Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Third Civil Society Forum
New York, 7 February 2006

Thank you for the opportunity to address this Civil Society Forum, organized on the occasion of the 44th Session of the Commission for Social Development. Allow me also to congratulate the Forum’s on this important meeting to discuss “A Decade of Poverty: ways forward.”

Although the global figures show important progress in reducing poverty, it has been far from even. Between 1990 and 2001, about 118 million persons escaped extreme poverty, a significant achievement. Much of this global reduction in poverty, however, has resulted largely from strong growth performance in East and South Asia, and particularly of two large countries, China and India. In contrast, far too many countries actually have been experiencing disappointing advances or even increasing poverty, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, as we stressed last year in our report The Inequality Predicament, a majority of countries in both the industrial and the developing world are experiencing widening income inequality.

Poverty’s debilitating manifestations—such as illiteracy, disease, lack of access to clean water and adequate shelter, and lack of opportunities for employment and political participation—still afflict hundreds of millions of people. Addressing poverty requires understanding its interrelated causes. World leaders who attended the World Summit at the 60th session of the General Assembly recognized the interrelatedness of the world’s threats and challenges, and agreed to address their root causes with resolve and determination.

But while much of the global community is now committed to “making poverty history”—and addressing its root causes—much misunderstanding persists about how to do so. Massive challenges remain, among them the need to address the rigid structure of social and economic stratification, both within and between countries, which impedes economic progress and social justice.

While there is general agreement that sustained economic growth is necessary for long-term poverty reduction, the pattern of growth is equally important—in particular, its capacity to generate decent and productive employment for the poorer sectors of society. The “inclusiveness” of economic growth is almost never an automatic outcome of market forces; it requires the design of explicit public policies and major positive action by both government and civil society. To put this in a well-known context, the mere “trickle down” of economic growth has never been a factor in inclusive growth patterns.

In this regard, a major weakness in the state of the world economy—and one common to most countries—is the unsatisfactory level of employment growth. In a majority of countries, job creation has been sluggish. Consequently, unemployment rates are still notably higher today than the levels prior to the global downturn of 2000-2001. Many developing countries continue to face high levels of structural unemployment and underemployment. This limits the positive impact of growth on poverty reduction and consequently the ability to reach the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty and hunger in half by 2015.

The centrality of employment in poverty eradication is crucial. The World Summit decisions have provided important new momentum in this respect. The Outcome Document renewed the commitment to attack poverty and to make “full and productive employment and decent work for all” a central objective of national and international policies. The Summit secured a solid recommitment to the global partnership for development set out in the Millennium Declaration, the Monterrey Consensus and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. It created an opportunity for much greater coherence in our efforts to advance the outcomes of all the major conferences and summits, through the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies, including the Commission for Social Development. And, on all of these interconnected fronts, the Summit underlined the key role that civil society and the private sector and other stakeholders have to play.

The World Summit decisions have created an opportunity for the United Nations, its member states and many partners to deal in much greater depth with monitoring and evaluating progress towards all the development goals, including the MDGs. The General Assembly will be able to build on this in its review of follow-up to the Millennium Declaration as a whole. And this can bring to development a weight in accordance with its special role as one of the three pillars of UN —alongside peace and security, and human rights.

As you are aware, the last session of the Commission for Social Development produced a critical outcome to build upon and bolster our work in social development. The Declaration on the 10-year review of the Social Summit recognized that the implementation of the Copenhagen commitments and the attainment of the MDGs were mutually reinforcing. It reaffirmed that enhanced international cooperation at the national level is essential to the implementation of these commitments, in particular to a people-centered approach to development. And it stressed, moreover, that policies designed to achieve poverty alleviation need to incorporate specific measures to foster social integration and to provide marginalized groups with equal access to opportunities.

Thus there are a number of positive developments taking place on the global front. We recognize, however, that numerous obstacles remain to progress at the local and national levels.

One obstacle is the general weakening of the public sector over the past few decades. Again, social outcomes in relation to equity, social inclusiveness and mobility depend on the quality of public policies. A major issue in this regard is the need to mainstream social objectives into economic policymaking. The social analysis of economic policies must be made more central to policy-making at the national and international levels. This applies not only to budgets and taxation, but also to trade, monetary and exchange rate policies, as well as agricultural, industrial and investment strategies.

Another obstacle to sustained action is the exclusion of the chronically poor from the participatory processes that accompany the formulation and review of poverty reduction programmes. Open, inclusive and broad-based participation is one of the guiding principles for poverty reduction strategies. Negative attitudes towards poor and vulnerable people, however, and the difficulties poor people face in exercising their rights, contribute to their exclusion.

We must bear in mind, therefore, that acts of discrimination may cause poverty, just as poverty may cause discrimination. Subscribing to the notion that human beings are at the centre of development, requires that older persons, youth, indigenous people and persons with disabilities be not merely targeted beneficiaries of poverty reduction strategies and programmes, but also full participants in and contributors to their design and success.

An inclusive and integrated approach offers far more promise. The best social outcome is one in which all individuals share the benefits, but also contribute to economic development. A social policy that strengthens those at the bottom of the development ladder not only contributes to a more equitable society, but also to growth.

The global development agenda, generated over the past decade and a half through the major UN conferences and summits, represents a wealth of achievements. Your Committee is a critical partner in continuing to drive the development agenda, its follow-up and implementation. Your draft outcome document underscores the importance of this task and the extraordinary potential of multi-stakeholder mechanisms in working to transform commitments into reality.

With this, however, I can rightly understand your “sense of dread”, particularly as we review the record of the past decade on poverty reduction. If our vision of a shared future is to be advanced, we must seize every opportunity to reverse negative trends. This includes appropriate action to reverse the disturbing levels of inequality, which, among other effects, creates ripe conditions for conflict.

Any progress in implementation is therefore contingent upon effective partnership between Governments, all parts of civil society and the private sector, as well as an enabling environment grounded in a foundation of equity and equality. We have been given in the World Summit some wonderful opportunities to strengthen these partnerships—as you say, a partnership that works. And I will make every effort to look for further and effective ways of strategically working together.

Every year, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, together with the ATD Fourth World Movement, the Department of Public Information and the NGO Sub-Committee for the Eradication of Poverty, jointly sponsor a commemoration ceremony to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The Day seeks to raise public awareness to promote the eradication of poverty and serves to remind all people that sustained effort is vital to achieve the poverty reduction target in the MDGs. This observance has been part of the first UN Decade for the Eradication of Poverty and continues to play a useful role.

The report of the Secretary-General on poverty, to be submitted to the 61st Session of the General Assembly, will review the observance of the Day, in order to identify lessons learned and to mobilize all stakeholders in the next phase of our fight against poverty. To ensure that the views of civil society are adequately taken into account in this report, a steering committee with NGO representation has been created.

I wish your Forum every success, and I very much look forward to its outcome and its presentation to the Commission tomorrow.