Monday, April 22, 2024
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The world’s best kept secret – and how to celebrate it

Global poverty has halved over the past 30 years and virtually nobody is cheering.
Band Aid, Bono and that 40 Hour Famine you did as a kid? All part of the story, but also driven by massive economic shifts in places like China and India, along with advances in medicine and technology. The end result? Since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank’s $1.25-a-day measure, has reduced from 1.9 billion to 840 million people. It’s completely incredible and also the world’s best kept secret – only one in 100 of us, globally, know about it.

How is it possible we’ve missed the good news? Probably because our narratives around poverty are incredibly well entrenched, nailed deeper by the general sense that the world is full of suffering. Places like Africa, we’ve been led to believe, are a leaky bucket. Aid, we’re told, doesn’t reach the people it should – and we’re paying way too much for it anyway. An annual poll by the Lowy Institute found that most Australians think we devote too much of the national budget to foreign aid – which is fair enough – but how much do they think we actually give? Well, the average Australian believes 14 per cent of the federal budget is devoted to overseas aid and say the number should be more like 10 per cent.

That’s crazy.

In reality, the number is 0.8 per cent, 17 times less than the average person imagines. Our collective lack of knowledge means we’re inclined to be more cynical about the future and also far less generous. Imagine what might be achieved if we only knew how well we’ve done and the incredible bang we get for our buck?

There are some epic milestones worth celebrating as we consider just how far the development dollar goes. Not only has extreme poverty been cut in half within a generation; both the maternal mortality rate and proportion of people without access to clean water have also halved, saving millions of lives. Polio has been virtually eradicated, and more people are able to attend school than at any other time in human history.

But of course, behind the numbers are faces, and right now they’re showing a huge amount of strain. The World Bank estimates that for the first time in 20 years, our progress on poverty is set to go backwards in 2021, with 88 to 115 million people pushed back into extreme poverty by the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s an absolutely heartbreaking amount of hard work undone virtually overnight.

How do we help prevent it from happening? Three ideas this Christmas

  1. Get educated about the facts, and then share them. One of the major impediments to progress is belief!
  2. Sign the ENDCOVIDFORALL petition at

It asks the Australian Government to provide vital support to vulnerable nations during the Covid-19 crisis.

  1. Commit to one person with one gift: share your optimism for a better world with a loved one by grabbing them a card from UnitingWorld’s Everything in Common Gift Catalogue at Your gift represents a donation to a project like the one that’s keeping a smile on the face of Komang (pictured) and his pig! His family are weathering the Covid-19 storm in Bali – economically devastated by border closures to tourists – on the strength of livestock and training they received from UnitingWorld partners last year. At $50 for a pair of piglets, your investment can literally create life-saving change for a family. Is there a better way to celebrate?

UnitingWorld is the international partnership and development agency of the Uniting Church in Australia. Find out more at


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