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Ending global poverty begins with women’s rights
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In the Public Interest: health, education, and water and sanitation for all

by Luna Allison | May 11, 2010

Building strong public services for all is hardly a new idea: it is the foundation upon which today’s rich country societies are built. More recently, other developing countries have followed suit, with impressive results. Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Kerala state in India, for example have, within a generation, made advances in health and education that took industrialised countries 200 years to achieve. Building strong public services is not a new idea, but it has been proven to work. It should be at the very heart of making poverty history. In the twenty-first century it is a scandal that anyone lives without these most basic of human rights, yet millions of families still do.


  • 4,000 children will be killed by diarrhea, a disease of dirty water
  • 1,400 women will die needlessly in pregnancy or childbirth
  • 115 million school-age children, most of them girls, will not go to school.

This report shows that developing countries will only achieve healthy and educated populations if their governments take responsibility for providing essential services. Civil society organizations and private companies can make important contributions, but they must be properly regulated and integrated into strong public systems, and not seen as substitutes for them. Only governments can reach the scale necessary to provide universal access to services that are free or heavily subsidized for poor people and geared to the needs of all citizens including women and girls, minorities, and the very poorest. But while some governments have made great strides, too many lack the cash, the capacity, or the commitment to act.

Rich country governments and international agencies such as the World Bank should be crucial partners in supporting public systems, but too often they block progress by failing to deliver debt relief and predictable aid that supports public systems. They also hinder development by pushing private sector solutions that do not benefit the poor.

The world can certainly afford to act. World leaders have agreed an international set of targets known as the Millennium Development Goals. Oxfam calculates that meeting these targets on health, education, and water and sanitation would require an extra $47 billion a 6 year. Compare this with annual global military spending of $1 trillion, or the $40 billion that the world spends every year on pet food.

Download a pdf copy of the full report below.

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