|DESA News Vol. 13, No. 06||June 2009|
The world’s poor are experiencing the most severe consequences for a crisis sparked by the rich, a crisis which threatens the ability of countries to confront issues such as poverty, hunger and disease
The rapidly unfolding global financial and economic crisis has severely disrupted economic growth worldwide and is setting back progress towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other internationally agreed development goals. As the crisis deepens, the impact on developing countries is rapidly worsening, particularly in terms of rising unemployment and a widening external financing gap.
According to the UN Secretary-General Report on the Global Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development, the current crisis comes on top of the 2008 food and energy crisis, which pushed already more than 125 million people into poverty, and which will hit even harder with unemployment rising rapidly, real income falling and fiscal resources shrinking and forcing many countries to cut back on social spending.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that worldwide as many as 50 million more people will become unemployed and as many as 200 million will join the ranks of the working poor between 2007 and 2009, if the right policies to redress the situation are not taken immediately. Furthermore, the UN’s global forecast sees negative per capita income growth for much of the developing world in 2009, putting the livelihood of billions at stake.
The present crisis emerges on the back of an unsustainable global growth pattern characterized by strong consumption and law saving in the US, the accumulation of currency reserves in export oriented emerging economies (especially China) and the investment of a large part of these reserves in US Treasuries (i.e. financing of an unsustainable consumption pattern in the US).
Far-reaching financial deregulation facilitated a massive and unfettered expansion of new financial instruments, such as securitized sub-prime mortgage lending, sold on financial markets worldwide. In the context of a highly integrated global economy without adequate regulation and global governance structures, the breakdown in one part of the system has thus lead to failure elsewhere, as we are witnessing today.
Even though many developing countries were not directly exposed to the financial turmoil, they are being hurt through a variety of channels, including collapsing trade and commodity prices, capital flow reversals, higher costs of borrowing, declining remittance incomes and strains on official development assistance. As the downturn is having uneven effects, countries are hurt in different degrees depending on their economic structure and vulnerability to shocks.
The impact of the crisis is further influenced by the capacity of governments to counteract its consequences, depending on their space for counter-cyclical macroeconomic policy measures, the strength of their social protection systems, regulatory frameworks, governance structures and political stability.
Developing countries are more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the global economy, mostly because of their heavy dependence on external finance, aid and trade, and that their foreign-exchange earning and government revenue tend to rely on few commodities only and they tend to have weak social protection systems.
Even though they are particularly adversely affected by the systemic flaws in the global financial system, most have limited capacity to respond with counter-cyclical measures. At lower levels of development, they are less resilient and thus more vulnerable to fluctuations in world markets:
With fewer resources they are also more typically forced to pursue procyclical monetary and fiscal policies, imposing greater variability in their economic performance and affecting long-term growth. They are also unable to provide massive guarantees and subsidized bail-out packages to financial institutions as these are being provided by developed countries to salvage their financial system.
This asymmetry holds the potential to create an uneven playing field, where capital will flow to the national financial markets with the most explicit government guarantees, complicating efforts of developing countries to raise capital in international markets. Such asymmetry in financial markets may also lead developing countries to introduce additional trade barriers, further exacerbating global inequality.
Following the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates in 1971, exchange rates have been marked by high volatility. Especially for small open developing economies, it is not easy to maintain macroeconomic stability in the face of such volatility as it imposes high costs to firms engaged in international trade lacking adequately functioning insurance markets.
The lack of financial resources is a major constraint to poverty reduction and achievement of the MDGs in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Under the Programme of Action for LDCs adopted in Brussels in 2001, donor countries committed themselves to providing 0.15 – 0.20 percent of their Gross National Product as development assistance to LDCs. They also agreed to cancel the debt owed by LDCs and to encourage Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the LDCs. LDCs committed themselves to take measures to improve domestic resources mobilization.
However, except for oil-exporting countries, there has been no major improvement in domestically generated revenues by LDCs. External support, especially official development assistance (ODA) and debt cancellation, remains essential to the implementation of the Brussels Programme and the MDGs.
The economic and financial crisis puts also a disproportionate burden on women, who are often concentrated in vulnerable employment. Women are more likely to be unemployed than men, tend to have lower unemployment and social security benefits, and have unequal access to and control over economic and financial resources.
Missing the MDG 3 target of Gender Equality could result in countries having 0.1-0.3 percentage points lower per capita growth rates. Estimates show that the Asia and Pacific region is losing $42 to 47 billion annually because of women’s limited access to employment opportunities, and another $16 to 30 billion annually as a result of gender gaps in education.
A growing body of evidence demonstrates that investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency and sustained economic growth. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that policy responses to the financial and economic crisis take into account the differential priorities and needs of women, men, girls and boys and do not undermine the policies and plans that promote gender equality and women's empowerment.
World leaders have different views on the severity of the crisis, its worldwide implications and how best to respond. Nevertheless, the G20 Summit (London, 2 April 2009) pledged to do whatever is necessary to restore confidence, growth and jobs; repair the financial system to restore lending, strengthen financial regulation to rebuild trust, fund and reform the international financial institutions to overcome the crisis and prevent future ones.
The G20 announced $1.1 trillion in international financial support, which includes a tripling of resources available to the IMF to $750 billion, additional lending by multilateral development banks of at least $100 billion, and greater support for trade finance. The challenge ahead is to guarantee the adequacy and timeliness in transferring these resources to developing countries.
At the same time, they pledged to reform the international financial institutions to strengthen their longer term relevance, effectiveness, and legitimacy, with the nature of the envisaged governance reforms yet to be specified. The G20 also reaffirmed all existing commitments to provide more aid and debt relief to the poorest countries, including $50 billion, mainly in the form of IMF loans only available if poor countries qualify.
As a result of the member states request to the GA President, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, at the Follow-up international Conference on Financing for Development (December 2008, Doha, Qatar), the UN will be convening a three-day summit of world leaders from 24 to 26 June 2009 in New York to assess the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression. The aim is to identify emergency and long-term responses to mitigate the impact of the crisis, especially on vulnerable populations, and initiate a needed dialogue on the transformation of the international financial architecture, taking into account the needs and concerns of all Member States.
The financial and economic crisis presents a test of the strength of multilateralism. The crisis is global, requiring globally concerted solutions. Lack of adequate international coordination does not only endanger economic recovery and achievement of the MDGs, but may have wider security repercussions, as history has shown. Economic unilateralism has often also led to political unilateralism and increased tensions among countries.
The systemic causes of the present crisis are ultimately owing to fundamental weaknesses in global economic governance and overcoming these defects is the only genuine solution. These weaknesses underpin haphazard financial deregulation, the explosion of global imbalances and vulnerabilities, and excessive risk-taking behaviour promoted by the international reserve system. Much more fundamental changes are needed to reform the international financial system in order to provide better safeguards that can prevent it happening again, and to create a framework for global economic governance in line with 21st century realities.
For more information: http://www.un.org/esa/desa/financialcrisis
For more information on the Financial and Economic Crisis Summit: http://www.un.org/ga/econcrisissummit/
The Statistics Division of DESA launched about a year ago UNdata — an internet-based data access system that allows easier and more efficient search and use of statistics compiled by the UN System
Data and metadata are now at the fingertips of internet users around the globe thanks to UNdata, a portal linking to various UN databases covering domains from global poverty to internet usage for a specific country. The single entry point and friendly layout allows users to search for and download relevant information for free, without subscription or registration.
DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang stated that the “UN System has accumulated over the past 60 years an impressive amount of information. UNdata is a new powerful tool, which will bring this unique and authoritative set of data not only to the desks of decision-makers and analysts, but also to journalists, to students and to all citizens of the world.”
UNdata is the brainchild of DESA’s Statistics Division and is essentially an extension of the earlier Common Database (CDB) application, a first attempt of the division to bring different data together. However, the CDB was work-intensive, subject to space constraints and allowed the users little flexibility in the access to information.
In addition, retrieving information from a wide range of data sources for users wishing to perform analysis involving cross-sectional data was challenging. Therefore, with the goal of reducing the fragmentation of UN System databases, the Statistics Division started to develop UNdata in early 2006 as an effort to provide a unified platform of data to global users and promote dissemination, use and understanding of international statistics.
UNdata overcame the problems with an innovative design: a decentralized approach that keeps the data in their “native environment.” The data owners retain control over and responsibility for their specialized databases. This implies the idea of a federated data system linked through a powerful search mechanism, which allows users to search UNdata in simple ways.
Up to now the UNdata team has completed the work of covering the range of statistics previously compiled by the Statistics Division, including data from 11 specialized agencies, and is now working toward the goal of covering data from other programs and funds. The process is ongoing, as data providers continue to add series to those initially supplied and new partners join the platform.
UNdata currently includes 22 databases, 55 million records, 10 statistical domains, 192 country profiles, 6 glossaries and more than 15,000 html pages and pdfs.
Official statistics produced by countries and compiled by the UN data system, as well as estimates and projections, are also available for users. The domains covered are agriculture, employment, education, energy, environment, health, human development, industry, information and communication technology, national accounts, population, refugees, trade and tourism. Indicators such as Millennium Development Goals can also be found.
An important feature of UNdata is its access to all accompanying metadata stored in the Wiki application. This includes “cell specific” micro metadata, such as footnotes, as well as all other relevant supporting information, such as the attribution and reference to the exact data source.
The “Wiki” also provides information on relevant glossaries, guidelines, definitions, methodologies and classifications, to help user to better understand, interpret and assess the available data.
UNdata prides itself in its accessibility — a single integrated entry point opens the door to a pool of data sources and datasets, allowing users of different degrees of sophistication to access the information with ease.
For instance, typing a simple country name in the search bar leads to an abridged country profile from the World Statistics Pocketbook, with a link to the full profile. Links to all the data series available for this country are offered. Additionally, the system also provides a link to the country’s national statistical office website under the heading related links.
For users that have more specific and specialized-sector needs, UNdata offers two shortcuts that point the user to the relevant sector datasets. First, the entry page provides a listing of the various underlying datasets. Second, users are able to restrict the search to one or more specific datasets through the application of filters. Users can also customize and further refine their searches by sorting, filtering, including/excluding columns and pivoting.
The search result is presented clearly, in simple tabular presentation. Information can then be downloaded in various formats, such as xml or value separated for data imported into relational databases, or excel tables if the original data were provided in that format.
UNdata has attracted 760,000 users with 3.5 million page views from 228 countries and territories since its launch in March 2008. As users request more data from current and additional providers, the Statistics Division continues to monitor and assess searching requests and feedbacks in order to offer more timely updates and explanatory metadata and to include more databases such as country databases.
The UNdata team is also working to provide advanced visualization tools to enhance the functionalities. Tools such as graphs, charts and maps will help users interpret and understand the “underlying messages” better. With such future developments, UNdata is confident in providing more efficient tools for accessing UN System data and reaching more users worldwide.
The Statistics Division commits itself to advance the global statistical system, and is responsible for collecting, compiling, classifying, publishing, and disseminating global official statistical data. Such information includes Commodity Trade Statistics, Demographic Statistics, Energy Statistics, Industrial Commodity Statistics, Millennium Development Goals Indicators, National Accounts Official Country Data, and National Accounts Estimates of Main Aggregates.
The Statistics Division has been collecting statistical data from and collaborating with 192 national statistical systems for 62 years, and most of the wealth of information collected by the UN family is now unveiled for the public through UNdata.
The Statistics Division also hosts regular Data Managers’ meetings with experts from international agencies. During these meetings, experts exchange ideas on data and metadata dissemination and related topics. The next meeting will be held from 22-24 June, and the agenda includes recent and future developments in the UNdata portal in terms of content and functionalities, current initiatives in data dissemination practices in UNdata partner agencies and possible ways to strengthen cooperation and formalize agreements for collaboration.
At the 8th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 18-29 May, the Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said that the Forum was meeting at a crucial time, as the world grappled with a “swarm of crises”, including intensified hunger, poverty, global warming and security threats. Indigenous peoples have a record of resilience in the face of great adversity, but they still suffer from prejudice and marginalization. Indigenous women are brutalized by violence. Powerful forces continue to take land from indigenous peoples, denigrate their cultures and directly attach their lives.
http://webcast.un.org/ramgen/ondemand/specialevents/2009/se090518am.rm?start=01:07:42&end=01:15:04 (8 minutes)
Full coverage: http://webcast.un.org/ramgen/ondemand/specialevents/2009/se090518am.rm (1 hour 29 minutes)