9 February 2006
For First Time, World Has Capacity to Reduce Poverty, Commission for Socialdevelopment Told, as It Begins Current Session
But Development Experience in India, China Demonstrates Lack of Sustainability of Current Way of Life on Planet, Says Keynote Speaker
NEW YORK, 8 February (UN Headquarters) -- "We are at a major turning point in human history", Clare Short, Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom, told the Commission for Social Development, noting that, for the first time ever, the world was capable of reducing poverty and improving the lives of its people.
In her keynote address to the opening of the Commission's forty-fourth session today, Ms. Short said the current intensification of global economic integration had demonstrated that there was enough knowledge, technology and capital to bring development to all people. While pointing to the massive economic growth and poverty reduction in China and India over a very short period of time, she added that the experience of development in both countries with over 1 billion people each also demonstrated that the current way of life on the planet was completely unsustainable.
The inequality of the world -- with 20 per cent of people living with material plenty while 1 billion remained abjectly poor -- was also unsustainable, she said. As the poor of the world urbanized and saw clearly how others lived, they would not be willing to tolerate the suffering and poverty they currently endured. "And thus if we want our civilization to survive, we have to learn better to share our knowledge, technology and capital to make the world more equitable both between and within nations." Such a world could not be built, she added, without a stronger, more representative and effective United Nations.
The Commission's current session, which runs until 17 February, will examine progress during the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006), as well as review relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups, particularly older and disabled persons.
Also addressing delegations this morning, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Jose Antonio Ocampo said that while much of the global reduction in poverty had occurred in East and South Asia and the Pacific regions, all other regions had experienced setbacks since 1990, and the scourge of extreme poverty was still entrenched in many countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The stark facts spoke for themselves: more than 1 billion people still lived in extreme poverty, somehow surviving on less than one dollar a day.
Many countries faced deep-rooted obstacles to achieving poverty reduction, he said, including the still weak link between economic growth and poverty reduction. A necessary condition for poverty reduction and sustainable development was sustained economic growth. Growth was not enough, however. The pattern of growth was equally important, in particular its capacity to generate decent and productive employment for the poorest sectors of society and its effects on income distribution.
Commission Chairperson Javier Loayza Barea (Bolivia) said that, as the current session reviewed the Decade, it must consider the lingering reality that more than a billion people were immobilized by poor health, illiteracy and lack of adequate shelter and employment opportunities. Many more continued to bequeath to their children lives of social exclusion, powerlessness and discrimination. Aware that those were the very situations that created ripe conditions for conflict and instability, the Commission would vigorously highlight the dangerous costs to society when social and human interests were diminished. It would discuss how to carry forward the fight against poverty and improve the lives of older persons, youth, indigenous peoples, marginalized groups and persons with disabilities.
The particular struggle of sub-Saharan Africa against poverty was again highlighted during an afternoon panel discussion on the review of the Decade. Poverty in Africa, noted Ambassador Judith Mbula Bahemuka of Kenya, was pervasive, gender-based and largely a rural phenomenon. Statistics showed there were more poor people today than in the 1980s or 1990s. That meant that either the growth in gross domestic product (GDP) had not been commensurate with population growth or that GDP growth was attributable to people who were already out of the absolutely poor bracket. The rich were getting richer and the poor, poorer. For many in Africa, achieving the Millennium Development Goals would just be a pipe dream, she stated.
The other participants in the panel were: Nancy Barry, President of Women's World Banking, New York; Robert Bissio, Executive Director, Third World Institute, Uruguay; and Sanjay Reddy, Assistant Professor of Economics at Barnard College, Columbia University. During the discussion, questions were posed on, among other things, the link between poverty eradication and decent employment; the use of remittances to provide basic needs; the need for aid to implement national programmes; the distinctions between developmental and geopolitical aid; and progress, or lack thereof, in reducing maternal mortality.
Also this afternoon, the Commission held a dialogue with its Special Rapporteur on Disability, Sheikha Hessa Al-Thani, who reported that the lack of adequate, accurate information and statistical data on the size, needs and barriers facing persons with disabilities represented one of the biggest challenges for those working on policy and decision-making. Disability and the concerns of persons with disabilities was still one of the most neglected issues on the agendas of international development organizations. The recent increase in interest had not translated into targeted programmes to make a difference to the lives of persons with disabilities.
At the outset of this morning's meeting, the Commission elected Nina Saraswati Djajaprawira (Indonesia) and Luvuyo Lonsdale Ndimeni (South Africa) to serve as Vice-Chairpersons. It was agreed that Victor Leu (Republic of Moldova) would serve as Rapporteur. The Commission also adopted its agenda and organization of work.
The Commission also heard from Johan Schölvinck, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, who introduced the reports of the Secretary-General related to "Follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth session of the General Assembly"; and Sister Burke, Chairperson of the NGO Committee on Social Development, who reported on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 9 February, to begin its general discussion.
The Commission on Social Development met this morning to begin its forty-fourth session, focusing on a review of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006). (For background on the session, see Press Release SOC/4692 issued on 2 February.)
Following his election as Chairperson of the Commission, JAVIER LOAYZA BAREA (Bolivia) said that in its long history, the Commission had always had a core objective: to improve the quality of life and provide a voice for individuals the world over whose lives were mired in poverty and exclusion. The commitments made at Copenhagen in 1995 charted a course to reverse the continued marginalization of major parts of the world's population and to combat poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. In an increasingly interdependent world, that was all the more pressing, as societies were expected to rapidly adjust to the challenges of economic, social and political changes posed by globalization. The outcome document of the 2005 World Summit recognized the interrelatedness of the world's challenges and called on Governments to address their root causes with resolve and determination.
The Commission bore a crucial responsibility in that regard, he noted. As the current session reviewed the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, it must consider the lingering reality that more than a billion people were immobilized by poor health, illiteracy, and lack of adequate shelter and employment opportunities. It, therefore, must be involved in policy-making.
Many more continued to bequeath to their children lives of social exclusion, powerlessness and discrimination, he continued. Aware that those were the very situations that created ripe conditions for conflict and instability, the Commission would vigorously highlight the dangerous costs to society when social and human interests were diminished. In doing so, it must retain and strengthen the social development agenda, and advance the debate on social justice and inequality.
He said the agenda for the Commission's current session faithfully reflected that spirit. The Commission would be discussing how to carry forward the fight against poverty and improve the lives of older persons, youth, indigenous peoples, marginalized groups and persons with disabilities. The major unifying idea forged by Copenhagen was the need for a people-centred approach to development. Consequently, it must become a key element in the adoption of national policies. It was necessary to mount a vigorous assault on poverty and address its root causes. Broad and lasting progress in doing so required a major compromise at all levels -- national, regional and international. Moreover, the Commission had a unique opportunity to harmonize the implementation of the social development goals as part of the wider United Nations development agenda.
"Ultimately, success will be reflected in the implementation of our resolve and resolutions to improve the human condition and advance the social agenda", he said. It was his hope that all delegations would bear that in mind and work together to produce outcomes that had a practical and real impact, particularly in fulfilling the expectations of those hoping to reverse their poverty condition.
JOSE ANTONIO OCAMPO, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the Commission had reached a watershed, as 2006 was the last year of a five-year programme of work and the final year of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. Today, despite considerable progress, the Commission was still far short of the goal to eradicate poverty. While much of the global reduction in poverty had occurred in East and South Asia and the Pacific regions, all other regions had experienced setbacks since 1990, and the scourge of extreme poverty was still entrenched in many individual countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The stark facts spoke for themselves: more than 1 billion people still lived in extreme poverty, somehow surviving on less than one dollar a day.
Poverty must not only be seen in terms of material deprivation, he said. The debilitating and devastating effects of extreme poverty -- on individuals, families and communities -- must also be understood in terms of economic and social exclusion and the denial of human rights. The goal to eradicate poverty as an ethical, social, political and economic imperative was at the core of the comprehensive development agenda, which had emerged from United Nations conferences and summits over the past decade and a half. The 1995 World Summit for Social Development had articulated a holistic policy framework for eradicating poverty, promoting employment and fostering social integration. The Copenhagen Declaration committed Governments to tackle the root causes of poverty. Member States had in 2000 reaffirmed those path-breaking commitments. They had also made a new commitment, namely to work with all relevant stakeholders to reduce extreme poverty by half by the year 2015. After the Millennium Summit, that commitment had taken prominent form in the Millennium Development Goals. The world now recognized the Goals as key benchmarks for national and international efforts to eradicate poverty and promote sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental dimensions.
Many countries faced deep-rooted obstacles to achieving poverty reduction, including the still weak link between economic growth and poverty reduction, he said. A necessary condition for poverty reduction and sustainable development was sustained economic growth. Growth was not enough, however. The pattern of growth was equally important, in particular its capacity to generate decent and productive employment for the poorest sectors of society and its effects on income distribution. In most parts of the world, women systematically received lower salaries and had less access to paid employment. The "inclusiveness" of economic growth was not an automatic outcome of market forces and should, thus, be built through explicit public policies.
Foremost among those policies, he underscored the need for economic growth strategies that explicitly mainstreamed the generation of decent and productive employment for the poor. He also stressed the need for measures to address the growing inequality in income and wealth distribution and the provision of social safety nets and risk mitigation measures as part of the long-term effort to build comprehensive and universal social protection systems. In its Declaration on the tenth anniversary of the Social Summit, the Commission had stressed the need for poverty reduction policies and programmes to include specific measures to promote full and productive employment and to foster social integration. The 2005 World Summit also emphasized the central role of employment, not only in the poverty eradication agenda, but also in equitable developments and the overall development agenda.
Success in driving forward active employment policies depended on the quality of public policies and the ability to reverse a troublesome trend of recent decades -- the weakening of the public sector in most parts of the world. A key issue in that regard was the need to mainstream social objectives into economic policymaking. The social implications of economic policies must be made more central to economic policymaking at the national and international levels. The international agenda had recognized also that a crucial element of any poverty eradication and inclusive growth strategy was the establishment of country-driven participatory processes that promoted ownership of policies and programmes by all citizens. In short, the poor and the marginalized should not only be subjects, but also central actors in the design of inclusive public policies.
That was the context in which the Commission would address its priority theme, he said. The Commission's output would be a critical input to the overall review of the decade to be taken up by the Assembly this fall and should make a key contribution to the work of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) this summer. The Commission could also see itself as a first mover in another important respect as it was the first of the Council's functional commissions to meet since the 2005 World Summit. The Summit Outcome raised several questions for the commissions in the overall context of United Nations reform. The Summit decisions on development and on ECOSOC reform could enable the Council and its subsidiary bodies to operate as a unified system around the single framework of the development goals in order to drive and monitor their implementation. That new ECOSOC system, with a boosted capacity to deliver for Member States, was yet to be crystallized. He hoped to see a general segment in which the Council gave more sustained attention to the work of its functional commissions, including time to address substantive and coordination issues emanating from the commissions' reports, including through interactive dialogues.
At the same time, the functional commissions needed to consider their positions within the new system, he said. With the Summit outcome and with the upcoming ECOSOC session, the United Nations as a whole had an opportunity to engage in the debate on employment issues in a much broader and energetic way. The Outcome Document also suggested a need to bring greater attention to the developmental aspects of social integration and of building inclusive societies. The Commission also needed to think about how the individual follow-up processes it helped to drive could be geared towards implementation of the comprehensive development agenda, in terms not only of reporting, but also of analytical and policy contributions towards achieving the goals.
While there were difficult questions with no easy answers, it seemed clear that the Commission might want to add a standing agenda item on its relations to ECOSOC, he said. Another issue was how the Commission would respond to the Summit's major emphasis on achieving greater coherence and synergies in the United Nations operational, analytical and normative work, at both country and headquarters levels. That could mean exploring ways to engage the United Nations funds and programmes and the governing bodies of the specialized agencies in the Commission's work. In all those tasks, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs was eager to support the Commission and the entire ECOSOC family of organizations.
JOHAN SCHÖLVINCK, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, introduced the agenda item entitled "Follow-up to the World Summit for Social Development and the twenty-fourth session of the General Assembly", including the two reports submitted for that item. The scope of the Poverty Decade proposed at the Social Summit was wide and comprehensive, providing a long-term vision of sustained and concerted effort for poverty eradication. The summits and conferences held during the Poverty Decade, including the 2005 World Summit, had reaffirmed the primacy of poverty eradication within the comprehensive United Nations development agenda. The multidimensional view of the Social Summit on poverty remained a guiding force for policymaking in social development and continued to influence the debate on poverty strategies.
The report of the Secretary-General on the priority theme found that progress towards poverty eradication had not been uniform across regions, and major challenges remained, including income inequality, gender inequality, HIV/AIDS and armed conflicts. During the Decade, important lessons had been learned about how to fight poverty, including the need for a participatory approach that was country-driven and that promoted ownership as a precondition for the successful implementation of poverty-reduction policies. Among the recommendations the Commission might wish to consider was to urge countries with extreme poverty to adopt by 2006 and begin to implement a national strategy to halve extreme poverty by 2015.
Turning to the Secretary-General's report related to ageing, he recalled that the General Assembly, at its fifty-seventh session, had invited the Commission to consider the modalities for the review and appraisal of the Madrid Plan of Action, adopted at the Second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002. Subsequently, the Commission, at its forty-first session, had recommended adopting a "bottom-up" approach, whereby Governments would facilitate the participation of individuals, groups, organizations and communities from the grass-roots to the national level. That approach was comprehensive yet flexible, and made it possible to obtain a different kind of information about the implementation of the Madrid Plan of Action.
At its forty-second session, the Commission decided to undertake the review and appraisal every five years and requested the Secretary-General to propose guidelines for the review and appraisal process, taking into account the views of Member States, civil society and the private sector, including a proposal for a specific theme for the first cycle. The Secretary-General's report suggested a two-year calendar, starting now and ending with the Commission's session in 2008. It would be up to the Commission, at the current session, to decide on the theme and the calendar for the first review and appraisal cycle.
With regard to the ongoing work of the Programme on the Family within the Division for Social Policy and Development, he recalled that the General Assembly, in its resolution 59/147, had invited the Secretary-General to disseminate a compilation of existing development cooperation activities of the United Nations system in the area of the family. The compilation, which would be made available to the Commission, contained information received by the Secretariat through January 2006 and reflected the recent activities of the United Nations system in the field of the family.
Sister BURKE, Chairperson of the NGO Committee on Social Development, reporting on the outcome of the Civil Society Forum, called on the Commission to renew commitment to develop effective strategies to bring justice called for in the First Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. Civil society members came to the Commission with a deep sense of urgency and dread as it looked at the widening inequalities that divided the human community. In fact, it had been a "decade of poverty". The international community could no longer tolerate a world in which the majority of people were forced to endure abject poverty. The language of economists describing countries as "developed" and "developing" no longer did justice to a world where peoples' realities were defined by war, mass migration, social stratification, deep insecurity and inhuman standards of living.
The past decade could be measured in promises broken and hopes deferred, she said. The 1995 Copenhagen Declaration set forth a comprehensive vision of social development, focusing on, among other things, human dignity, human rights, equality, democracy and mutual responsibility and cooperation. At Monterrey, Governments developed the means to finance the commitments made at the Millennium Summit. The 2005 World Summit outcome reaffirmed the commitment to eradicate poverty and to promote sustainable development for all peoples. In the course of the past 10 years, numerous international meetings had taken up the mandate to eradicate poverty. Yet, poverty and inequality continued to plague the world.
In that regard, she said the Forum called for the implementation of practical sustainable poverty reduction strategies that benefited all. Governments must act now to keep promises already made. Poverty was a multidimensional reality affecting every part of human life. Poverty not only rendered people hungry -- it marginalized them by depriving them of access to health services, education, social participation, decent work, safe and healthy environment, and effective political participation. Access or the lack thereof was key to understanding poverty. In that regard, she demanded a systematic approach to poverty eradication that addressed the prevailing lack of access through addressing underlying social, economic and political barriers.
The Copenhagen Declaration placed the right to participation of every person at the centre of the development agenda, she said. The Forum called for decisive strategies that placed people at the centre of development. She called on Governments to design and implement effective outreach programmes to ensure that those marginalized in their countries were actively involved in the design and carrying out of programmes that ameliorated their life situations. Poverty would only be eradicated through drastic changes in the systematic structures and conditionalities that underpinned trade, aid and debt in the current system of wealth creation. The creation of decent work was critical to any development strategy. Concluding, she called for national, regional and international strategies for the creation of decent work and for the transformation of the structures underlying the current system of trade, aid and debt.
CLARE SHORT, Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom, said that in reviewing the implementation of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, the international community was forced to conclude that the picture was mixed. While there had been great achievements since the great United Nations conferences of the 1990s, humankind was living in worrying times when there was an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty across the world. Noting that the world's people were living at a time of rapid historical change, she said that, at such a time, ideas had great potential power. The ideas that captured people's minds, and helped explain to them the changes that were taking place, would either lead to hope and progress or division and conflict. She would try to outline the reasons to be hopeful and the dangers that might cause the international community to fail to capture the possibilities of the times.
She began by saying that in Europe between the year 500 and 1500, the rate of growth of gross domestic product (GDP) was zero. For thousands of years, the standard of living in Europe was constant and did not differ markedly between countries. Real wages in England were roughly the same in 1800 as in 1300. Population growth was also zero. The phenomenon of sustained growth in living standards was only a few centuries old. The force that changed all of that was the industrial revolution, which brought new technologies and new sources of power to produce a massive expansion in production and wealth.
Those changes were accompanied by great shifts of population, from a life of poverty on the land to a life of squalor and factory work in the cities. People suffered terrible living and working conditions, ill-health and illiteracy. However, out of the contrast between new riches and the poverty of the workers, new movements developed that at first demanded the right to organize into unions at work and then the right to vote so that the power of the State could be used to ensure that all had access to work, housing, education and other basic necessities.
Those struggles brought full employment and the welfare State to the 20 per cent of humanity who lived in the countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), she continued. But those countries used their wealth and strength to plunder and dominate the rest of the world until the demand for equality, dignity and development became overwhelming and empires crumbled and the post-colonial era was born. And it was at the United Nations that all the newly free nations met as equals under the umbrella of international law, the inspiration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a commitment to equality and a right to development for all people. Considerable progress was made in the post-colonial period in increased life expectancy, reduced infant mortality, improved literacy and access to clean water. But development led to population growth just as it did in the OECD countries after industrialization and, therefore, despite the progress that was made, the number of people living in poverty grew.
But history, she said, was diverted from a commitment to development, as the world divided into two blocks, with the West concentrating on the civil and political or "blue rights" of the Universal Declaration and the Soviet block concentrating on the "red rights" of social and economic entitlement. And thus both sides distorted the Universal Declaration which made clear that all people were entitled to all the rights and laid an obligation on every Government and all people to try to secure all those rights for all people. Aid was misused and struggles for independence distorted by the tensions of the cold war with the two sides lined up behind their surrogates, but large-scale war was avoided by the terrible promise of mutually assured destruction through an onslaught of nuclear weapons, if either side was foolish enough to launch a war.
By the 1980s, the Soviet block was crumbling because of the failure of its economic model and its lack of freedom. And in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down and in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, a wave of hope spread across the world as people expected cuts in defence spending and a sharing of wealth and technology which could usher in a period of increased progress and hope. It was during that time that the great United Nations conferences of the 1990s were held.
"We are at a major turning point in human history", she said. For the first time ever, the world was capable of removing abject poverty, illiteracy and the diseases of poverty from the human condition. The current intensification of global economic integration had demonstrated that there was enough knowledge, technology and capital to bring development to all the people of the world. And thus, the world had witnessed massive economic growth and poverty reduction in China and India over a very short period of time. But the experience of development in the two countries each with over 1 billion people also demonstrated that the current way of life on the planet was completely unsustainable.
It must be concluded that if the OECD countries had their current way of life, then the people of China and India, as well as Africa and Latin America, were entitled to the same and the future would be catastrophic, she said. The planet simply could not cope with all the people living in that consumerist and greedy way. In addition, that way of life did not make people in the OECD countries happy. They had growing problems of obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, family breakdown and a general sense of malaise following from a loss of a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Therefore, she stated, the old model that saw the developing world become like the OECD countries was neither desirable nor possible. And the inequality of the world with 20 per cent of people living with material plenty in a world in which 1 billion people remained abjectly poor was also unsustainable. As the poor of the world urbanized and saw clearly how others lived, they would not be willing to tolerate the suffering and poverty they currently endured. "And thus if we want our civilization to survive, we have to learn better to share our knowledge, technology and capital to make the world more equitable both between and within nations." Such a world could not be built without a stronger, more representative and effective United Nations that could effectively end the terrible wars within States.
She added that within the next 30 to 100 years, a new civilization must be created. "Things will probably get worse before they get better, but it is not until we accept that we have to share equitably and build a way of life that is sustainable that we will be able to secure our future on this planet."
The representative of the Dominican Republic noted that poverty was the absence of jobs, rights, inclusion and justice. Each year saw a growing disconnect between jobs and growth. It was important to recognize the importance not only of the Millennium Development Goals, but also of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. The current oil situation was making the global economy extremely fragile, especially for developing and middle income countries.
Cuba's representative said the essential issue was the redistribution of wealth. A model had been retained in which a very few controlled nearly all the world's resources. Without changing that model, poverty eradication would not be possible. On the militarization of State budgets, what measures should be taken to reduce military expenditure in order to combat poverty? he asked.
Responding, Ms. SHORT said the question of jobs and exclusion was highly linked to the question of growing inequality. In the United Kingdom, unemployment was low, partly because there had been a move by the State to subsidize low-paying jobs. There was lots of low paid, poor quality work. The State was subsidizing people to work rather than to be on benefits. The growth of inequality and the failure of the State to ensure the equitable distribution of resources must be the Commission's focus.
Regarding oil, she said it was likely that prices would continue to increase with the world swinging back to the experiences of the 1970s. Rising oil prices could throw the world into an economic recession with dangerous consequences for all. Greater determination was needed to bring peace to the world's turbulent regions.
On the redistribution of wealth, she said it was Marx who understood that the wealth was not a finite amount. How capital was invested and technology shared was an important question. On the militarization of State budgets, while there had been a massive reduction in defence spending after the cold war, the so-called war on terror was driving a massive growth in defence spending. The only way to reduce military budgets was to spread justice.
Also responding, Sister BURKE said the militarization of budgets was a serious concern to the non-governmental organization (NGO) community which it knew how to place. The world currently spent more than a trillion dollars a year on armaments. For civil society, it was a question of raising awareness. A global ethic was developing, however. Supporting Governments to turn things around for the sake of the entire international community should be the goal.
Pakistan's representative said he had noted striking omissions in statements made, which he found rather strange. While there was a broad perspective on social inclusion and developments within countries, not much had been said on the international dimension of poverty eradication efforts. There had been much reluctance in terms of implementing the World Summit Outcome. For many developing countries the first issue was to take people out of poverty and disease. How did the panel address that gap?
China's representative said poverty in her country had, since 1978, been greatly reduced. The Chinese Government had as its goal the pursuit of a harmonious society and a "recycling" society. Developing and developed members should share the responsibility for development and the environment. The United Nations should play a greater role in providing support for development.
Responding, Ms. SHORT said it was not a question of the international and national levels. All had to do better. On the issue of good governance, the system was frailer than it had been. Since the invasion of Iraq, the will to reform and take the international agenda forward had been undermined, posing a considerable danger to progress in that area. While the promises of the Doha Round had been important, delivery had been extremely weak. She agreed that the United Nations system needed to be strengthened. The Security Council needed to be reformed to reflect the current balance of power. She believed that some of the big Powers were in so much trouble that there would be a swing back to multilateral cooperation in years to come. The developing countries must not say environmental questions did not matter to them, as they had been and would continue to be hit hard by environmental issues.
She added that her comments on China were not meant at all as criticism. The situation was, however, that if China had what the United States had in 2031, the demands on the planet would be more than it could bear. The point was not to criticize China, but to say that all had to change. A more sustainable way of living needed to be created.
Sister BURKE said the NGO community was indeed concerned about international economic structures and the implementation of the Monterrey Consensus. Most NGOs were increasingly involved in the financing for development field. Financing for development must be brought into the United Nations system and strengthened.
Mr. OCAMPO added that the international agenda -- the Monterrey Consensus in particular -- had established the need to unite strengths, and national forces with greater international efforts for cooperation. In general terms, the discussion focused on official development aid, debt relief and international trade. While progress had been made in all of those areas, many questions remained, and there was the strong likelihood that many of the commitments made would not be fulfilled. There was still the question of how to best channel resources generated following the Paris Agreement on ensuring the effectiveness of external aid.
Regarding debt relief and external aid, major progress had been made, he said. A number of poor countries were not participating in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative, however, and there was clear lack of format to overcome the indebtedness of middle-income countries. On the issue of trade, while an agenda existed, there were considerable differences of opinion. That issue was only one part of the Monterrey agenda. The approach to the Monterrey agenda needed to be a comprehensive. There were a number of growing imbalances in the global economy, including a record deficit in the United States economy. The collapse of the dollar would not help resolve the issue, but would entail many risks, especially for developing countries that were most vulnerable to global economic cycles. Discussion of systemic issues had been sidelined in much of the debate.
Cuba's representative noted that structural policies adopted in the 1980s had aggravated the problem of poverty and undermined the resolve of developing countries to develop policies geared towards social inclusiveness. The scene had been set, which was why they continued to face problems in overcoming poverty.
Finland's representative asked if there had been any positive elements in the growth of global social policy.
Responding, Ms. SHORT said traditional progressive forces were feeling rather pessimistic. With the end of the cold war, there had been a release of hope. Now, there had been a setback and the growth of division. The question was how to go forward. Two sets of forces were at work, and it was not yet determined which were going to be successful. Her own Government, as well as that of the United States, was making enormous policy errors in the Middle East. There was a real prospect that the world would come back to multilateralism as the only way to sort out the mess. The misery of the industrial revolution had been transformed by the demands of the people for justice. The future could either be bleak or much better, but it depended on everyone. "So we'd better get to work", she said.
Sister BURKE said the only hope of counter-balancing economic globalization was by joining hands and building a social globalization of ordinary people. A global ethic was needed.
The representative of Saudi Arabia, addressing the role of rising oil prices, stressed the need for the world to develop more responsible consumption patterns.
In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on the review of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. The panellists were Judith Mbula Bahemuka, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations; Nancy Barry, President of Women's World Banking, New York; Robert Bissio, Executive Director, Third World Institute, Uruguay; and Sanjay Reddy, Assistant Professor of Economics at Barnard College, Columbia University.
JUDITH MBULA BAHEMUKA (Kenya) said that while certain regions of the world such as East Asia and the Pacific had experienced some gains in their relentless struggle against poverty, the same could not be said of sub-Saharan Africa, where poverty in certain regions had continued to become defiant, resistant and even humiliating. Poverty in Africa was pervasive, gender-based and largely a rural phenomenon with some pockets in the urban areas. Statistics showed that there were more poor people today than in the 1980s or 1990s. That meant that either the growth in GDP had not been commensurate with the growth of the population or that the growth in GDP was attributable to people who were already out of the absolutely poor bracket. The rich were getting richer and the poor, poorer. For many in Africa, achieving the Millennium Development Goals would just be a pipe dream.
Among the factors that had led to huge poverty levels, she mentioned the fact that infrastructure was virtually non-existent in many areas, and it would be a monumental task to first construct roads and instal electricity and communications systems. Human resources had to be identified, tapped and trained. Other factors included the "vulgarities of nature", including droughts and famines; political upheavals, conflicts and civil strife; and the depressing impact of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases.
As to the way forward, the greatest challenge was with the society at large, she said. There was a responsibility to bring up children and inculcate in them values such as honesty and accountability, in order to tackle social ills such as corruption and mismanagement. She also noted that framers of national strategies had come up with ambitious plans that were incapable of being implemented, due to lack of resources. In addition, it was important to involve people in any poverty-alleviation strategy. Meticulously drafted strategies lacking grass-roots support were bound to fail. It was important to allow home-grown solutions to problems and involve the affected every step of the way.
NANCY BARRY, President of the Women's World Banking, New York, said microfinance could be considered one of the success stories of poverty eradication. The microfinance movement/industry represented regulated and unregulated institutions, grass-roots organizations and mainstream commercial banks that now saw the poor majority as important clients. It was important to spend more time not just measuring results, but figuring out what worked. Microfinance worked because it focused on income poverty. It also worked as an investment or a sustainable institution, attracting savings and private local capital. Microfinance had also worked because it had taken a systemic approach. In the last 10 years, institutions had not become involved in non-financial services such as training. Microfinance had also seen the need to move beyond credit, thus the death of microcredit and the birth of microfinance. The ability to deal with various social ills through financial instruments was important, as was the recognition that it was not possible to rely on markets.
She said another reason why microfinance worked was because of practitioner-generated performance standards. While the industry had generated performance indicators and standards that worked for Africa, Asia and Latin America, there were certain standards of practice. There had also been a continuous approach towards innovation and competition. Competition was good for poor women as it gave them more choices. Microfinance institutions were celebrating the entry of the private sector while being watchdogs at the same time. As the next decade approached, it was important to recognize the tremendous leadership in the South in the area of microfinance.
SANJAY REDDY, Assistant Professor of Economics at Barnard College, Columbia University, said the Decade's importance could not be overstated. Nevertheless, it was necessary to take serious and honest stock of how successful that Decade had been. Too little was known about the actual record of poverty reduction, particularly about income poverty. The dollar-a-day measure of poverty, which was the most used in the United Nations, was riddled with methodological problems which made judgements about whether poverty increased or decreased quite unreliable.
In looking at different regions, he drew attention to the fact that poverty had fallen sharply in East Asia, due primarily to income-poverty reduction in China. In South Asia, there was reason to believe poverty might have fallen, in part due to considerable economic growth in India. The situation looked much less promising in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the level of poverty reduction was relatively small, and in a number of countries poverty seemed to have increased. In sub-Saharan Africa, there was evidence of increased poverty in several countries. It was difficult to form a global picture of whether poverty had decreased and to what extent.
He stressed the urgent need for better monitoring of serious human deprivations. Statistics on income poverty and other deprivations often lacked comparability across countries. It was time for Member States to call for the United Nations Secretariat to put in place the equivalent for poverty monitoring of what had been done by the Organization for national income accounting in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, in order to make real poverty monitoring possible for the first time.
Turning to actions that should be undertaken by States to ensure elimination of poverty, if not in the first Decade, then in the next, he said aid did appear to matter, and mattered over the long run. The amount of development aid received by a country did have an impact on its growth. At the same time, aid by itself was not enough. It was equally important to allow countries to find their own solutions. Instead of presenting a menu of programmes, it was important to create arrangements where countries became mutually accountable. One way to do that could be through a "peer and partner review", by which countries would formulate plans and have them evaluated by both their peers and their partners.
ROBERT BISSIO, Executive Director of the Third World Institute, Uruguay, said the affirmation of the World Summit on Social Development that poverty could and should be eradicated was a moral and political imperative. The title of this afternoon's panel could be, "see the poor, and make them visible". If the poor were not visible, then there would no pro-poor policy. Ten years after Copenhagen, the speed of social progress had decelerated. While there was still some progress, the speed of that progress had decreased and, in some countries, had even regressed since 1990. There seemed to be a reverse correlation between promises made and outcomes in reality. One of the reasons for that could be the reduction of political policy space for countries to decide on their own development and anti-poverty strategies.
The Decade had not been a failure, he said. The issue of poverty had been once again put at the centre of the international agenda and public opinion, which increasingly affected the international agenda. Society was making Governments accountable for what they were doing and the poor were becoming visible. More than half of humanity -- an absolute majority -- was considered poor in the societies in which they lived.
A deal had been made at the Millennium Summit and then at Monterrey in which national Governments and the international community agreed to do their best to achieve poverty eradication, he said. Developing countries had made enormous efforts to meet their end of the deal, whereas the commitment of the developed countries had clearly not been met. The commitment to create a trade system that was rule-based, predictable and fair had not been met yet. The world was also waiting to see the results of a commitment to produce a solution to the debt problem. Countries had to make history by striking a new deal that would really produce poverty eradication.
Questions and Responses
Following the presentations, representatives posed questions on, among other things, the link between poverty eradication and decent employment; the use of remittances to provide basic needs; the need for aid to implement national programmes; the distinctions between developmental and geopolitical aid; and progress, or lack thereof, in reducing maternal mortality.
In her response, Ms. BAHEMUKA said that unless the private sector was brought in, it was not possible to move forward. In Kenya, once the private sector had moved in and worked with the Government and with civil society, tangible results had been seen. She complimented those institutions and persons in the private sector that took it upon themselves to further microfinance for women and youth, saying that where the private sector had stepped in, youth, women and society had benefited.
On the subject of providing school meals, she noted that her country had been using school meals to address the lack of good nutrition. It was found that children did not have breakfast and were falling asleep by mid-morning. School meals, which were being used to ensure children could persevere during the day, were an innovative idea and had helped her country a lot.
Ms. BARRY also emphasized the need to engage the private sector, both local and foreign. For example, she wanted to see the technology giants in India engage around issues related to poverty alleviation.
In her view, remittances represented failure on the part of local economic development; otherwise, people would not have migrated. Essentially, poor people were sending remittances home to poor people. The Dominican Republic was playing an important leadership role in getting some of those flows into financial institutions. If the banks wanted a piece of remittances, they must provide products and services that people needed, for example, by converting remittances into housing loans.
While there was no "bright line distinction" between development aid and geopolitical aid, said Mr. REDDY, investment in infrastructure, such as roads and schools, would have a difference impact in the long term, as opposed to investment in other areas, such as armaments.
In response to another question, he said growth alone was not sufficient to achieve poverty-reduction goals. A broad-based and inclusive pattern of growth was extremely crucial to achieve poverty reduction. He cited the example of India, where aggregate statistics showed that the growth pattern had not been employment creating. Broad-based investment in human capabilities was essential in that regard.
Mr. BISSIO recalled that, two centuries ago, Adam Smith had said that the main reason for the increase in poverty in Europe was that workers were not allowed the freedom to move around. Two centuries later, corporations, capital and products were given the freedom to move but not workers. Workers should be allowed to move freely around the world.
He added that the definitions of maternal mortality statistics had been changed after 1995. As a result, it was not possible to determine whether there had been progress or regression since the Cairo Conference.
Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Disability
SHEIKHA HESSA AL-THANI, the Commission's Special Rapporteur on Disability, noted that it was the third time she was presenting her annual report for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. This year's report, which was based on the vision of the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, was in two parts. The first dealt with the results of the Global Survey on Government Actions on the Implementation of the Standard Rules, which was the first comprehensive survey to assess Governments' moral and political commitment to the implementation of the Standard Rules since its unanimous adoption by the international community. The Survey differed from its predecessors in that it targeted all Member States and disabled persons organizations, addressing each of the Standard Rules separately through 47 questions. The outcomes of the Survey constituted a wealth of information that required further study.
The second part of the report dealt with the achievements and activities of the past year, she said, including activities to monitor and further the implementation of the Standard Rules. Awareness-raising activities this year included launching the parliamentary process to raise awareness and build capacity among parliamentarians and legislators in the Arab world. Other activities included advocacy and country visits and regional consultations. Reinforced by objective monitoring, advocacy could be the most effective tool to encourage Governments to adopt the vision of equalizing opportunities for persons with disabilities. The aim of country visits and regional consultations was to open channels of communication with Governments regarding the implementation of the Standard Rules. Two meetings of the Panel of Experts were also held in 2005, including one in Amman, Jordan, in conjunction with the Arab Parliamentary Symposium on Legislating Disability Issues in the Arab World.
She said that in the coming year, she would concentrate on information and statistics and insufficient interest on the part of development organizations. The lack of adequate, accurate information and statistical data on the size, needs and barriers facing persons with disabilities represented one of the biggest challenges for those working on policy and decision-making. Disability and the concerns of persons with disabilities was still one of the most neglected issues on the agendas of international development organizations. In spite of a notable increase in interest lately, that interest had not translated into targeted programmes to make a difference to the lives of persons with disabilities. Renewed effort would be made this year to ensure that the issues of persons with disabilities were placed on the agendas of international and regional development organizations.
The representative of the Philippines asked the Special Rapporteur to describe, based on the findings of the survey, the differences on priority needs across countries of varying levels of development. At the end of the decade how could the Commission contribute to addressing the socio-economic needs of persons with disabilities?
A representative of the International Disability Alliance said the group represented the panel of experts which worked with the Special Rapporteur. The panel had played a critical role in supporting the Special Rapporteur in ensuring that the Standard Rules become an active instrument in meeting the needs of people with disabilities. It was crucial to ensure that the Standard Rules would complement the convention, which he hoped, would soon be adopted. While the Standard Rules represented an important document, the supplement addressed issues not fully covered by the Rules, such as gender and the needs of older persons. A United Nations convention held great promise for persons with disabilities.
The representative of Mexico said she hoped more States would fill in the survey in order to provide a global overview of persons with disabilities. She wanted to know what future steps the Special Rapporteur had planned in that respect. An issue of growing importance was the need to harness synergies between the various existing mechanisms, such as the Standard Rules, and the upcoming adoption of the convention. In that regard, there was a need to avoid duplication of efforts between those mechanisms.
Responding, Ms. AL-THANI said some 50 per cent of the countries had responded to the survey. It was the first time a high response had been registered for the Arab world. As for the Commission's work, the largest number of disabled people existed in developing and poor countries. Issues regarding the question of the Standard Rules and the convention were still under discussion. It was well known, however, that the convention was a legal instrument while the Standard Rules provided the moral basis for discussion.
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