United Nations


General Assembly
Economic and Social Council

Distr. GENERAL  

17 February 1995


Fiftieth session                            Substantive session of 1995
Item 107 of the preliminary list*           SOCIAL, HUMANITARIAN AND


                 Interim report on the world social situation

                       Report of the Secretary-General

1.  At its twenty-ninth session, the Commission for Social Development

expressed the view that the report on the world social situation should be
prepared at four yearly intervals.  For the session held in intervening
years, the Commission wished to have before it a draft framework for the
forthcoming report to allow the Commission to make suggestions in regard to
the preparation of the report and an updated report on the main issues and
trends of international concern that had emerged since the last report.  In

its resolution 1985/21 of 2 May 1985, the Economic and Social Council
endorsed, inter alia, the Commission resolutions.  The last report was
prepared in 1993 and the next report is due in 1997 for consideration by the
Commission at its thirty-fifth session.  Section I of the present document
contains a brief updated report on the main issues and trends in the world
social situation and section II contains a draft framework for the 1997

Report on the World Social Situation.  The report is submitted to the Council
at its substantive session of 1995 and the General Assembly at its fiftieth
session, pursuant to Assembly resolution 44/56 of 8 December 1989.


    *   A/50/50.
95-04771 (E)   030395                                                     /...

2.  There has been an unprecedentedly intense discussion of the world social

situation at the international level since the preparation of the 1993 Report
on the World Social Situation. 1/  The present report will not repeat those
discussions but will present some highlights mainly to place in perspective
the framework for the 1997 Report on the World Social Situation.  The
discussions have mostly related to six major United Nations conferences
dealing directly with social development questions, four of which have been

concluded and two of which will be held later in 1995 and in 1996.  The six
conferences are the International Conference on Nutrition (Rome, 1992), the
World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993), the International Conference
on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994), the World Summit for Social
Development (Copenhagen, 1995), the Fourth World Conference on Women
(Beijing, 1995) and the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements

(Istanbul, 1996).  This massive upsurge of interest is evidently consequent
upon a perceived deterioration in social conditions, the incapacity of
current paradigms, institutions, policies and programmes to address
effectively problems of social development and the earnest desire of
Governments to harness national and international strengths to meet these
challenges.  Numerous organizations of civil society, for their part, have

been keen observers of, vociferous protagonists for and active participants
in the improvement of social conditions the world over.  These discussions
have demonstrated that social conditions are diverse, that they are
fundamentally interconnected and that there are multifarious policy
responses, which do not always work with the same results.  They have brought
to light the interdependence between economic and social development and

conditions of peace as well as the necessity for policies and programmes to
be perceived by the public at large to be in their best interests.

3.  The process of globalization continues to gather speed.  During the
period 1989-1994 world trade grew at rates two to four times faster than
world output.  The new World Trade Organization can be expected to raise

these rates further.  Capital markets are interconnected as never before,
both because of greater freedom from controls for the movement of funds and
new technology which enables such transfers.  For both highly skilled and
unskilled labour, there is a global market bidding for physicians, surgeons,
engineers, managers and computer scientists at one end and maids, chauffeurs
and gardeners at the other.  The movement of people between countries has

become easier, again both because countries have removed certain barriers and
because relative costs of travel have come down.  Information and ideas float
more freely between countries, mainly because new technology provides
enormous opportunities which cannot be barred by Governments and costs of
such transfer have come down drastically.

4.  The greater openness of economies to trade in goods and services and for
capital transfers has markedly reduced autonomy in each country for deciding
economic and social policy.  Actual or expected changes in relative real
rates of interest can quickly affect the direction of capital movements. 
Regional associations of countries, whether the European Union, the

Association of South- East Asian Nations or the North American Free Trade
Agreement, decide upon or recommend norms for social legislation, some of
which decisions can be enforced with the force of law.  Norms established by
intergovernmental organizations cover increasingly larger areas of social
legislation.  International non-governmental organizations carry their
experience from one country to another.  The growth of an intelligentsia,
although small in several countries, has enabled the analysis of social
conditions and situations to be undertaken more frequently and in greater
depth than previously.  The work of specialized agencies and programmes of

the United Nations system, especially the United Nations Children's Fund
(UNICEF), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD),
the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Population
Fund (UNFPA), have contributed to these processes.  In general, economic and
social policy in each country is now made in the context of an interdependent

world far more than it was even five years ago.

5.  Slow and negative growth in total output continued in most economies of
Africa, reducing incomes, consumption and the quality of social services. 
Bad weather, industrial strife, civil conflict and adverse international
conditions all contributed to limiting opportunities for economic expansion. 

The situation in economies in transition is often difficult to assess in
full, although in the few countries where reliable statistical information is
available there is evidence that economic growth has resumed in some of them. 
Economies elsewhere grew at a pace substantially higher than at the time of
writing the 1993 Report on the World Social Situation.  The upturn is most
marked in developed market economies, which account for some 75 per cent of

total world output.  Total output in these economies grew by 2.5 per cent in
1994 and is projected to grow by more than 3 per cent in 1995.  Economies in
South and South-East Asia continued their high growth rates, exceeding 6 per
cent per annum.  The peace accords in Western Asia and peaceful conditions in
Lebanon contributed to concentrate attention on reconstruction and
development in Western Asia.  In Latin America growth decelerated to about 3

per cent per annum and severe shocks to the economy of Mexico in late 1994
may pose new problems.  In the light of these developments, the main issues
for consideration include those of maintaining non-inflationary growth and
the resumption of economic growth in Africa and in economies in transition.

6.  Continued rapid growth in most Asian economies can be expected to have

contributed to expanding economic opportunities and reducing poverty in a
region which contains the largest number of poor people.  Official estimates
in China record remarkable success in reducing poverty.  Marked progress has
also been achieved in Chile and Uruguay.  In Cuba social conditions worsened
as the economy faced grave difficulties.  In Afghanistan, Angola, Haiti,
Mozambique, Rwanda and Somalia internal conflicts contributed to worsening

conditions of poverty.  In most of sub-Saharan Africa economic conditions did
not improve sufficiently to reduce poverty.  In economies in transition
significant sections of the population suffered marked declines in their
standard of living.  The experience in a wide variety of countries
demonstrates that rapid economic growth has helped reduce poverty.  It

remains an issue of much concern that there is yet to emerge practical policy
prescriptions to address these problems with other and additional means.

7.  Claims for equality between men and women at all levels in all spheres of
activity gained momentum in the course of preparations for the forthcoming
Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995).  Much knowledge has been

gained about inequality between men and women in levels of well-being, in
access to income-earning assets and social services and in sharing power,
whether in families, enterprises or institutions of Government.  The
incidence of family violence in which women are often victims has also been
highlighted as a major problem.  Many Member States have instituted policies
and programmes to reduce and eventually eliminate these gross inequalities
and to protect females from violence in the family.

8.  The scarcity of adequate employment opportunities continued to be a

common feature in 1994.  Even where the increase in the pace of economic
growth was most pronounced, as in developed market economies, rates of
unemployment, especially among the long-term unemployed, remained high.  In
India, where average wages in real terms have risen somewhat, there is
substantial unemployment, especially among those with university education. 
In economies in transition, economic organizations and institutions have not

come into place to ensure functioning markets; labour markets were some of
the weakest.  High open unemployment continues to be a major problem in some
countries.  Hidden unemployment, primarily in rural areas, is a major problem
in some other countries.  There are several issues of major concern:  rapid
growth itself does not ensure a rapid rise in employment opportunities;
education and training by themselves are inadequate solutions to these

problems; it is extremely difficult to re-absorb older workers whose skills
have become obsolete; and institutional changes are far slower to materialize
than most people had expected them to be.

9.  In most instances, where there is statistical data, there is evidence
that income distribution is more uneven now than a decade or so earlier. 

Exceptions are countries in Asia growing consistently at very high rates. 
The worsening income distribution in economies in transition is on account of
their abandonment of a set of economic and social institutions which set out
purposefully to secure a high degree of equality in incomes and living
conditions.  The situation has been aggravated by high rates of inflation,
which eroded real income in the hands of fixed income receivers, new

opportunities for accumulating wealth available to a small minority of
persons and the breakdown in social security arrangements in the former
economic and social system.  In China regional differences in economic well-
being continued to be sharpened.  At issue is the enormous problem of
reconciling incentives for growth with problems that arise in strategies that
emphasize equality in the distribution of output.

10. Structural adjustment programmes in many developing countries have been
very slow to show salutary effects.  There is far less enthusiasm now for
sudden sharp changes in policies (shock therapy) than for slow, piecemeal and
gradual changes in the light of the more stable and rapid growth in the
centrally planned economies in Asia in contrast to disruptions and slow

recovery of those in Europe, where changes were complete and sharp.  The
differences in changes in political systems between these two sets of
countries must not be lost sight of in such comparisons.  Major issues are
the pace of changes, the sequencing of changes and the mix of policies in
structural adjustment programmes.

11. There were rightfully celebrated victories for peace, democracy and human
rights in Haiti, Mozambique and South Africa and in the negotiations between
Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.  There are promising signs
of peace in Angola, Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka.  The short lived civil
war in Yemen, the continuing problems in Rwanda and erupting conflicts in the

territories of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were added to
the civil conflicts reported in the 1993 Report on the World Social
Situation.  Fighting within the territories of the former Republic of
Yugoslavia was most destructive.  United Nations intervention in these
situations has been costly.  One consequence of wars waged during the last
decade or so has been the large number of persons who have been displaced in
their own country or have been forced out as refugees.  Another is the large
number who have been maimed and disabled.  Land mines laid in the course of
these civil wars still pose a serious threat to the resumption of normal

activity in several countries.  The prevention of these and similar other
conflicts, the mitigation of the severity of conflicts and the reconstruction
of economies and societies severely crippled or destroyed in the course of
these conflicts remain challenges of great importance. 

12. Institutions of governance are in the process of change almost the world

over.  They are becoming more democratic, more transparent in their conduct
and more accountable to the public.  However, the extent to and the manner in
which these institutional changes take place are governed by the political
cultures of each society, giving rise to much controversy.  There is an
almost universal urge to limit the size of government, especially to divest
itself of business undertakings, to reduce tax burdens and to hold down the

growth of public debt.  These tendencies are being met by contrary forces
which require governments to provide certain infrastructure, eliminate
degrading poverty and support the expansion of the rights of individuals and
groups who received little protection under the law in the past.  The
individuals are mainly children and spouses, especially women.  The groups
comprise the poor and minorities, including indigenous peoples.

13. The continuing growth in importance of non-governmental organizations is
a part of the process of institutional change in most societies.  The value
of their contributions have been clearly seen internationally when they have
responded to alleviate suffering in situations of natural and man-made
disasters and in their participation in the United Nations Conference on

Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) and in the preparatory
process for the World Summit on Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995).  They
also have been active at the national level espousing particular causes and
filling, to some degree, the vacuums left by the withdrawal of Government.

14. The increased incidence of crime and its adverse impact on individuals

and communities is a growing concern in many societies.  It poses challenges
to policy makers in several areas and tests the capacity of the criminal
justice system adequately to dispose of cases and to mete out deserving
punishment.  In economies in transition delays in establishing new
organizations and institutions have permitted the outcrop of crime and
violence in societies where their incidence was very limited.  In developed

economies crime and violence have blighted much of urban life.  In some
developing economies, where Governments have not had adequate capacity to
establish law and order, normal economic and social life has been severely
disrupted.  The most effective and efficient ways of preventing criminal
behaviour, the means for the timely disposal of cases and the nature of

deserving punishment are all very widely debated.

15. Rapid changes in institutions and technology have made this last decade
one of much greater uncertainty and insecurity than earlier.  The changes in
institutions are most vivid in economies in transition.  However, they are
not insignificant in other societies.  Attempts to reform "welfare as we know

it" is one of them.  Rethinking the role of Government is another.  The
decline in trade unionism is a third.  Changes in family structure is a
fourth.  Changes in techniques both in production processes and management
have been both massive and rapid, although not uniform in spread among
countries.  Processes of production have undergone enormous changes with
automation and other similar new processes.  A remarkable feature of the new
technology is that even small-scale enterprises can employ them to gain
marked improvements in productivity.  New techniques of management are being
adopted on a wide scale in both large and small-scale enterprises.  These new

products and techniques require new skills, which older persons had not
learnt and now find difficult to acquire.  Security of jobs, security of
welfare and other payments by Government, emotional security in family
relationships and the security of trade unions have all been lost at one and
the same time on a large scale.  The provision of social security, in its
broadest sense, is a major responsibility which remains to be addressed.

16. This rapid overview is presented in order to highlight the main trends
and issues that have emerged since the issuance of the 1993 Report on the
World Social Situation.  They will be fully addressed in the 1997 Report on
the World Social Situation, as indicated in the draft framework.

                    II.  A DRAFT FRAMEWORK FOR THE 1997 REPORT
                         ON THE WORLD SOCIAL SITUATION

17. The draft framework for the 1997 Report on the World Social Situation
takes into account the main issues and trends of international concern that

have emerged since the last report on the world social situation was
prepared.  The 1997 Report, as earlier, will discuss both the social
situation and relevant policy options.

18. The 1997 Report will be written in the context of the conclusions of the
six major United Nations conferences relating to the world social situation

mentioned in paragraph 2 above and unusually rapid change in several
fundamental social and political institutions and economies.  There is
widespread concern that these changes have contributed to a widening of
inequality in societies and an exacerbation of conditions of poverty.  The
functions of government are being redefined and its organization, legitimacy
and accountability are being seriously reviewed.  The form of government is

increasingly democratic.  Organizations in civil society have sprung up to
espouse an enormously wide variety of interests.  The workplace and the way
people organize themselves for work are subject to major changes under the
onslaught of relentless changes in processes of production and exchange.  The
family as an institution, which among other things provides care for young
children, is being transformed under pressure from new social forces,

especially as women increasingly work away from home.  Countries and peoples
are being brought together more closely than ever thanks largely to advances
in technology and more open markets and borders.  As peoples and societies in
Asia, including Western Asia, gain economic strength in this more closely
connected world, world visions informed by the Chinese, Indian, Islamic and

other cultures are contributing more to the formation of ideas and ideals of
societies and social institutions.  The unifying theme in the 1997 Report
will be the manner in which individuals, associations, Governments and whole
societies respond to the challenges posed by these rapid, widespread and
fundamental changes.

19. The 1997 Report will deal with a large number of issues.  Those that are
more closely linked to one another will be grouped in discrete clusters.
20. The first cluster will deal with demographic changes and their social
consequences.  The evident and projected massive growth in population,
although at a declining rate, makes it necessary to discuss the nature of
pressures that such growth places on eco-systems and economies.  The
continuing changes in age composition have consequences on education,

employment, medical and health care and social security provision.  The
rapidly changing economic structures generate pressures inducing internal
migration; these changes and their social consequences need examination. 
Large marginalized populations are grouping in urban conglomerations both in
developed and developing countries.  A part of that process of movement of
people is international migration and the social situation of these migrants

needs discussion.

21. The second cluster includes "traditional" social sector concerns: 
nutrition, health, housing, sanitation and education.  Patterns of government
expenditure on social services will be discussed here.  Newer findings, both
in human and social sciences, bring new insights into the formulation of

effective policies in nutrition and health.  Education, as a contributor to
human resources development, is being looked at with sharper focus,
especially to find out the most productive combination of training in schools
and universities, and the work place itself.  Access to these services by
various groups in society, especially females, and the way economic and
social policies have affected accessibility will also be discussed.

22. The third cluster has to do with economic transformation and adjustment
policies and their consequences for the social situation and policies.  The
problems are acute in the formerly centrally planned economies, which are in
economic transition and are implementing major reform programmes.  In those
developing economies where economic growth has not taken place, serious

problems of poverty and low productivity employment have been aggravated. 
Unemployment, especially among the educated, is a problem of major
significance in several developing countries.  Where formal sector employment
fell, underemployment became more rampant.  Rapid technological change in
developed economies and their increased flexibility bring forth new
challenges.  Long-term unemployment, especially among those over 45 years of

age, is a major problem in most countries members of the Organisation for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

23. The fourth cluster has questions of social security as central concerns. 
Social security is being questioned in developed economies, is being
reformulated in the formerly centrally planned economies and is being

designed and redesigned in many developing countries.  The policy options
being debated have significance for resources allocation, long-term growth
and poverty alleviation.

24. The fifth cluster deals with crime and policies for the prevention of

crime.  Protection from crime as a factor enhancing the quality of life has
risen in prominence with the increase in crime, drug trafficking and pressure
on the criminal justice system in many countries.  The incidence of crime has
increased significantly in the economies in transition.  There is new
research on patterns and incidences of crime in urban areas in developing
countries.  Criminal behaviour among the youth is a widespread phenomenon. 

The increasing availability of low cost firearms among criminals has made
criminal behaviour highly destructive.  There are differences in approaches
to the prevention and deterrence of crime:  some emphasize the economic and
social factors that dispose individuals to criminal behaviour and see
improvements in these conditions as a solution; and others emphasize the
value of speedy and deterrent punishments meted out to convicts.  They lead
to different strategies and programmes, the relative value of which need to
be examined.

25. The sixth cluster will be devoted to an overview of the situation and
policies related to children, youth, the aged and the handicapped.  Child
labour is a widespread problem.  Drug abuse, criminal behaviour and
marginalization from mainstream activities are major problems with youth
populations.  The tendency for people to live longer and changes in family
structures give rise to problems in providing health services and other care

to the aged.  The number of handicapped persons has increased dramatically in
countries where land mines have been widely used in military conflicts.

26. The seventh cluster will include a discussion of aggravating situations
caused by ethnic and religious conflicts in many societies, causing, among
other things, large refugee and internally displaced populations.  The

responses from various agencies, both national and international, will also
be discussed.

27. The eighth cluster will contribute to the continuing debate on the nature
of people's rights - both on their content (political and economic) and on
their nature in different societies.  Balancing the rights of individuals and

the interests of the society of which they form part is an age-old problem,
which has arisen again with the strong assertion of individuals rights. 
Special rights are claimed for those needing protection, such as children and
women and those whose lifestyles differ fundamentally from the majority in
their societies.  There also has developed the idea of a right to
development, the nature and content of which deserves examination.  A final

question is how all these claims stand together to foster an integrated and
well functioning society.

28. The ninth and final cluster will discuss evolving relations between the
Government and the market from the points of view of growth and efficiency,
as well as equity.  The neo-classical paradigm of a market pays primary

attention to the efficient allocation of resources.  However, societies are
interested both in the attainment of efficiency as well as in fairness in the
distribution of the output.  Societies are also interested in allocating
resources inter-temporally because they wish to see rising incomes and this
may become impossible because of, among other reasons, a rapid draw down on
capital in the form of natural resources.  Growth may become physically

unsustainable.  Governments can represent the interests of those generations
to come.  The development and expansion of markets themselves may require
governments to perform particular functions.  There can be highly fruitful
partnership between Government, private enterprise and the rest of civil
society, arriving at which is, in practice, the most interesting exercise.

29. Changes and improvements may be made to these proposals, especially in
the light of the conclusions of the World Summit for Social Development.


    1/  United Nations publication, Sales No. E.93.IV.2.


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