In Peru, UN conference addresses poverty and inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean

UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, addresses the Regional Conference on Social Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, in Lima, Peru. Photo: UNDP Peru

3 November 2015 – As policymakers start putting into practice the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by world leaders in September, United Nations officials and Government representatives are meeting to discuss how to continue reducing poverty and inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean, despite the region’s economic slowdown.

“A defining feature of the 2030 Agenda is its determination to leave no one behind,” UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Administrator, Helen Clark, told over 30 social development ministers at the Regional Conference on Social Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, a three-day meeting convened in Lima, Peru, by the UN’s Economic Commission for the region (ECLAC), the Government of Peru and UNDP.

“This call demands that we work together to identify and address the deep-rooted determinants of exclusion – in this region and beyond. Poverty eradication will only be achieved when we truly invest in people. Growth needs to be both inclusive and sustainable,” she added.

According to the UN, after a decade of high economic growth and poverty reduction – adding 92 million people to an emerging middle class from 2003-2013 – Latin America and the Caribbean is facing slower growth rates and relapses into poverty for some segments of the population.

Within this context, participants discussed how to turn the recently-agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into reality, which the UN said requires new ways of thinking and taking on complex challenges, like exclusion and inequality.

"The Latin America and Caribbean region has not yet adopted an agenda of social transformation that favors the change from a culture of privilege to an environment in which equal rights enable a sense of ownership in a more integrated society,” said ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena.

She further stressed that strategies for overcoming poverty must consider three main areas: income transfers for immediate relief of basic needs, public access to quality services, and labour and productive inclusion.

During the conference, ECLAC will present the main results of the study “Inclusive Social Development: A New Generation of Policies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean”, which identifies progress and challenges and delivers several policy recommendations. One of the major advances in the report is the increase in social spending in the region, which rose from 13.8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1990 to 19.1 per cent in 2013.

Despite significant progress on reducing poverty over the past decade, nearly 167 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean are estimated to be still living in poverty, according to ECLAC figures. The majority reside in rural areas with limited access to higher levels of education and skills training.

Meanwhile, women are disproportionately affected, with about 35 per cent of poor people live in female-headed households, according to UNDP’s upcoming Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean on multidimensional progress, which will offer essential policy tools to for a region with a legacy of class, race and gender-based discrimination.

“Social policies must be as strong as economic policies,” said Paola Bustamante, Minister of Development and Social Inclusion (MIDIS) of Peru. “This includes investments in health, education and transport, emphasizing the different needs of women and men at different stages of life.”

The Minister added that social development means ensuring equitable economic distribution and the necessary investment so each and every citizen can access the same quality services and have the same development opportunities.

Adopting multidimensional approaches to poverty reduction and assessing well-being beyond income measurements is also one of the topics which ECALAC says regional authorities will assess during the conference. This includes improving education, social protection, quality jobs – which are reportedly crucial for a region with high numbers of workers in the informal sector – and the acquisition of basic assets, in addition to improving health care and overall living conditions. During the conference in Lima, ministers will also discuss how to include these alternative approaches in a new generation of public policies for the sustainable development era.

Regional authorities are also to discuss challenges for middle income countries (MICs) and small island developing States (SIDS) in the 2030 Agenda, including the need to boost resilience, or the ability to absorb shocks, such as natural hazards or financial crisis, without major economic, social and environmental setbacks.

The Regional Conference on Social Development in Latin America and the Caribbean was created in 2014 during the last session of ECLAC held in the Peruvian capital and is the result of a strategic alliance with UNDP, giving continuity to seven consecutive years of the Ministerial Forum for Development in the region.


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