DESA News Vol. 11, No. 6 June 2007

Trends and analysis

Fragile States, fragile groups

A conference in Helsinki explores economic and social vulnerability

Many of the world’s poorest countries and groups are fragile. Fragility in whatever form – be it economic insecurity, political instability, or even weak governance –hinders development. Policy responses for dealing with vulnerability are not always obvious, however. To address the issue, UNU-WIDER and DESA are organizing a conference on fragile States and groups in Helsinki, Finland, from 15 to 16 June. The intention is to bring together researchers and practitioners to discuss different concepts and measures of fragility and vulnerability, to analyze causes and consequences of vulnerability, to consider appropriate policy options, and to identify future research directions.

“A country may not be falling apart but have groups that are extremely vulnerable, whether ethnic groups or economically backward groups,” explains Robert Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division in DESA. At the same time, he adds, vulnerability or fragility applies to poor farmers that are affected by fluctuations in commodity prices and lack of access to markets. Fragility surfaces in territories dealing with military conflicts, which have a decisive impact on development. Conversely, explains Mr.Vos, some States lack social cohesion and for that reason are politically unstable.

A hundred papers will be presented during the conference, several of them responding to a general call for submissions. The meeting includes two plenary sessions and a number of parallel sessions, which will cover a variety of issues, among them trade and financial shocks, strategies for dealing with economic and social vulnerability, State failure and governance and fragile States. The success of microinsurance mechanisms and social safety nets will also be assessed.

A selection of the conference papers are to be used as background notes for the World Economic and Social Survey 2008, a DESA flagship publication which next year will be devoted to economic insecurity.

For more information:

Free, prior and informed consent urged for projects on indigenous lands

The Permanent Forum also calls upon the General Assembly to adopt a declaration of indigenous rights

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues recommended in May that governments adopt, in national legislation, the principle of “free, prior and informed consent” of indigenous peoples regarding potential development projects or other activities carried out on their lands. The Forum approved by consensus eight sets of draft recommendations and three draft decisions, through which Forum experts expressed the strong belief that indigenous peoples’ right to access and manage communal lands and natural resources is central to their collective survival.

The Forum stated that “most local and national indigenous peoples’ movements have emerged from struggles against policies and actions that have undermined and discriminated against their customary land tenure and resource-management systems, expropriated their lands, extracted their resources without their consent and led to their displacement and dispossession from their territories.” In this connection, Permanent Forum Chairperson, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, acknowledged that, while the issues associated with indigenous lands and natural resources were complex, representatives of tribal and native peoples and their groups during the two-week forum had shown they were not victims. She added that they had not come to New York to complain; rather, they presented sound advice to governments and intergovernmental organizations about how to meet their needs for survival.

The Permanent Forum also strongly urged the General Assembly adopt the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples before the end of its current session. The Declaration was endorsed by the Human Rights Council some six months but its fate remains unclear.  Talks on the Declaration have sputtered in New York in the wake of initial opposition from Australia, Canada and New Zealand.  A package of amendments was floated during the Forum’s second week by the Africa Group, yet was roundly rejected by indigenous groups as “unacceptable and inconsistent with international human rights law”.

The Permanent Forum recommended that the Human Rights Council and the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights investigate the possibility of the development and acceptance of general recommendations relating to the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination by securing their access to their ancestral lands, territories and natural resources.

By its text on the status of implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and other targets for economic and social development, environment, health, education, culture and human rights, the Forum expressed its concern that relevant reports presented during the session by many States, as well as poverty reduction strategy papers still did not adequately include and address indigenous peoples, nor did they include the participation of native and tribal peoples.  The experts called on States “to rectify this weakness and on United Nations agencies to support their efforts.”

The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held its 6th session from 14 to 25 May in New York. The Forum is a 16-member subcommittee of the Economic and Social Council, is mandated chiefly to provide expert advice on indigenous issues to the Council and the United Nations system; raise awareness and promote the integration and coordination of activities relating to indigenous issues with the United Nations system; and prepare and disseminate information on indigenous issues.

6th session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Jose Antonio Ocampo, coordinator of the Second Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, calls for mechanisms to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples in policy design, implementation and monitoring at the opening of the 6th session on 14 May. A recording of the session is available at .


Strengthening national machineries on ageing

Expert group meeting analyzes obstacles and possibilities in developing national policies

An expert group meeting will explore the challenges of developing capacities on ageing policies in countries, from 13 to 15 June in Sliema, Malta as part of the follow-up to the Second World Assembly on Ageing. Governments have been taking a number of actions in recent years to boost their capacity to achieve the objectives of the Madrid International Plan of Action, with an emphasis on strengthening institutions and legislative action.

The meeting has been organized by the DESA Division for Social Policy and Development in cooperation with International Institute on Ageing and UN-Malta, and has two goals: to present and discuss the current national experiences on capacity development in ageing policies, highlighting lessons learned and obstacles encountered in the setting up and the functioning of national machinery on ageing, and to complete work on a guide for national implementation of the Madrid Plan.

For more information:

Poverty and hunger eradication in Latin America and the Caribbean

Regional consultation stresses the needs of middle-income countries

Trends and challenges of financing poverty and hunger eradication in Latin America and the Caribbean were at the heart of the discussions of the Latin American and Caribbean Regional Forum that unfolded on 17 and 18 May in Brasilia. The Government of Brazil hosted the event at the Ministry of External Relations with the support of DESA and ECLAC.

Participants discussed traditional and innovative sources of financing to eliminate the scourge of poverty and hunger. Presentations were made by governments and civil society on efforts made to fight poverty. In Latin America, inequality remains pervasive while in the Caribbean, absolute poverty and vulnerability to natural disaster and climate change were of greatest concern. A strong message calling for addressing the needs of middle-income countries in the existing financing for development framework was launched.

With low levels of external financing, most countries in the region rely on national development strategies and regional frameworks for trade and cooperation, complemented by efforts by civil society and the private sector. Brazil’s conditional cash transfer programme, Bolsa Familia, was viewed as having played an important part in tackling poverty and is being replicated elsewhere. Trade and commodity pricing were also cited as important to the region’s welfare.

Participants expressed interest in engaging more strategically with the Economic and Social Council to promote the region’s development goals. The Instituto de Pesquisa Economica Aplicada, a Brazilian research organization, argued that widening the net of social welfare to include more recipients has a greater impact on extreme poverty than rising payouts to existing recipients. Other panelists recommended increasing the availability of inclusive microfinance services to empower the poor to pull themselves out of poverty.

Panelists also called for a more wide-spread use of innovative sources of funding – such as UNITAID’s solidarity airline tax and special drawing rights at the IMF. Others recommended growing technical assistance and South-South cooperation, coupled with strengthened tax systems – in particular stopping tax evasion and improving national tax collection. Participants also discussed the motivation of the private sector in developing innovative social programmes that work parallel to government efforts.

A summary report of the meeting will be produced shortly and presented at the Annual Ministerial Review session of the Economic and Social Council in July.

Some 90 delegates from 22 countries in the region took part in the meeting, along with twelve UN and related entities, representatives of six civil society organizations and one private sector organization. Speakers included José Luis Machinea, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, Patrus Ananias, Minister for Social Development and Fight against Hunger of Brazil, and Rommel Acevedo, Secretary-General of the Latin American Association of Financial Institutions for Development.

For more information:

E-dialogue on the inclusive society

Mapping out practical strategies to promote social integration is the purpose of an e-dialogue being run by the Division for Social Policy and Development in DESA out in collaboration with UNESCO and UN-Habitat. From 23 May to 20 June, registrants will discuss conditions deemed necessary for a society to be inclusive. The goal is to compile current initiatives and approaches in measuring social integration, inclusion and cohesion, while establishing a network of researchers, practitioners, local communities and NGOs in this area. The outcome of the discussion will be used on input to an expert group meeting on this topic in September.

For more information:

Economic statistics and policy-making

A work session convened by the Friends of the Chair of the Statistical Commission on Integrated Economic Statistics, jointly organized by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office and DESA’s Statistics Division, will be held from 6 to 8 June in Bern, Switzerland. The Friends of the Chair Group, consisting of eleven countries and four international organizations, was established at the request of the Statistical Commission last year to develop a concept paper on the modalities of the integrated approach to economic statistics.

Participants are expected to review policy and other user requirements such as mapping domains of economic statistics to policy needs. National practices and the experience of international organizations in adopting statistical integration frameworks will be discussed, along with the application of economic censuses, business registers and other aspects of data collections programmes. Participating experts will play an important part in developing the outline of the concept paper that will be submission to the 2008 session of the Statistical Commission.

For more information:

Recommendations on tourism statistics

An expert group on tourism statistics will meet from 25 to 28 June in New York to review and endorse the provisional draft of International Recommendations on Tourism Statistics. Once completed, the recommendations will be submitted for approval to the Statistical Commission, most likely at its 38th session in March next year. The assembled experts will also address data compilation strategies to ensure the implementation of the international recommendations.

For more information: meeting.htm