the case of extreme poverty—defined as surviving on less than $1.90 a day—warns against complacency. An additional 119-124 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. How can we get the figures moving in the right direction again?
Innovation has a crucial role to play in eliminating poverty in all its forms – from practical solutions for disaster relief to clever ways of using blockchain to provide social protection.
Extreme poverty has many complex and interrelated causes. But natural disasters are a common catalyst for people falling below the poverty line. Sadly, such events are likely to be increasingly common as climate change accelerates. Target 1.5.3 within SDG 1 challenges governments to put in place national and local disaster risk reduction strategies. One country that has heeded this advice is Dominica. The Caribbean island aims to become the first hurricane-proof nation by implementing practical changes—such as rolling out hurricane-proof buildings—and through economic adjustments to diversify the country’s agriculture. Investments in geothermal energy, healthcare, and transportation round out the island nation’s climate resilience strategy.
Beyond government action, a US architecture firm has developed a pop-up refugee shelter that can be easily transported to disaster zones and constructed without any hardware or tools.
Housing and shelter
Shelters normally only provide temporary relief. The lack of long-term housing is a major issue for the world’s most vulnerable people – and this is exacerbated by natural disasters that destroy homes and infrastructure. In response, a Swedish non-profit has launched a flat-pack emergency shelter that can be easily turned into a permanent home. The shelter is made with an extremely durable frame. During the immediate crisis response, this can be covered with tarpaulin. But after this, the frame is strong enough to be converted into a more permanent building using locally available material.
In many parts of the world housing shortages hurt the poorest in society – even if there hasn’t been an earthquake or hurricane. To address this, a San Francisco-based charity builds 3D-printed communities for unsheltered families. Each home takes just 24 hours to print and is completed by local construction workers, providing employment.
According to the World Bank, investing in agricultural innovation is one of the surest ways to alleviate poverty. And a 2016 report found that 65 per cent of poor working adults make a living through agriculture. Productivity improvements are crucial for helping these groups, but agricultural practices also need to be environmentally friendly. To address this, an Indian company has created a pay-as-you-go solar pump irrigation system that will make irrigation more affordable – helping farmers to grow more crops. The solar-based system also replaces older diesel-powered technology, benefitting the environment.
Social protection systems are a final ingredient in poverty reduction – providing floors and safety nets that prevent people from falling into extreme poverty in the first place. But the International Labour Organization estimates that more than 4 billion people still lack social protection.
Governments have a responsibility to ensure their citizens enjoy adequate cover. But innovation also plays a role. Here, blockchain can be a useful tool. For example, decentralised insurance startup Etherisc provides inclusive, blockchain-based crop insurance to farmers in developing countries. Another startup, Agriledger has created a blockchain system to help Haitian farmers sell their products at fair prices. The technology gives farmers a unique digital identification number, which allows them access to financial services, logistics, insurance and other services.
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Words: Matthew Hempstead
25th January 2022