18 September 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on United Nations Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System


“The near poor are becoming the new poor” as a result of the global financial crisis, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations said today at Headquarters, as she announced the development of the United Nations Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System, or “GIVAS”.


Briefing correspondents on Voices of the Vulnerable:  The Economic Crisis from the Ground Up, a report that the Secretary-General would present to the General Assembly next week, Asha-Rose Migiro said projections suggested that 100 million more people would fall below the poverty line this year due to the crisis.  Although many of them had seen their fortunes improve over the past decade, now they risked falling back, exhausted by crisis after crisis –- first food and fuel, and now the economic downturn.


The Deputy Secretary-General said that, while the first “green shoots” of recovery were evident in some places, the crisis was far from over in the developing world.  Forecasts implied that remittance flows to developing countries would be reduced by some 7.3 per cent in 2009, and the number of unemployed youth had risen by 18.2 million this year.  The crisis might have severe long-term consequences.  Tens of millions of children would suffer cognitive and physical injury caused by malnutrition.  The further spread and evolution of the H1N1 influenza pandemic should be monitored, as well as the onset of new natural disasters.


Noting that there was a deadly lag between the onset of a crisis and the emergence of an accurate picture of its impact on the poor and vulnerable, she said that up-to-date information was crucial for policymakers in order to craft the right policy responses.  The United Nations was trying to address that problem by developing GIVAS, which would collect real-time data by using new technologies.  The system would be provided “as a public good for all” and, said Ms. Migiro, “it promises to be a twenty-first century tool designed to help analyse twenty-first century global problems”.  (See also Press Release ECO/166.)


Asked what new technologies would be used for GIVAS, Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning, said the “workhorse” of the system would be the most simple but also most powerful tool and one which had not been available 10 years ago, namely worldwide cell phone use and “SMS-ing”.  New data collection and sorting technologies would also be applied, as well as new data dissemination technologies.


To a question about pressure by the International Monetary Fund on Governments to reduce social spending in exchange for loans, Ms. Migiro said it was true that there was such pressure in times of crisis such as the present one.  It was important, however, to link social services with sustainable development.  That had been the message of the Secretary-General to the Group of 20 (G-20) and the Group of Eight (G-8) when he warned that it would be wrong to request cuts in social services. For poor and vulnerable people, those services really mattered.  The United Nations system remained focused on ongoing problems in the social sector such as education, health and agricultural subsidies.  That focus worked, as could be seen in Malawi.


Responding to a question about the United Nations budget, Mr. Orr said that the greatest impact of the crisis on the budget was yet to come, as there was a time gap between the adoption of a budget and incoming funds for it.  That was why the Secretary-General had been talking about doing more within fiscal constraints.  It was not a time to “trim our sails”, but a time to invest -- a time when the most vulnerable people in the world most needed help.


Concerning the absence of donor funding, Ms. Migiro said the Secretary-General had been advocating for donor funds.  He had advocated for the $1.1 trillion financing package for developing countries at the G-20 summit.  Recently, his advocacy had led to a pledge of $20 billion during the G-8 meeting in L'Aquila, Italy.  The Secretary-General had been the “voice of the voiceless”, talking about the need to keep the focus on developing countries.  During 2009, there had been an increase in support for development.  Debt relief also had an important role to play.  Countries that had received debt relief had diverted resources to sectors critical for sustainable development, such as education, health, and water and sanitation.


Asked about the link between governance and the projected increase in poverty, the Deputy Secretary-General said that there were two things to be considered when talking about vulnerability.  First, one should look at the potential impact of the crisis on people and communities, and then at their ability to cope.  Governance did impact the ability to cope.


Asked for a breakdown by country for the 100 million people in danger of falling below the poverty line, Ms. Migiro said the report had not wanted to rank countries, but to see the extent of the vulnerability.  Not all vulnerable people were poor but all poor people were vulnerable in terms of the impact of the crisis, as well the ability to cope.


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For information media • not an official record