Reducing poverty – Development goal number one

An evacuee peeks through a makeshift classroom inside one of the evacuation sites in Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

More than one billion people live in extreme poverty – it is one of the greatest problems facing the world today. Working to combat poverty and bringing about better living conditions worldwide is therefore one of the most important policy challenges both internationally and for Germany.

The Millennium Goals

Poverty concerns us all. In a world which is highly interdependent, both in political and economic terms, the impacts of poverty can be felt not only in those counties which are particularly affected, but also in our own countries: poverty is jeopardising the future of our society.

The global community is aware that a united front is required in order to be successful in the battle against poverty. On the basis of the Millennium Declaration, the nations of the world set themselves eight de­vel­op­ment goals which they are aiming to achieve by 2015. Foremost among these is the goal of halving the proportion of people who live in extreme poverty.

The United Nations monitors the implementation of the Millennium Declaration. Every year, the Secretary General delivers an annual report to the UN General Assembly on progress made towards the goals.

Germany's engagement against poverty

The reduction of poverty is an overarching objective of German de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion. All measures supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Co­op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (BMZ) contribute – directly or indirectly – towards achieving this objective.

The following section presents selected examples of the various ways in which Germany works to ensure poverty reduction.


An effective economy that creates jobs is the most important prerequisite for the reduction of poverty in developing countries. Work generates incomes and gives people the opportunity to free themselves from poverty. Germany’s economic co­op­er­a­tion with its counterpart countries supports strategies for broad-scale, job-creating growth (pro-poor growth).

Besides strengthening the private sector in the partner countries, the German government also seeks to engage in close co­op­er­a­tion with Germany’s own private sector, for example through de­vel­op­ment partnerships (public private partnerships, PPP).


The industrialised countries exert a decisive influence over the global economy. They bear a great responsibility for the equitable conduct of global trade. To ensure that developing countries are also able to reap the benefits of globalisation and reduce their poverty, more attention must be given to their interests within the world trade system. The BMZ is therefore working for the abolition of agricultural export subsidies and other trade-distorting support measures applied by the industrialised countries.

Food and rural de­vel­op­ment

Poverty is indivisibly linked to hunger and malnutrition – almost a billion people worldwide do not have enough to eat and a further billion lack access to essential vitamins and other micro-foodstuffs. Germany supports its counterpart countries in developing strategies for food security, and vigorously engages in relevant in­ter­na­ti­o­nal projects and programmes, for example the United Nations World Food Programme. In so doing, the BMZ seeks explicitly to combine approaches of short-term emergency aid with those of long-term food security and, when a crisis occurs, to set the course for structure-building activities.

The focus of co­op­er­a­tion is mostly on agriculture. Another key area of activity is the improvement of general political and legal conditions. The BMZ also supports the creation of a dynamic civil society and the strengthening of women’s position in society.

Furthermore, German de­vel­op­ment policy is focusing on close dialogue with other federal ministries and other donors so as to prevent in­ter­na­ti­o­nal agricultural, fishing, trade and climate policy from once again derailing the efforts of developing countries.

Basic social services

Poor people can often neither afford to visit a doctor nor pay for their children to attend school. Yet only those people who are healthy and who have an adequate level of education stand a chance of escaping poverty. Basic social services such as health care and primary education are therefore important elements for poverty reduction.

Social security and social policy

Around 80 per cent of the world’s population lack adequate protection against risks such as sickness, unemployment, poverty in old age or crop failure. Social security systems such as health and pensions insurance, microinsurance schemes or social transfer programmes for people in extreme poverty, are important instruments for structural poverty reduction and are therefore key to achieving the Millennium De­vel­op­ment Goals.

Protecting the environment and natural resources

The increasing destruction of natural resources undermines the basis of poor people’s livelihoods. At the same time, material hardship often forces the poor to overexploit natural resources themselves. Both internationally and domestically, Germany works to protect the environment and natural resources. It supports the implementation of in­ter­na­ti­o­nal conventions which are binding in in­ter­na­ti­o­nal law: to combat desertification, to reduce greenhouse gases, to promote renewable energies and to conserve forests and species diversity. Moreover, the BMZ supports the de­vel­op­ment and implementation of environmental standards in business.

Human rights

The respect, protection and upholding of all human rights are an essential basis for poverty reduction. Only if the fundamental rights required to live in human dignity are respected and preserved can people lead self-determined lives within society, making decisions for themselves in political and economic freedom in accordance with their opportunities. And only then will they have the opportunity to free themselves from poverty, stand up for their interests and lead a dignified life, free of fear.

The systematic and comprehensive focus on human rights is an obligatory element of German de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion. Germany helps its partners to structure policies and programmes in such a way that the primary beneficiaries are poor and marginalised groups, including women, young people, indigenous populations, people with disabilities or sexual minorities.

Germany regards the promotion of gender equality as a cross-cutting task of de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion as a whole. In addition, programmes are in place which focus on supporting equality for women, not only legally but also socially and politically. 

Good governance

Poorly functioning administrations, arbitrary legal systems and corruption are impediments to de­vel­op­ment and hence to successful poverty reduction. Furthermore, poor people are largely excluded from political decision-making processes. Germany is assisting its counterpart countries to develop stable democratic and rule-of-law structures, factors which are essential in order to protect human rights effectively. Enabling poor and disadvantaged sections of the population to benefit from de­vel­op­ment processes and to have their concerns heard is particularly important.


Poverty, injustice, economic and political discrimination create breeding grounds for violent conflicts and ethnic, religious and regional hostilities. Conflicts and the associated military spending hold back de­vel­op­ment and create new poverty at the same time. Germany supports programmes on crisis prevention, reconciliation work, mine clearance, disarmament and reduction of military expenditure. However, the measures also tackle the structural causes of conflict, such as political injustices or social imbalances.

Urban de­vel­op­ment

The global population is on the increase – and this is especially true in the urban conurbations of developing countries. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Urbanisation in developing countries brings with it a rapid increase in poverty. On the other hand, urbanisation also offers huge opportunities for de­vel­op­ment. Cities are extremely important in terms of providing non-discriminatory access to basic services, enabling economic and social participation for all people and, as a result, for promoting human rights as well. German de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion is embracing this urban potential and is therefore playing a part in reducing both social inequality and poverty.

Debt relief

When interest and debt repayments leave the state no further scope for the provision of services or investment, neither de­vel­op­ment nor poverty reduction are possible. The burden of debt upon the poorest developing countries is therefore a key factor which can hinder poverty reduction. Germany therefore supports in­ter­na­ti­o­nal debt relief efforts through the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) and its extension, the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI).

Strengthening civil society

De­vel­op­ment must come from within society. A strong civil society which is able to act unimpeded is essential both in achieving this de­vel­op­ment and in implementing human rights. The German government has therefore set itself the goal of strengthening civil society engagement and utilising it more effectively in the interests of de­vel­op­ment – both in counterpart countries and in Germany.

Since the start of 2012, all BMZ-funded institutions and programmes that support de­vel­op­ment education as well as civic and municipal engagement in de­vel­op­ment have been united under a central service point. The service point is called "En­gage­ment Global – Service for de­vel­op­ment initiatives" and is a one-stop shop offering information, advice, support and training to committed actors in associations, institutions, non-governmental organisations, businesses and municipalities.

Improving the quality and impact of de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion

In order to contribute to poverty reduction as effectively and efficiently as possible, the German government is constantly improving its range of de­vel­op­ment policy instruments.

Organisational and structural reforms are designed to help increase the effectiveness of German de­vel­op­ment policy and to use financial resources in a more targeted manner. To this end, Germany has reduced the number of countries with which it cooperates to 50. A key step in the structural reform was the merger of the three implementing organisations, namely the Deutsche Ge­sell­schaft für Technische Zu­sam­men­ar­beit (GTZ), Capacity Building In­ter­na­ti­o­nal, Germany (InWEnt) and the German De­vel­op­ment Service (DED), to create the Deutsche Ge­sell­schaft für In­ter­na­ti­o­nale Zu­sam­men­ar­beit (GIZ).

Working jointly with other donors and representatives of developing countries, Germany is also engaging on the in­ter­na­ti­o­nal stage in order to improve the quality and effectiveness of de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion. In this respect, it is important for the German government that the contributions of all actors, including the private sector and emerging countries, are taken into account for the de­vel­op­ment of a partner country. The individual actors should focus on particular tasks (division of labour), closely coordinate their programmes (harmonisation) and align them with the strategies, aims and processes of the counterpart countries. The overall aim of the BMZ is to significantly strengthen ownership by the developing countries.

Documents and links

A selection of links to documents and websites containing further information on poverty reduction can be found here.

BMZ glossary

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