Better data key in fight to end poverty, meet SDG targets

Kenyan schoolchildren being educated on correct toilet-use. [SuSanA Secretariat]

If poverty is to be fought and finally ended, then policy-makers need reliable and relevant data to combat it effectively. EURACTIV’s partner El País – Planeta Futuro reports.

The eradication of poverty continues to be one of the greatest problems facing humanity. The UN has been rightly praised for its success in proposing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), attracting the attention of aid organisations that fight poverty; however, it has been accused of overlooking a vital ingredient: research.

Without rigorous and quality research poverty will not be ended. Thanks to such research, and innovative methods being applied in the developing world, the sources of specific problems that hinder the growth of people and nations have been identified.

For example, a study carried out by the French economist Esther Duflo, in conjunction with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, won the 2015 Princess of Asturias Social Sciences award for her use of a random control trial (RCT) to examine why Kenyan children do not attend school.

Despite there being other potential factors that could be responsible, such as child labour, abandonment by parents, or long distances between home and school, the investigation concluded that the main culprit was diarrhoea. The study showed that any investment in other areas would be ineffective if this primary concern was not addressed first. To get results in education, health has to be made a priority in this particular case.

This is a prime example of the multidimensional nature of poverty and demonstrates how it is connected to several different facets: instability, malnutrition, unemployment and disease.

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It also illustrates that there is no general template for fighting poverty. Regional considerations have to be taken into account, and the results of implemented policies have to be analysed to assess their effectiveness.

Good intentions are not enough. The desire to create a better world may act as daily motivation, but it will achieve nothing without effective and far-reaching research that provides reliable and accurate data. If reliable figures are not available, how can programmes or policy possibly be created and implemented?

Moreover, how can a judgement be made about how many people are actually in poverty and need help without such data?

Indeed, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) published a report in April of this year in which the lack of real knowledge about the number of people suffering from poverty was denounced. According to their investigation, it is possible that current estimates could be 350 million people shy of the mark, and that the situation is much worse than thought. However, its main point is that without accurate statistics, nobody can be sure.

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To answer these fundamental questions, a data revolution is necessary in terms of collecting, disseminating and providing access to information, in the form of public databases.

With recent advances in technology, data collection is much simpler. Mobile banking in Kenya, for example, has allowed access to bank services to be extended to the poorer members of society.

Fortunately, the data revolution is advancing bit by bit. The UN included in its recently-adopted SDGs the target of strengthening the means of implementation for sustainable development (SDG 17). One of the objectives of the target is “to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data.’

Furthermore, in August 2014, the Data Revolution Group was established under the initiative of UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, with the objective of overseeing the new agenda of the SDGs, in terms of collecting and disseminating information.

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However, aside from setting up committees and commissions, tangible action is needed to devote more funding to collecting valuable data. According to a report by the Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century, Official Development Assistance (ODA) intended for national statistics offices decreased from 0.33% in 2012 to 0.24% in 2013, the year in which more ODA than ever before was allocated to the developing countries ($134.8 billion).

If poverty is to be ended, through sustainable solutions and long term goals, then it is necessary to know the size of the mountain ahead of us. The true sources of the issues surrounding poverty must be reliably identified and studied, so the most effective solutions can be found. This is the only way that it will be eradicated once and for all, worldwide.

This year is the European Year for Development, the first ever European Year to deal with the European Union's external action and Europe’s role in the world.

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