Analysis: U.N. report: reduce poverty now

By LAUREN MACK   |   Feb. 11, 2006 at 1:58 PM
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UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- The U.N. Commission on Social Development has been examining the progress made towards the reduction of global poverty.

The commission began an eight-day meeting at U.N. world headquarters in New York Wednesday to review a report detailing the developments and setbacks over the past decade and give recommendations for how member states can meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing, by half, the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

The U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals are a set of eight goals, which, in addition to reducing poverty, include improving maternal health and promoting gender equality and empowering women by 2015.

The report suggests more could be done to reduce poverty, particularly in the poorest parts of the world, though it acknowledges there have been stronger commitments, better global partnerships and successful poverty reduction strategies over the past decade.

"There are many unresolved problems in the area of poverty monitoring," said Sanjay Reddy, assistant professor of economics at Barnard College and Columbia University. "If we take stock very carefully and honestly, we have to acknowledge that our efforts have been very inadequate."

Between 1990 and 2001, 118 million people were no longer living in extreme poverty, which the Millennium Development Goal defines as people who live on less than $1 a day. If this poverty-reduction trend continues, the report said the goal will likely be met at a global level. The report estimates the number of impoverished people will decrease from 1.22 billion in 1990 to 735 million by 2015.

But the report is quick to point out this promising figure can be misleading because there are great differences in individual country results and how each country is working toward the goal.

China has already achieved its goal by reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty from 33 percent to 16.6 percent, but other countries in South America and the Caribbean are lagging behind, said the report entitled "Review of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006)."

In some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, there has been no progress at all.

Sub-Saharan Africa is least likely to achieve the income poverty target, said the report, emphasizing that if the next decade is as unproductive as the last, only eight countries there are projected to reduce poverty by half.

In Europe and Central Asia, poverty rates increased during the 1990s, said the report.

While the report notes the average annual growth rate of per capita income in developing countries has increased since 2000 by 3.4 percent, it notes this increase is mainly because of the high rate of growth in East Asia, particularly China, and because of the recent economic take-off in India.

"Poverty is not just and maybe not primarily about money. It's about access: access to education, to healthcare, access to power, access to having a voice and that's what we are trying to express here," said Roberto Bissio, executive director of the Third World Institute, a non-profit research and advocacy organization based in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Why after 10 years are some countries reducing poverty where others are not?

"We don't know in advance the solutions of many problems. Most solutions are only discovered in the process of experimentation by countries," said Reddy, who gave examples of some of the innovative strategies which have worked. They include midday school food programs and microfinance programs in which institutions and banks in developing countries give small loans to low-income women, and in some cases, men, so they can start their own businesses and the goal of transition out of poverty.

The report blames gender inequality, HIV/AIDS, armed conflicts and the deep division between urban and rural communities for hindering some countries from reducing poverty levels.

In most of the developing world, women have less access to paid employment. Women in southern and western Asia and in northern Africa only hold 20 percent of paying jobs in sectors outside agriculture, said the report.

In areas like sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS is crippling many breadwinners, who in the prime of their lives are contracting the virus. Some 26 million workers aged 15 to 49 are infected worldwide, said the report.

The report offers ideas on how member states, despite these setbacks, can improve their chances of meeting their poverty reduction goal.

It suggests giving a voice to the voiceless -- minorities and the marginalized -- letting the poor participate in discussion of poverty-eradicating strategies and promoting rural development. Promoting microfinance programs for the poor, particularly women, is another suggestion in the report.

"In reflecting on what has worked and what has not worked in poverty eradication, I would agree with Dr. Reddy that the results are less than stellar. There is a lot of work to be done," said Nancy Barry, president of the New York-based Women's World Banking, which provides microfinance to 10 million poor women throughout the world.

"For the first time ever we are capable of removing abject poverty, illiteracy and the diseases of poverty from the human condition," said Clare Short, a British member of Parliament and former secretary for development, in a keynote address to the delegates. "The current intensification of global economic integration has demonstrated that there is enough knowledge, technology and capital to bring development to all the people of the world."

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