SDG Series #8: Leaving no one behind requires making sure no one falls behind

By Vidya Diwakar, CPAN Research Officer

Leave no one behind. It’s the catchphrase of poverty reduction today, and has gained momentum with the dawn of the SDG era. However, it is not enough to ask that no one be left behind; we must go a step further and specifically ensure that no one falls behind. This distinction may appear trivial at first glance, but it is an important one. It ensures that households that move above the poverty line do not regress or fall back into poverty, but instead sustain their escapes. 

The importance of sustaining poverty escapes is implicitly recognized by SDG 1.5, which promotes building resilience of the poor and reducing their vulnerability to shocks. It is also where the USAID-funded project on transitory escapes explicitly enters the discourse. In the study, determinants of transitory escapes in Uganda, Bangladesh and Ethiopia are assessed using a mixed methods framework, and policy implications derived. 

Work on the project to date has focused on Uganda, and already we are drawing implications. Initial findings show that the gender of the household head matters, as does the region in which the household lives.

  • In terms of gender, we see that the resource base quantifiably reduces the risk of transitory escapes (relative to sustained escapes) amongst female-headed households in particular. In conjunction with qualitative field research, this finding suggests that there is a need for gender-sensitive measures to help these households protect their wealth base, including from potential theft, which may otherwise make their poverty escapes insecure. This in turn also draws on the continued need to work towards gender empowerment as broadly outlined in SDG5.
  • In spite of a peace dividend in the North, households living there are more likely to experience a transitory poverty escape than those in other regions.  In particular, negative household shocks (ranging from a household member becoming ill or a drought which may affect crop production) in the Northern region play an important role in transitory escapes there. This directly relates to SDG 1.5 by emphasizing the need to help households cope with negative shocks and insure against risks. To this end, the finding would suggest social protection systems are the way to go, in particular systems with “substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable” as articulated in SDG 1.3.

The empowerment of women and girls and the development of region-specific social protection put us on the right track to help prevent falling back into poverty and sustain poverty escapes. We need to ensure that these twin goals are taken up in tandem so that no one is left behind, no one falls behind, and poverty is reduced in a truly sustainable manner.