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The years following the Rio Conference (1992) have witnessed an increase in the number of people living in absolute poverty, particularly in developing countries. The enormity and complexity of the poverty issue could endanger the social fabric, undermine economic development and the environment, and threaten political stability in many countries.

The General Assembly, in its 1997 Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 (para 27) decided that poverty eradication should be an overriding theme of sustainable development for the coming years. It is one of the fundamental goals of the international community and of the entire United Nations system, as reflected not only in Chapter 3 of Agenda 21, but also in commitment 2 of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development. Poverty is addressed in Chapter II of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. 

Priority actions include:

  1. improving access to sustainable livelihoods, entrepreneurial opportunities and productive resources;
  2. providing universal access to basic social services;
  3. progressively developing social protection systems to support those who cannot support themselves;
  4. empowering people living in poverty and their organizations;
  5. addressing the disproportionate impact of poverty on women;
  6. working with interested donors and recipients to allocate increased shares of ODA to poverty eradication; and
  7. intensifying international cooperation for poverty eradication.

In the context of the multi-year programme of work adopted by the General Assembly for the Commission on Sustainable Development, poverty appears as an "overriding issue" on the agenda of the CSD each year.