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Society, despite all its achievements, will have failed if it cannot work toward ending poverty. Poverty, by and large man-made, prevents humanity from achieving its full potential. It devastates the lives of young and old, man and woman, urban and rural dweller. It is prevalent across the world, found in the richest cities and festering in the poorest villages. Recognising poverty as a crime against humanity, every one of us must fight it. For mankind to have a glorious future, we must reach out to the poor in the slums of Asia and Africa, the shanty towns of South America and the left-behind communities of Europe and North America, as well as to those living in refugee camps scattered across the world.
Definitions of poverty
Poverty is about the lack of the very basic requirements to survive food, housing, health, safety but also about insufficient provision to allow growth and development education, tools, opportunities.
United Nations: “Fundamentally, poverty is the inability of having choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one's food or a job to earn one's living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living in marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation.”
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: The right to a basic standard of living: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
“Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”
Ending poverty is the top-ranked of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations' key measurement for global progress in the 21st century. However, it has long been acknowledged that national governments alone cannot bring about the necessary changes and conditions under which this can be achieved and therefore city leadership has a crucial role to play in setting ambitious goals and policies to combat poverty, especially in communities.
World Bank: “Poverty is pronounced deprivation in well-being, and comprises many dimensions. It includes low incomes and the inability to acquire the basic goods and services necessary for survival with dignity. Poverty also encompasses low levels of health and education, poor access to clean water and sanitation, inadequate physical security, lack of voice, and insufficient capacity and opportunity to better one's life.”
In 1958, the Canadian economist J K Galbraith described poverty as: "People are poverty stricken when their income, even if adequate for survival, falls markedly behind that of their community.”
In 1964, when the administration of US President Johnson launched ‘War on Poverty’, a bi-partisan concept of relative poverty was introduced: "No objective definition of poverty exists. The definition varies from place to place and time to time. In America as our standard of living rises, so does our idea of what is substandard.”
Another widely used definition of poverty is attributed to the British sociologist Peter Townsend: “Individuals can be said to be in poverty when they lack the resources to obtain the types of diet, participate in the activities and have the living conditions and amenities which are customary, or are at least widely encouraged or approved, in the societies to which they belong.”
The City Mayors Foundation describes poverty as: “People are deemed to live in poverty when the resources at their disposal, while sufficient for their existence, are inadequate to allow them to fulfil their social, economic and creative potential.”
Extreme and relative poverty
Generally, people use the expressions ‘extreme poverty’, ‘poverty’ and ‘relative poverty’. ‘Extreme poverty’ is used when people have to live on less than US$1.90 a day. Worldwide, it is estimated that there are between 700 and 750 million people living in extreme poverty, of course, mostly in developing countries.
Extreme poverty was defined by the United Nations in its 1995 report of the World Summit for Social Development as "a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.”
Since 2018, extreme poverty widely refers to an income below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day set by the World Bank. The vast majority of those in extreme poverty reside in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the West Indies, East Asia, and the Pacific. As of 2018, it is estimated that the country with the most people living in extreme poverty is Nigeria, at 86 million.
On the other hand, relative poverty occurs when a person cannot meet a minimum level of living standards, compared to others in the same time and place. Therefore, the threshold at which relative poverty is defined varies from one country to another, or from one society to another. For example, a person who cannot afford housing better than a small tent in an open field would be said to live in relative poverty if almost everyone else in that area lives in modern brick homes, but not if everyone else also lives in small tents in open fields (for example, in a nomadic tribe).
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