Cover Image
close this bookEliminating World Poverty: A Challenge for the 21st Century - White paper on international development (DFID - The Stationery Office, 1997, 86 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword by the Secretary of State for International Development
View the documentSummary
View the documentSECTION 1 - The Challenge of Development
Open this folder and view contentsSECTION 2 - Building Partnerships
Open this folder and view contentsSECTION 3 - Consistency of Policies
View the documentSECTION 4 - Building Support for Development
View the documentList of Abbreviations
View the documentBack Cover
Expanding the text here will generate a large amount of data for your browser to display

SECTION 1 - The Challenge of Development

We shall

· Refocus our international development efforts on the elimination of poverty and encouragement of economic growth which benefits the poor. We will do this through support for international sustainable development targets and policies which create sustainable livelihoods for poor people, promote human development and conserve the environment.

1.1 The quest for international development has been one of the great themes of the last 50 years. Efforts to create a framework to deal with political and economic relationships within the international community were launched in earnest at the end of the Second World War with the creation of the United Nations and the Bretton Woods Institutions. A key challenge was to manage the transition from colonial empires to a world characterised by independent states. In Britain the creation, by Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle, of the Ministry of Overseas Development in 1964 marked the establishment of a significant aid programme at a moment of great change, as many countries - particularly in Africa - gained their independence. Its work was described in a White Paper (Command Paper 2736) published in August 1965. Its starting point was that the majority of the human race still lived in poverty and that aid was in Britain’s long-term self interest.

1.2 Ten years on another White Paper (Command Paper 6270), published in October 1975 when Judith Hart was Minister of Overseas Development, took the same starting point - the extreme poverty of a very large proportion of the world’s population - but put the emphasis on addressing more directly the basic needs of the poorest people in the poorest countries. It saw integrated rural development as the route to this objective.

1.3 The aspiration in the 1960s and early 1970s to achieve international development, and the assumption that this was a prize which could be seized over a period of a decade or two, were not borne out in practice. The 1970s and 1980s produced a number of major setbacks. Internally, economic policies were often inadequate and, where growth did occur, the benefits were often restricted to a small section of the population. External factors, such as the escalating price of oil, affected countries the world over, but particularly the developing countries. Concern over environmental degradation, forcefully articulated by the Club of Rome in 1974, grew in strength.

1.4 For many developing countries the 1980s represented a lost decade. Following a short-lived surge in bank lending, many Latin American countries had to cope with huge debt burdens. In Africa, incomes per head fell in many countries as post-independence growth collapsed in a worldwide international climate that left little margin for policy errors. In contrast, in much of Asia growth was robust, reflecting long-standing investment in education and generally sound economic policies. But vast numbers of the rural poor remained untouched by progress, and many of those who migrated to the cities in search of a better future found life equally hard. The number of people in absolute poverty increased. Poor women, in particular, often failed to benefit. Throughout the period pressure on the environment increased.

1.5 The end of the Cold War has transformed international politics. Until 1989, the ideological divide distorted development efforts. Both sides used aid to tie developing countries to their interests, leading to the diversion of effort from sustainable development. The new era provides a fresh opportunity to focus development efforts on poverty elimination.

1.6 The increasing globalisation of the world economy in terms of trade and finance also brings new opportunities and challenges. Decisions taken in London, New York or Tokyo can have a profound effect on the lives of millions far away. We travel to distant places and trade with people of whom our grandparents knew little. We are mutually dependent. If our grandchildren are to have a safe future, we must improve opportunities for all the children of the world.

FIGURE 1 - Shares of Population & Income 1994

Source: Human Development Report 1997.

1.7 It is time to review our aspirations. All people have the same basic needs - fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, uncontaminated food to eat, and livelihoods that allow them to earn their keep and raise healthy, educated children. We want to see a global society in which people everywhere are entitled to live in peace and security with their families and neighbours, and enjoy in full their civil and political rights. We want to see economic endeavour hand-in-hand with accountable government, the rule of law and a strong civil society.

1.8 The challenge of creating such a global society is formidable. Whilst globalisation presents great opportunities, it does not necessarily benefit everybody equally (see Figure 1). The poorest countries are also often the least able to take advantage of the opportunities, and globalisation can lead to an increase in inequality in these countries. Globalisation needs therefore to be accompanied by policies to help the poor.

1.9 Some 1.3 billion people (almost 70 per cent of whom are women) - nearly a quarter of the world’s population - continue to live in extreme poverty, on less than the equivalent of $ 1 per day (see Figure 2). They lack access to opportunities and services (see Figure 3). They feel isolated and powerless and often feel excluded by ethnicity, caste, geography, gender or disability. They lack information and access to health and education facilities, to productive assets or to the market for their goods or labour. They believe nobody listens, and often have no way of being heard in places where the decisions which affect their lives are made. Poor people, particularly women, are the most vulnerable to all forms of violence and abuse, including domestic violence, crime and civil conflict, because in very many cases systems of justice and government services do not fully extend to them.

FIGURE 2 - Regional Distribution of the 1.3 Billion People Living on Less Than $1 Per Day, 1993

The number of people living on less than $1 a day at 1985 purchasing power parities adjusted to current price terms.

Source: World Development Indicators 1997.

1.10 Progress in addressing these issues has been uneven in some countries, too slow or too erratic to compensate for the additional burdens imposed by rapidly growing populations. In a few, especially war-torn societies, the quality of people’s lives has declined sharply. For many, the prospects of a sustainable livelihood are worsening as population growth and economic growth accelerate environmental degradation.

1.11 The fact that people survive at all under these conditions is a remarkable testament to the human spirit. Poor men and women apply enormous creativity, strength and dynamism on a daily basis to solve problems that those who live comfortably can hardly begin to understand. Poor people have assets - in their own skills, in their social institutions, in their values and cultures and in their detailed and sophisticated knowledge of their own environment. In rural communities there is a dense fabric of relationships, rights and obligations which allows people to collaborate in sustaining livelihoods under the most difficult circumstances. Those who have worked with the urban poor can bear witness to the way that households piece together a living from any number of diverse sources.

FIGURE 3 - Human Poverty in Developing Countries



Illiterate adults

People lacking access to health services

People lacking access to safe water

Malnourished children under 5

People not expected to survive to age 40

Maternal mortality rate (per 100 000 live births)

All Developing Countries of which:







Arab States







East Asia







Latin America and the Caribbean







South Asia







South-East Asia and the Pacific







Sub-Saharan Africa







Source: Most recent estimates available from Human Development Report 1997

1.12 Given the necessary support, the poor can be the means as well as the beneficiaries of sustainable development. Where poor people have rights and choices, they are able to make good use of them - including where the community collectively is involved in the management of “common pool” resources, such as village forests, grazing land or water sources.

1.13 Despite the setbacks, on average people live longer and in better health. Since 1960, child death rates in developing countries have been cut by more than half. Per capita food production and consumption have risen by 20 per cent. And malnutrition rates have declined by almost one third. The percentage of the population with access to clean water has doubled to 70 per cent. Adult literacy has risen from less than half to about two thirds (see Figures 4 and 5). In the last SO years more people have escaped from poverty than in the previous 500 years of human existence. Great progress has been made and more is possible if we build on this experience.

1.14 Only governments can create the right political and economic framework within which the march out of poverty can gather momentum. In recent years, major lessons have been learned about the best balance between the State and market forces in order to generate economic growth which benefits the poor and is sustainable.

1.15 There have been two flaws in models of development over the past half-century. The first was characterised by a belief that the State should extend its control over production and trading activities, and over the allocation of resources and prices, in a way which created distortions and led to inefficiency and corruption. The second was a belief in a minimalist State and unregulated market forces which failed to secure economic growth and led to increases in inequality across the world.

1.16 There is now an opportunity to create a new synthesis which builds on the role of the State in facilitating economic growth and benefiting the poor. Both States and markets make good servants and bad masters. We have learned that the virtuous State has a key role to play in supporting economic arrangements which encourage human development, stimulate enterprise and saving and create the environment necessary to mobilise domestic resources and to attract foreign investment.

FIGURE 4 - Changes in Some Key Indicators in Developing Countries

FIGURE 5 - Maternal Mortality Rates

The graph shows what is required to achieve the target of reducing maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015.

Source: Human Development Report 1997.

FIGURE 5 - Infant Mortality Rates

The graph shows what is required to achieve the target of reducing infant mortality by two thirds by 2015.

Source: Human Development Report 1997.

1.17 Sustainable development to eliminate poverty rests above all on the achievement of economic growth that is not only stable and vigorous, but which embraces poor people and allows them to share in the fruits of development. Such growth must outstrip population growth for a sustained period of time to have any real effect (see Figure 6), and recognise that environmental protection is an integral part of the development process. In order to benefit and promote the participation of the poor, economic growth must incorporate a sound and open macro-economic framework in which resources are used productively and which facilitates the development of income- and employment-generating activities that specifically include poor people, particularly the women who comprise the bulk of the poor.

1.18 The experience of recent years in the most successful developing countries has clearly demonstrated the value of maintaining a sound fiscal balance and low inflation. Equally, it has shown the value of promoting more open and less regulated domestic and foreign trade. This increases the scope for higher savings which can help to finance investment. Such a framework will encourage the private sector, which provides the main impetus for economic growth. In some countries, foreign investors have also played an important role. The transformation of the economic environment in this manner has greatly invigorated a wide range of productive activities, most importantly providing opportunities for poor people to establish sustainable livelihoods. Establishing the conditions that allow economic growth to accelerate in the poorer developing countries is, therefore, a critical prerequisite for sustainable poverty elimination.

FIGURE 6 - Population Growth

Source: Human Development Report 1997: World Population Projections 1994-95.

1.19 The State must also provide a framework of law and regulation within which people can exercise their rights. It is the poor everywhere who pay the price where these conditions are not in place. Sustainable development, as the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen agreed, is not possible unless human rights are protected for all, including the poorest and the most disadvantaged. States have a responsibility to ensure that these rights are respected. They are summarised at Panel 1.

1.20 The present British Government was elected on 1 May 1997 on a renewed commitment to the principles of social justice - security for all, access to health and education services, strong social institutions, greater equality and the provision of opportunity. What we want for our children, we want for all children. These principles form the basis of our international as well as our national policies. The Government has already made clear its commitment to human rights and a more ethical foreign policy.

1.21 There are two reasons, above all, why we should embrace the objectives of international development. First, because it is right to do so. Every generation has had a moral duty to reach out to the poor and needy and to try to create a more just world. Second, because we have a common interest in doing so. Global warming, land degradation, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, polluted and over-fished oceans, shortage of fresh water, population pressures and insufficient land on which to grow food will otherwise endanger the lives of everyone - rich and poor, developed and developing. As a country which depends more than most on international trade and investment, jobs and prosperity here in the UK depend on growth in the global economy to which developing countries could contribute so much in the future.

1.22 The purpose of this White Paper is to set out clear principles on which our common interest in sustainable development should be based. We also hope to develop a stronger public understanding of our mutual dependence. This is not just a White Paper about aid. It is a White Paper about sustainable development and a secure future for our planet and its people (see Panel 2). The new Department for International Development (DFID) has the aim - reflecting the theme of this White Paper - of contributing to the elimination of poverty in poorer countries, not just through its bilateral and multilateral development programmes, but through working collaboratively with other government departments to promote consistency and coherence in policies affecting their development (see Panel 3).



The term “human rights” is used in connection with those rights that have been recognised by the global community and protected by international legal instruments. Human rights include all those rights essential for human survival, physical security, liberty and development in dignity. They stem from the recognition of the inherent equality and dignity of all human beings. Every man, woman and child is entitled to enjoy their human rights, merely on the basis of their humanity and regardless of any distinguishing characteristics - such as race, gender, creed, opinion and class. All States have committed themselves to respect, protect and realise human rights, both in a number of international treaties, and through a series of recent UN Conferences.

Human rights necessary for survival and dignified living include:

· the rights to life and liberty

· the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being of the individual and his/her family, including food, water and housing, and the right to continuous improvements of living conditions

· the right to social protection in times of need

· the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

· the right to work and to just and favourable conditions of work

· the rights to privacy and family life

Human rights also cover those rights and freedoms necessary for human dignity, creativity and intellectual and spiritual development, eg:

· the right to education and to access to information

· freedoms of religion, opinion, speech and expression

· freedom of association

· the right to participate in the political process

· the right to participate in cultural life.

These also include those rights necessary for liberty and physical security, eg:

· freedom from slavery and servitude

· the rights to be free from arbitrary arrest or imprisonment, and to a fair trial

· freedom from torture and from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment

Cross-cutting are the twin principles of equal rights of women and men, and the prohibition of discrimination of any kind on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.



Most international institutions agree that sustainable development has interdependent economic, social and environmental dimensions.

Sustainable development was the central theme of the Rio Declaration, signed by 178 countries at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. The Declaration recognises a number of key points which include:

· eradicating poverty [is] an indispensable requirement for sustainable development (Principle 5)

· in order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it (Principle 4):

· Women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development (Principle 20)

Sustainable development requires the management and maintenance of different sorts of “capital” which support human well-being:

· created capital: including physical infrastructure, buildings, machinery and equipment

· natural capital: the environment and natural resources

· human capital: human skills and capacity

· social capital: strong social relationships and institutions

Development trends to date have tended to overlook how far the build-up of created capital has been at the expense of natural capital.

Sustainable development aims to achieve economic and social changes and underlying policies that can be sustained through the long term. Agenda 21, the Programme of Action from the UN Conference, therefore calls for countries to have national strategies for sustainable development.



DFID’s aim is the elimination of poverty in poorer countries.


We shall pursue this through the promotion of sustainable development and in particular by:

· building development partnerships with poorer countries

· working more closely with the private and voluntary sectors, and the research community

· working with and influencing multilateral development organisations

· working with other Government Departments to promote consistent policies affecting poorer countries

· using our knowledge and resources effectively and efficiently

Our specific objectives are:

1. Policies and actions which promote sustainable livelihoods

In particular we shall contribute to:

· sound policies and pro-poor economic growth
· the development of efficient and well-regulated markets
· access of poor people to land, resources and markets
· good governance and the realisation of human rights
· the prevention and resolution of conflicts
· the removal of gender discrimination

2. Better education, health and opportunities for poor people

In particular we shall contribute to:

· lower child and maternal mortality
· basic health care for all, including reproductive services
· effective universal primary education
· literacy, access to information and life skills
· safe drinking water and food security
· emergency and humanitarian needs

3. Protection and better management of the natural and physical environment

In particular we shall contribute to:

· sustainable management of physical and natural resources
· efficient use of productive capacity

· protection of the global environment

1.23 This is a White Paper which reflects Britain’s unique place in the world and our opportunity to adopt a new international role. No other country combines membership of the Group of Seven industrialised countries, membership of the European Union, a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations (UN) and membership of the Commonwealth. Our particular history places us on the fulcrum of global influence. We should not over-estimate what we can do by ourselves. We should not under-estimate what we can do with others. In no area is this more true than in development. Helping to lead the world in a commitment to poverty elimination and sustainable development is an international role in which all the people of Britain could take pride.

1.24 There are two key elements which need to be in place if the fight to eliminate poverty is to succeed. The first is a clear set of internationally agreed policies and principles which promote sustainable development and encourage environmental conservation. These exist, in the form of international targets for sustainable development based on UN Conventions and Resolutions. The key target is a reduction by half in the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 (see Figure 7). The targets are set out in full at Panel 4. We welcome and will promote them. They are achievable. In 2015, we will need to set further targets.

FIGURE 7 - Numbers in Poverty Below $1 Per Day

The number in poverty is defined as the number of people living on less than $1 a day at 1985 purchasing power parities adjusted to current price terms.

Source: World Development Indicators 1997; World Population Projections 1994-1995



The international development targets are designed to provide milestones against which progress towards the goal of poverty elimination can be measured.

Economic Well-being

· a reduction by one-half in the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.

Human Development

· universal primary education in all countries by 2015

· demonstrated progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of women by eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005

· a reduction by two-thirds in the mortality rates for infants and children under age 5 and a reduction by three-fourths in maternal mortality, all by 2015

· access through the primary health-care system to reproductive health services for all individuals of appropriate ages as soon as possible and no later than the year 2015

Environmental Sustainability and Regeneration

· the implementation of national strategies for sustainable development in all countries by 2005, so as to ensure that current trends in the loss of environmental resources are effectively reversed at both global and national levels by 2015

While not amenable to quantification, there is a range of qualitative elements of development that are essential to the attainment of the quantitative targets. These include democratic accountability, the protection of human rights and the rule of law.

1.25 The second element is that the problems of international development can only be resolved if there is the political will to address them in both poorer and richer countries. This Government has that political will, and will seek to mobilise it elsewhere. We will translate it into action by refocusing our development efforts on poor people in a common endeavour to meet the internationally agreed targets so as to make our full contribution to the great task which lies ahead - the elimination of extreme poverty from the world in the lifetime of the present generation.