Latin American ministers gather at UN to tackle social impact of financial, food crises

26 November 2008 – The current financial crisis, coupled with volatile food and fuel prices, threatens to undo years of hard-earned growth, stability and human development in Latin America and cast millions more people into poverty, a continent-wide meeting at the United Nations was warned today.

“Next year, the social impact may be even harsher if governments and the international community do not bring forward adequate and effective responses,” UN Development Programme (UNDP) regional director Rebeca Grynspan told more than 30 social policy ministers and authorities frNext year, the social impact may be even harsher if governments and the international community do not bring forward adequate and effective responsesom 18 Latin American countries gathered for the Second Forum for Social Strategic Thinking in Latin America.

“Crises may affect the most vulnerable groups disproportionately, hitting hardest at the poorest and marginalized,” she said at the New York gathering.

Latest projections by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) indicate that 10 to 15 million more people in the region will slip below the poverty line in 2008 as a result of food price volatility.

Globally, 100 million people were driven into poverty this year due to the food and fuel crises and the number continues to grow. With 960 million malnourished people in the world, according to World Bank estimates, nearly 1 billion lives are at risk as unemployment rates sky-rocket, commodity prices remain volatile and governments face shortages in public monies and outside financial assistance.

“We are faced with the challenge of preventing this crisis from becoming a human crisis,” UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert said. “The effectiveness of how it will be tackled depends greatly on coordinated policy responses.”

Latin American countries are responding to the new realities, with governments already placing a high priority on social issues and sustainable development through the achievement of the UN Millennium Development Goals, a set of development targets for 2015 agreed upon by world leaders eight years ago to improve prosperity, education, health and the environment.

The region is also witnessing a new generation of participatory social policies as civil society becomes increasingly more involved in its building process.

The two-day forum, convened by UNDP and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID), will also stress the need to focus on challenges facing youth, one of the region’s most vulnerable populations, with an estimated 25 per cent of young people excluded from the labour market and the education system.

“It is particularly in these times of uncertainty that governments need to make sure to implement policies that protect social coverage. This is crucial for safeguarding our future,” UNDP regional Chief Advisor Bernardo Kliksberg said.

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