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USAID Sets Ending Extreme Poverty as Top Goal

By Kathryn McConnell | Staff Writer | 29 January 2014
Group of children sitting on mat; one child standing (USAID/Jepson)

Children take lessons in a camp for displaced people in Bangui, Central African Republic.

Washington — The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will make ending extreme poverty its top goal, say senior development officials.

Addressing a January 28 gathering discussing extreme poverty in conflict-affected areas at the Center for American Progress, Alex Thier, USAID’s assistant to the administrator for policy, planning and learning, said that in working to achieve the goal, USAID will try to better engage “fragile states where conflict, corruption and current crisis impede the kind of inclusive growth that limits our ability to address the causes and consequences of extreme poverty.” He noted that the global community also has embraced the goal as it continues to form a post-2015 development agenda. The Center for American Progress is a Washington think tank.

“Today, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty. While the world has seen unprecedented progress in recent years, having achieved [Millennium Development Goal 1] five years early, we still have people living in extreme poverty,” Thier said. He said USAID has found that extreme poverty “is concentrated in fragile or failed states” — countries with weak government effectiveness, rule of law and control of corruption.

Weak governments “frequently are the result of conflict,” said Nancy Lindborg, USAID's assistant administrator for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance. The World Bank estimates that by 2015, one-half of the world’s poorest people will live in conflict-affected and fragile states

“A country that has experienced major violence in the period between 1981 and 2005 has an extreme poverty rate an average of 21 percent higher than a country with no violence,” Thier said.

The year 2015 is the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which include halting the spread of disease and providing education for all. The MDGs were set in 2000 by United Nations member countries. MDG 1 is to halve between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and hunger.

Lindborg said USAID has adopted a systematic approach to ending extreme poverty in conflict-affected and fragile states that includes engaging public and private-sector partners and relies on fragile countries embracing USAID's plans. She said USAID found that chronic shocks were causing the agency to lose development gains.

The new approach, which USAID began to develop in 2011, is a “layered” one that combines goals for providing humanitarian assistance; building resilience to chronic shocks due to conflict and global climate change; promoting links between security and justice; and investing in food security, she said.

“When you don’t have the legitimacy of the governance part of security, you are setting up for future conflict. It’s not just elections, it is legitimate elections, for example,” she said.

“Dealing with the linkages between extreme poverty and conflict has become more pressing than ever,” said John Norris of the Center for American Progress.