“End Poverty in All Its Forms Everywhere” is the first of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals set up by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. Poverty is intended to vanish by the year 2030. The reality, however, is entirely different. Even before COVID-19, the world was way off meeting the target by close to 6%. But, with the pandemic, the end goal is further delayed. An additional 71 million people were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020. The percentage of people living below $1.90 a day has increased from 8.2 in 2019 to 8.7 in 2021. There are several reasons why people are living in such dire conditions. Many of these problems can be addressed by broadening access to technologies, such as Blockchain, AI, Telecommunications, and Cloud Computing.
Why are people living under the poverty line?
Lack of Infrastructure
Several communities lack access to basic needs such as roads, public transport, and the internet. They spend a lot of money and time getting to places for things that many of us can do with a click of a button on our phones. Wars and conflicts also lead to the destruction of infrastructure. People lose their livelihood, homes and end up below the poverty line.
Lack of Education
In remote places, people neither have schools locally nor have reliable transport to go to faraway schools. They also lack internet, phones, computers that are necessary for distance education. Furthermore, gender bias often prevents girls from getting educated. The UN estimates that several girls who are now out of school due to COVID-19 induced closure might never return to the classroom.
Lack of Jobs
Many have limited means to earn a living in the places they live. Productive land is dwindling due to climate change and conflicts. Resources such as fish or minerals are depleting because of overexploitation. People with no or low income find it hard to get loans from banks for developing their farms or for tending to their animals.
Inability to Reach Global Markets
Often farmers from small and remote villages find it hard to get a fair price for their produce. The local markets are small and crowded, with similar small-scale farmers trying to sell their goods. Meanwhile, access to global markets is limited because the buyers are unable to trust the quality of food produced by the local farmers. As a result, the farmers end up selling to middlemen incurring a massive loss.
No Means to Save Money
Cash in hand is easy to spend than money in the bank. But, scores of people in remote areas are unable to find banks near their homes. They also lack access to mobile banking. Hence, it is difficult for them to access the money even if they can deposit it in financial institutions.
Malnutrition and No Health care
Many lack access to clean water and nutritious meals due to a lack of money. Contrarily, malnutrition also saps their ability to earn money. Additionally, poor people either have no access to health care or no means to get one. Many of them have to walk a long distance to get clean drinking water and affordable health care.
Droughts and floods resulting from adverse climate change have displaced people from their habitats and snatched their sources of income. The World Bank estimates that climate change has the power to push more than 100 million people into poverty over the next ten years.
Absence of Social Welfare Programs
Governments in many countries do not provide social welfare programs for the poor to access health care or get food. Many times, NGOs who want to help do not get the necessary funds or support from the community or governments.
How can Blockchain and Other Technologies Help?
Direct Digital Cash Payments
Banking the unbanked can make a huge difference with respect to eradicating poverty. Digital currencies provide a natural means of saving the earned money. Using Blockchain-powered remittance systems enables easier migration of people looking for jobs. Self-sovereign identity gives people better control over how they share their information while using digital payments. With edge computing, mobile banking can reach people in the remotest parts of the world. Mobile banking makes direct cash transfers to aid organizations easy and more efficient. Blockchain also makes it easy to track the transfers and the aid utilization, making the process accountable and transparent.
Handling Erratic Weather Patterns
Local authorities can install a vast network of sensors that report the weather changes such as wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity across the village or town. The readings from these sensors can then be analyzed using machine learning. An effective weather prediction model can provide valuable inputs to the farmers by accurately predicting the weather pattern and alerting them of possible floods and famines. Farmers can use this data to determine whether to sow or what crop to grow, thereby reducing the loss incurred due to adverse climate changes.
Data-driven Loan Provisioning
This solution extends the last one and uses the data collected to ascertain a farmer’s ability to repay loans. AI and machine learning can use this data to determine the potential yield of a farmer’s field. As a result, the lenders can loan money to the farmers based on the possible produce from their fields.
Moreover, lending contracts, loan disbursals, and repayments can be automated using Blockchain. Real-time monitoring of the crops and the repayment regime of the farmer will help create a reliable borrower profile for future loans.
Advances in biotechnology can help address two of the concerns of farmers – droughts and pests. Genetic engineering can help develop drought tolerant crops. Similarly, practicing no-till agriculture can prevent soil erosion and keep the fertile soil intact. With GMO farming, farmers can grow with less water and less pollution. They use fewer resources and hence can charge less for healthy food.
Additionally, biotechnology can aid in engineering crops that can better tolerate herbicides and pesticides. It will thereby make weed and pest control cost-efficient. All of these can help farmers grow better with fewer facilities and earn and save more money.
Improve Access to Global Markets
Blockchain can play a vital role in improving smallholder farmers’ access to global markets. Having provenance information stored on Blockchain enables farmers and buyers to trace the produce from the farm to the retailer. It would provide transparency along the supply chain, thereby increasing market access.
Mobile and Tele-Health
Feature phones are still quite commonly used in rural areas. They can serve as a channel for impoverished people to access accurate health care information. It would prevent the spread of disinformation about medicine. With satellite internet, if the doctors working in remote places could have teleconferencing facilities, they can get guidance from top medical professionals across the globe.
Access to Clean Drinking Water
Modern technology can help people from arid regions conserve water. Teaching water conservation techniques will help communities become resilient to droughts. Moreover, most of the rainwater has to be saved in sturdy reservoirs. Proactively monitoring and maintaining them is essential for the long-term conservation of water. IoT sensors can help manage the health of the dams. Meanwhile, solar powered water pumps can be installed to pump this water to faraway regions. It will prevent people from traveling long distances to fetch clean water for drinking and farming.
Improved Access to Education
Educating people, especially girls, is essential for the eradication of poverty. Distance education can bring scores of kids, who are today deprived of education, to schools virtually. Hence, promoting technologies that enable virtual education is essential. With solar powered computers and tablets, students can participate in live, interactive sessions with teachers across the globe. Broadcasting lessons through radio to children from remote areas will ensure no one is left behind.
Improved Transport Facilities
Improving transport facilities such as roads and public transit plays a vital role in improving people’s livelihood. It lowers the costs of services, adds new jobs, and improves access to health and education services. All of these eventually lead to economic growth and reduced poverty.
In conclusion, technologies such as Blockchain can play a vital role in attaining SDG Goal 1 – No Poverty. Additionally, when the affected people are given a voice and involved by the governments in defining policies that impact them, it would lead to more informed strategies. Together, technology and open government can eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.