United Nations
General Assembly
Third Committee

Statement


STATEMENT TO THE THIRD COMMITTEE
by MR. NITIN DESAI
UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL
FOR ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL AFFAIRS

6 October 1999

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to start by congratulating you and the bureau on your important responsibility during the millenium’s last Third Committee session.

Mr. Chairman,

I have just addressed the Second Committee and the message I conveyed to them is that while prospects for growth are better than what we had expected one year ago the situation for developing countries is grim. The most urgent task is to address the issues of integration and interdependence not just from the point of view of stability but also from the point of view of whether and how we can secure growth with equity and sustainability. I spoke in the Second Committee of the importance of emphasizing not just growth but the quality of growth and one of the most important dimensions of the quality of growth are the issues which this Committee has been handling.

Let me touch on one major issue – poverty eradication. We are all committed to poverty eradication as an overarching goal. We have accepted a goal of halving absolute poverty by the year 2015. There are available studies which assess what are the prospects for achieving this. I have one before me, prepared by the Overseas Development Institute, which shows very clearly that if we have historical rates of growth, which have been around 3 – 4%, there is no way we are going to achieve this target within this timeframe. The best that we can expect is that the 25% of population below $1 per day will come down to maybe 20%. If we really want to halve absolute poverty by 2015, which is what we have been talking about, then we need not just growth but we need growth with concerns of equity and social justice built into the strategy for realizing this growth. If we do that, if we can build in a bias towards reducing inequalities into growth, then actually their calculations would suggest that we could achieve this halving target even before 2015. The central point of this exercise is therefore to show that the real issue that confronts us is not just that of revival of growth but revival of growth in a manner which is pro-poor. Our strategies must focus on not just growth but pro-poor growth.

We speak of poverty but I may also incidentally mention that it is very closely tied in with the issue of employment, another issue which this Committee has focussed attention on. ILO estimates that of the close to 3 billion workers that we have in the world, 25 to 30% are under employed, 140 million are completely unemployed and that number is probably up by another 10 to 12 million because of the impact of the financial crisis.

Within this group, of the unemployed and the poor, there are certain particular groups who are exceptionally disadvantaged. One such group are youth – out of 140 million who are completely unemployed, 60 million are young people between 15 and 24 who are seeking work and are unable to find it. They are, in many societies, the base on which a great deal of social tensions and social stress is founded.

Second, if you look at the figures on poverty, one of the elements that clearly comes across very clearly is the feminization of poverty, how large a proportion of the households which are poor for a variety of reasons, consist of households which are headed by women.

A third aspect of this syndrome – people who are old. This year is the International Year of Older Persons. All the figures indicate that the proportion of the numbers of people who are over 60 will increase at a very sharp pace. We are talking in terms of something like 2 billion people being over the age of 60 in the year 2050. What we are talking about is not some long-term problem but what we are talking about is people who are already born who will pass the year of 60 in the year 2050.

This issue has been approached, of course, from the point of view of social security, etc. but it does tie in with the issue of poverty and employment. You have a situation where in the developed world, you have growing numbers of older people who are able to work but who, under the normal system of employment which prevails, are not able to find work. On the other hand, in the developing world, you have a situation where because of the absence of social security a lot of old people work far too hard, far too long, well beyond the point at which they ought to work. So the issue of old age is not just one of old age security it’s also something which ties in with the issue of employment. I cannot see how we can address this issue of the growing numbers of people who are old unless we also address issues about their entitlements to income, their entitlements to seek employment, and their entitlements to safety, protection, access to health, and even access to education.

The fourth group that I would refer to, which we tend to forget, is the disabled. Five hundred million of them and the issue is again an issue of the extent to which they share disproportionately in the unemployment, share disproportionately in poverty . If you go to developing countries you find a very large proportion of those who are disabled are also in the ranks of those who are poor and those who are unemployed.

In many ways, what is confronting us is a situation in many societies where there is a whole collection of under-privileged minorities rather than an under-privileged majority. If you have an under-privileged majority, you get change. But if you get under-privileged minorities, then the situation is far more complex and has to be addressed more through a social philosophy which promotes inclusiveness, which promotes equity, which promotes distributive justice rather than relying simply on the normal processes of democratic interest politics to meet their concerns and their interests.

What does growth which addresses these excluded groups mean? What does growth which is pro-poor mean? What does growth which is employment intensive mean? One dimension of this is at the national level in terms of strategy, strategies which emphasize employment intensive sectors in the growth process - agriculture, for instance, which look at technology also from this perspective – the green revolution in Asia was one, which certainly helped to spread the benefits of agricultural expansion and growth more evenly, though there are many questions which have been raised. The strategy would look at prospects for non-farm employment and even here there are some questions which have been raised, some evidence that access to non farm employment is also skewed against the groups that I have been talking of. But the point that I would like to stress in this house is the importance of not treating these just as special categories; not treating issues of poverty and employment simply as issues of special programmes which have to be run in ministries of welfare. The point I would like to stress the importance of injecting this concern about equity, poverty and employment into other areas of discussions. Take trade, for instance. We speak of poverty eradication but at the same time we have trade policies which restrict access to precisely the types of low-technology, labour-intensive, pro-poor activities, like agriculture, like textiles. One example - in my own country one of the most potent instruments of poverty eradication has been the dairy programme. Virtually all the milch cattle in India are owned by small holders. The milk market in India is something which they have been able to take over, dominate through a very complex system of cooperatives. But do they have access to the international market? More than half of the international market in dairy products is taking by producers from the highest cost part of the world because of subsidies. But if we are serious about poverty, then why don’t we reflect it in our trade policies? If we are serious about poverty, why don’t we reflect it in our financial structures and policies, through micro-credit, for instance.

The point I would wish to stress is, yes, there is an enormous amount which needs to be done by way of designing anti-poverty strategies at the national level but I believe that these national anti-poverty strategies will be that much more effective if we also start recognizing the need to connect our concerns about poverty, about unemployment with other areas of discourse in trade, in finance, in macro-economic management and for that matter, in environmental management – the other areas which are being discussed as part of globalization.

That is what I really wish to end with – the discussions on globalization. These are, of course, discussed in many places – the Second Committee has a debate in this area. What I would urge is that the critical area of discussion in globalization which this house could undertake in this Committee, in the Second Committee, in the Plenary and elsewhere – is not necessarily a strong effort at trying to negotiate specific areas which are within the competence of different bodies. Its real strength is the capacity to integrate across different areas of discourse.

I believe that is what this Committee should also be doing. You are the Committee which has played the strongest role in projecting concerns about gender equality, about equity, about social justice in the work of the United Nations. Much of that was focussed around special programmes for special groups; what I’m urging is that we broaden this consideration so that what you are dealing with is seen as central to development strategy and not just as something which has been handled as an add-on after growth processes are designed.

That is the basic plea which I would wish to make to you and I would suggest to you that you have an opportunity to do this in the agenda which is before you on social development, more particularly, the contributions that you can make to these issues as they come up for discussion in the five-year reviews which will take place in June and in terms of the discussions that you will have on the special programmes that we, in the United Nations, have for youth, for the disabled, for the aged and, of course, in the discussions that you will undertake on the major issue of gender equality and the advancement of women.

Thank you for the attention with which you have heard me.

 


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Date last posted: 28 September 2000
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