|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Commission for Social Development
8th & 9th Meetings (AM & PM)
delegates outline national services for elderly, young people as commission
for social development considers protection of most vulnerable groups
Stressing the need to protect society’s most vulnerable groups, speakers addressing the Commission for Social Development today shed light on their respective national programmes and policies for ensuring a wide range of basic social and economic services for the young and the old.
Mawutor Kwaku Ablo, a senior official in Ghana’s Ministry of Manpower, Youth and Employment, said his country had taken several steps in the last decade to put social development priorities such as children’s education, health care and nutrition at the forefront of the national development agenda. Thanks to the Education Capitation Grant, public school enrolment had jumped 20 per cent in two years. Ten per cent of children attending public schools were receiving free lunch and a national insurance scheme ensured that all young people under the age of 18 years received free medical care. Last year, the national youth policy on health, education, science and technology, culture, HIV/AIDS, skills training and employment had been revised, and by mid-2009, officials would update policies on ageing to guarantee health care, social security, income, housing, transport, food and education for older persons.
Egypt’s representative said that country’s Government was providing shelters to enable the elderly to maintain connections with their families, ration cards to buy food and other necessities, assisted-living care and low-priced medicine and health-care services. It was also creating social clubs and psychological and cultural services to promote healthy living, as well as social rehabilitation, retirement pensions and scholarships for their children. The Government had done that on the premise that if the family was flourishing, so would society, and that it was in everyone’s best interest to protect the family, and thus society, from disintegration.
In a similar vein, an Adviser to Paraguay’s Secretariat for Social Action said that, since taking office last August the country’s new Administration had expanded a programme providing health care and education to children from some 100,000 severely impoverished families as part of its social contract for development and equality. For the first time in the country’s history, the programme covered the elderly, as well as indigenous people. A national plan for older adults aimed to guarantee access to food and health care. The “One Paraguay for All Paraguayans” policy was proof that the country was making headway towards social integration and a fair distribution of national wealth. However, Paraguay still needed official development assistance (ODA) to meet its socio-economic priorities, build institutional capacity and protect the most vulnerable members of society.
Echoing those sentiments, a representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) said experience showed that policies aimed at enabling all members of society to contribute to socio-economic progress paid off in the long-term, be it through investment in education, training and employment opportunities, retaining the skills of disabled persons in the labour force, accommodating workers with family responsibilities or ensuring solidarity between generations and within families through suitable fiscal protection and social security policies. Greater focus on the problems of young people worldwide had fostered deeper understanding of youth labour markets and led to a growing number of national action plans for youth employment. Still, the ILO’s recently published Global Employment Trends for Youth revealed that the number of unemployed youth continued to rise and that decent work opportunities for youth remained limited.
Turning to the plight of older persons, a representative of the International Federation on Ageing said that, as the global population aged, the number of elderly people in need of assistance would increase dramatically. It was important to prevent their isolation and marginalization so that society could continue to benefit from their experience and wisdom. The goals of social integration and social inclusion were clearly set forth in many United Nations documents, and the only thing lacking was the political will and social movements to implement them through partnerships that could turn words into deeds.
This afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion titled “Emerging issues: the global crises and their impact on social development” featuring Tariq Banuri, Director for Sustainable Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Faith Innerarity, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Youth and Sports of Jamaica; Xavier Prats-Monne, Director for Employment Policy and International Relations of the European Commission; Tavengwa Nhongo, Africa Policy Director of HelpAge International; Henk-Jan Brinkman, Chief of the New York Liaison Office of the World Food Programme (WFP); and Juho Saari, Professor at the University of Kuopio in Finland.
Moderating the panel was Elsa Stamatopoulou, Acting Director for Social Policy and Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, who introduced a report by the Secretariat on the current global crises and their impact on social development, saying it advocated the adoption of a new green compact to ensure, among other things, long-term investment in rural development, food security and modified patterns of consumption and production.
Also speaking during the panel discussion were representatives of the Czech Republic (on behalf of the European Union), Sudan, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Egypt and Ghana.
The representative of El Salvador made a statement during this morning’s general discussion.
Other speakers during the general discussion were representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Council of North and South America, World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA), World Youth Alliance, and the Daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul and Salesian Missions.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 11 February, to continue its general discussion.
The Commission for Social Development met this morning to continue its forty-seventh session.
ELIDA DUARTE, Adviser to the Secretariat for Social Action of Paraguay, stressed the importance of taking into account the degradation that had occurred during the 1990s when looking at the challenge of sustainable development in Paraguay. The Administration of President Fernando Lugo, having taken office on 15 August 2008, aimed to create mechanisms to democratize public policies, strengthen solidarity among individuals, families and communities and achieve economic and social development, particularly among the poor and socially excluded. The new Administration had introduced Government seminars in different regions of the country, the Executive Coordinator for Agricultural Reform, and many agreements to draw up a social contract for development and equality.
Given the underdeveloped state of the health sector, the Government had introduced free health care and was drawing up primary health-care strategies by setting up family health centres, she said. In light of the serious poverty affecting many communities throughout the country, the Government had decided to expand programmes implemented by the Secretariat for Social Action with the aim of guaranteeing that poor communities had access to basic services by providing them with financial help. The Tekopora, or well‑being programme, aimed to assist 100,000 families in 2009 by providing health care and education to children living in extreme poverty.
For the first time in Paraguay’s history, the elderly, as well as indigenous people were included in the programme, she said. It aimed to combat poverty and marginalization among the most vulnerable families, enabling them to participate at the community level. The Government had also incorporated social participation committees to involve programme participants in decision-making. A National Plan for Older Adults aimed to guarantee access to food and health care. The “One Paraguay for All Paraguayans” policy was proof that the country was making progress towards social integration, a fair distribution of national wealth and equality. While solidarity with developed countries and South-South cooperation were important, Paraguay still required official development assistance (ODA) based on its socio‑economic priorities, institutional capacity-building and preferential treatment for the most vulnerable sectors of society.
CARMEN MARÍA GALLARDO HERNÁNDEZ(El Salvador), voicing support for the “Group of 77” developing countries and Rio Group statements, said the social integration process was an effective instrument to overcome poverty and eliminate various forms of exclusion, which often curtailed opportunities. The first step towards social integration was satisfying the basic needs of people living in poverty, such as food, health, water, housing, access to education and full employment, and decent work for all. In that context, the Government of El Salvador had fostered the so-called Solidarity Network of Condition Transfers, which benefited almost 100,000 families living in extreme poverty. Gender discrimination also made social integration very difficult where economic inclusion would guarantee generalized inclusion.
International migration must also be considered as migrant workers and their families still faced serious difficulties integrating into their host countries, she said. Assimilation was a prerequisite for the respect and promotion of their human rights. Central America was committed to giving new impetus to social integration, and had recently approved the Central American Social Strategic Agenda as a road map to boosting the region’s social integration system. El Salvador had prioritized food security and focused subsidies for the weakest groups in the country. Integration actions required resources, which could be raised through a mechanism for swapping debt with social programmes, for example. Social integration was not the responsibility of Governments alone, but for all stakeholders in the economy and society.
MICHAEL SCHULZ, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), urged the international community to work together in contributing to the capacity of young volunteers as key agents for social change and development; training youth volunteers to address major humanitarian challenges, particularly HIV/AIDS, prevention of alcohol and drug abuse, violence, environmental education, the rights of the child, respect for diversity, inter-religious dialogue and youth leadership and volunteer management; and in raising awareness concerning violence, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, food insecurity, unemployment and other social ills. The Federation would organize its third world youth meeting in June to share knowledge and train hundreds of young volunteers.
The current financial crisis was a major humanitarian challenge that was already changing patterns of vulnerability, he said. Vulnerable communities, such as those in the Horn of Africa, were now even more fragile than before while others, including some in the developed world, had become vulnerable. Humanitarian and other assistance budgets, including those for economic development, must not be cut. It would be unconscionable if monies were made available to rescue financial giants at the expense of the most vulnerable people.
AHMED ABU-ELKAIR ( Egypt), focusing on Government support to the elderly and the family, said his country’s great interest in the elderly stemmed from its concern over their need for protection. Egypt provided shelters to maintain the aged persons’ connections with their families and was creating clubs to provide social programmes, as well as psychological and cultural services, including physical and exercise. If elderly persons could not find homes with their families, the appropriate Government Ministry provided centres and homes, including care workers.
The Government of Egypt also offered programmes for social rehabilitation, he said. It provided the elderly with retirement pensions and scholarships for their children, when needed, as well as assistance and subsidies in cases of sickness. The Government also provided support for projects for the elderly, who also received ration cards enabling them to procure food and other necessities. Hospitals and clinics were made available to the elderly, and medicines and prostheses, if needed, were available at low prices.
He said that the Government, flowing from its belief in the family as the nucleus of society, felt that if the family was flourishing so would society. It protected the family, and thus society, against disintegration and did everything possible to ensure that the family thrived and met its potential. That included providing advice to young people. The Government also offered juridical counsel and supported clubs and training programmes for family members. That was part of the Government’s efforts to develop families in a healthy and balanced way.
ANDREW DALE, International Labour Organization (ILO) said the agency’s Declaration on Social Justice for Fair Globalization reiterated the fundamental principles of decent work and explained them in the context of globalization. It provided a foundation from which the ILO could help its constituents promote and achieve progress and social justice through the four strategic objectives of the Decent Work Agenda: employment; social protection; social dialogue; and rights. There was serious danger that, in the rush to define new budgets tailored to the needs of the financial crisis and the credit crunch, vulnerable groups would be neglected or forgotten.
That would be a mistake, he warned, noting that experience showed that policies aimed at enabling all members of society to contribute to social and economic progress yielded the most valuable fruit in the long term, be it through investment in education, training and employment opportunities, making adjustments to retain the skills of disabled persons in the labour force, accommodating workers with family responsibilities or ensuring solidarity between generations and within families through suitable fiscal, social protection and social security policies.
Greater attention to the problems of young people internationally had brought a better understanding of youth labour markets and led to a growing number of national action plans for youth employment, he said. The ILO’s recently published Global Employment Trends for Youth showed that the number of unemployed young people continued to rise and that they still suffered disproportionately from a shortage of decent work opportunities. However, the prospects for youth labour markets varied widely among countries and more analysis was needed concerning the many varied aspects of youth employment challenges, based on data collected nationally and aggregated regionally and globally.
LILA PROUNIS, Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Council of North and South America, said the importance of the family in promoting social integration should be recognized, particularly its role of informing, educating and shaping children’s attitudes about the acceptance of racial, gender, ethnic and religious diversity. When the family was performing its function well, social integration was fostered, both at the family and the societal levels. When tolerance and respect for diversity were learned in the family, for example, they became powerfully ingrained in children and young people, and strongly shaped their views on social integration as adults.
The vast majority of families shaped by religious beliefs advocated, and practised, religious and other forms of tolerance, she said. While the family was vitally important in fostering social integration, when social integration did occur, it often affected not only individuals, but whole families. It was, therefore, important to address also social integration through a family perspective, with policies and programmes that approached the issue with the whole family in mind. The conditional cash transfers programmes adopted by 30 countries, most of them in Latin America, which helped millions of families overcome extreme poverty, were to be applauded.
CLAUDIA MAFFETTONE, Youth Coordinator, World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA), said the body had been conducting annual competitions to enable students to join the global debate on how to free the world of nuclear weapons. Highly motivated and creative students worldwide had bold, positive ideas on that subject. Today’s young generation had a unique chance to change the burden of old definitions and bring new arguments to the table.
It was increasingly recognized that the generation coming of age today was “born digital” and was more globally connected than any before it, he said, pointing out that its members saw themselves as agents of change. The WFUNA was working to link youth in developing countries through the BluMail website, which was linked to many United Nations programmes and activities. The WFUNA was on BluMail’s Board of Directors and would be promoting awareness of it during the World Day of Social Justice.
The theme of the next global model United Nations conference would be the Millennium Development Goals, she said, noting that young people had an enormous contribution to make in that regard. They had been conducting regional model United Nations conferences on that theme in Africa, Asia and Latin America. WFUNA’s youth groups would be meeting in conjunction with the thirty-ninth plenary assembly to be held in Seoul, Republic of Korea, in August, where more than 50 United Nations youth associations worldwide would be represented.
Youth could be an agent for change and improvement, she said, adding that globalization and information and communications technology were giving them a chance to bridge distances and differences in an unprecedented way. The remaining challenge was not simply to keep young people inspired and engaged, but also to harness their power. The more Governments and international institutions involved youth in decision-making processes and policy formulation, the more they would be educating future leaders to be responsible for their own actions and their belief that lasting peace and stability could only be achieved through openness and dialogue.
SHANNON JOSEPH, World Youth Alliance, said social integration was understood as a commitment to solidarity. Young people first experienced solidarity, and therefore social integration, in their families. The family gave the young person his or her first experience of intergenerational solidarity. That particular unit was where young people learned how to interact with and love people who were not their peers. It was where ideas of tolerance and respect for differences were fostered, cherished and then carried out into the wider community. Young people whose families were in poverty would lack many things, including opportunities for education, health care, employment and political involvement. Family poverty halted the development of young people, especially girls and young women, who were disproportionately affected by the poverty of their parents.
He said that by focusing on lifting whole families out of poverty, Governments, in partnership with civil society, would ensure that youth continued to gain opportunities for empowerment through the responsibility and self-giving they had learned in their families. The World Youth Alliance had initiated a programme in which young Kenyan volunteers ‑- already among the more privileged of their society ‑- devoted time to caring for people affected by jiggers, a debilitating infection of fleas in their feet. Volunteerism brought the privileged into contact with the poorest in their communities; the bonds thus formed underpinned solidarity and social integration.
GERMAINE PRICE, Daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul and Salesian Missions, said all stakeholders must consider the status of families when addressing the theme of social integration. It was within families that individuals learned about the necessary values and virtues for mutual cooperation and growth, spiritual and cultural heritage and interdependence with others. Healthy families convinced individuals that they were not alone and isolated and that they could count on others to support and protect them. The Copenhagen Declaration outlined the significance of families and the responsibility of societies to nurture them.
Welcoming the international community’s commitment to the spiritual and material well‑being of families, she encouraged Member States to see the urgency of turning that acknowledged ideal into reality. Families played an essential role in building more just and equitable societies. Social development required continuous efforts to reduce and eliminate major sources of social distress and instability for the family and for society.
She emphasized the importance of promoting and protecting the family, keeping in mind its foundational role in society, set forth in international instruments and documents like A World Fit for Children and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There was also a need to integrate educated young people into the job market, protect poor and migrant children through strong cohesive family units, and advance policies that enabled people to combine paid work with family obligations, in accordance with article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
HELEN HAMLIN, International Federation on Ageing (IFA), said that, with global ageing, the numbers of older persons would increase dramatically. By 2050, when today’s young people reached full maturity, they would outnumber the younger generations, particularly in the developing world. There was much to do in promoting the ethics and mechanics of social inclusion. Young persons must join their older cohorts to find as many pathways as possible towards building a society for all.
She said the exclusion of older persons isolated them from society, which in turn lost their experience and wisdom, she said. The goals of social integration and social inclusion had been spelled out in many United Nations documents, and what was now needed was political will and social movements to implement them. The time had come truly to work out and support partnerships to move those issues, ideas and commitments from concept to action.
Urging Member States and the people themselves ‑- often referred to as the grass roots ‑- to undertake the task of implementation from the bottom up, she said that took courage and commitment. Having learned of the great strides made by the African Union, as outlined in the October 2008 Social Policy Framework for Africa, the Federation looked forward to seeing how that project matured, and to learning lessons from that continent.
MAWUTOR KWAKU ABLO, Deputy Director, Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and Social Development, Ministry of Manpower, Youth and Employment, Ghana, said his country had taken several steps in the last decade to put social development in the forefront of the national development agenda. The Government had mainstreamed social protection and gender into the 2006-2009 Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy. It had also introduced the Education Capitation Grant for all children in public schools, which had led to a 20 per cent increase in school enrolment in two years. A free school feeding programme currently covered about 10 per cent of children in public schools, a national health insurance scheme covered all children under age 18 while providing free medical care for all pregnant and lactating mothers.
The 2009 Persons with Disabilities Act sought to provide a framework and an enabling environment where disabled people could fully develop their potential and integrate into society, he said. The Government had set up the National Council on Persons with Disabilities in 2008 to implement that. In 2008, the Government had revised its national youth policy on health, education, science and technology, culture, HIV/AIDS, skills training and employment, he said. It was currently working to revise existing ageing policy so that it could provide for the special needs of older persons and guarantee their right to health care, social security, income, housing, transport, food and education. That revision should be completed by the middle of the year. Following its participation in the African Union Conference of Ministers on Social Development in Namibia in 2008, Ghana had initiated action to develop a national social policy using the African Union Framework adopted at that Conference.
ELSA STAMATOPOULOU, Acting Director, Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, opened the panel discussion, titled “The global crises and their impact on social development”, by introducing a note by the Secretariat transmitting a report on the current global crises and their impact on social development (document E/CN/5/2009/CRP.2).
She said that, due to high food and oil prices, millions of people worldwide had been pushed into poverty and hunger, and there had been large‑scale job losses in developed and developing countries, alike. Achievements in poverty reduction, health, education and other areas of social development might be reversed and future progress seriously jeopardized. The ability of Governments to counter the crises was further restrained by shrinking fiscal revenues as economies slowed during the present period of great uncertainty.
The situation required internationally coordinated fiscal stimulation packages, built on the urgent momentum stimulated by the crises, she said. The report advocated the adoption of a new green compact to ensure, among other things, long‑term investment in rural development, food security and modified patterns of consumption and production. However, because of the short notice, the document had been drafted with the primary objective of highlighting key elements aimed at assisting debate.
Panellist TARIQ BANURI, Director, Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, focused mainly on climate change issues, describing today’s particular confluence of crises and their consequences for the social development agenda. There was a parallel to the 1970s, when the world had gone through a succession of shocks to the economy. That had been followed by the “lost decade” of the 1980s, which had witnessed a number of very positive trends in the development arena reversed and “adjustment episodes” required. It was to be hoped that that same situation would not come to pass, but it was important to remember the lessons of that decade as mechanisms were developed today to offset the emerging multiplicity of shocks.
Today’s experiences were outside even the most pessimistic projections of the 1990s, requiring a broad-based agenda, he said. In the short term, the costs and impacts of climate change were well documented. The impacts on water, glaciers, and sea currents were enormous. The Himalayan glaciers were in danger of disappearing, the consequences of which would deprive more than 1 billion people of a perennial water flow converted to seasonal flows. Sea currents could bring about significant changes in weather patterns across the world.
A second dimension of the emerging problems was their impact on the health-disease vector, he continued. An increase in temperatures and the likelihood that a rise of at least 2 per cent was unavoidable would have long-term implications for disease, leading to changes in epidemics and the ability to cope. In terms of protecting the social agenda, it must be remembered that adaptation was now a necessity because the increase already in the pipeline was too high for normal responses. The public health system would be greatly overtaxed by the emergence of new disease vectors, and investing in that system would be among the highest priorities.
He went on to say that, in the medium term, the world would confront the need for mitigating actions. Given that the entire global development momentum had been driven over the past 250 years by access to cheap energy, a possible shift to alternative energy sources would be much more costly, greatly burdening developing countries. The relationship between energy consumption and human development indicators was clear: more energy, more human development. After a while, that equation flattened out, but several countries were well below the needed cut-off point. So meeting human development targets required at least five to six times more energy and, as population increased, even more. Meeting the needs of a greater population, if energy was available from normal resources, would be affordable, but from more expensive sources, which was beyond the reach of most developing countries.
FAITH INNERARITY, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Culture, and Youth and Sports of Jamaica, said vulnerable groups were most at risk in the current financial crisis, while the food crisis had negatively impacted poverty reduction, jeopardizing gains in many developing countries, particularly the least developed ones. High commodity prices had affected most major food items and that volatility would likely last for a long time. Global warming and climatic conditions had a major impact on food production, and extreme weather would greatly impact food security. A recent World Bank study showed a 3 per cent to 5 per cent increase in global poverty due to the rise in food prices, with the most affected people living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The number of malnourished people worldwide would increase by 44 million.
The lack of access to affordable credit, the drop in foreign direct investment and the loss of formal-sector jobs meant that fewer people were covered by social protection, she said. Jamaica’s bauxite and tourist remittances, both major sources of revenue, were hard hit. Some bauxite production plants could close, leading to layoffs and a negative impact on surrounding communities. The reduction in remittances and in Government revenues due to economic decline meant less money for the nation’s consolidated fund. The social dimensions of climate change were of major concern as Jamaica and other small island developing States had suffered multiple hurricanes, with the poor and vulnerable suffering the most. Jamaica had a major strategy to increase local food production, and was focusing on training and increasing access to job opportunities, particularly for young people.
XAVIER PRATS-MONNE, Director for Employment Policy and International Relations of the European Commission, said that with the global economic crisis still worsening, Europe was in a better situation than most of the rest of the world because it did not have the same levels of extreme poverty ‑- and it had faced fewer hurricanes than Jamaica. In addition, a far smaller segment of its economy was informal so fewer people were in danger of “falling out of protection”. Poverty, a relative term, was defined in Europe as anyone with income below 60 per cent of the national median, and 1 of 5 Europeans was now in poverty.
The average unemployment rate in Europe was 7.6 per cent, but today, in countries like Spain, it was above 14 per cent. Last year, the number of people across Europe claiming unemployment benefits had increased by double digits and it was feared that unemployment would worsen if things did not change, leading to more than 6 million unemployed in Europe, or 20 per cent, by 2010. Women had so far been less affected than men because the typically male-dominated employment sectors, such as automobile, construction and tourism, had been hardest-hit. But women would eventually bear the brunt of the crisis, as history had borne out.
Because the impact of the impact of the crisis was stronger on the weakest, public policy should focus on the most vulnerable, he said, calling for long-term efforts to move people out of poverty to be complemented by an equivalent effort to ensure people did not fall into poverty. The Secretariat report made the valid point that short-term measures to address the employment effects of the crisis must be compatible with key long-term reforms and objectives. The right investment in infrastructure, human capital and development must be maintained to avoid setbacks and pave the way to recovery.
Given the global nature of the confluence of crises, he said, coordination and solidarity were not just matters of altruism or bridging the gap between implementation of development goals and their declaration; they were the way to restore growth and maintain social cohesion. The recovery plan endorsed by the European Union embodied structural reforms addressing long-term challenges. Indeed, the key challenges became more urgent because of the current crisis. The plan also emphasized the importance of “flexi-curity” policies, or flexibility in the labour markets. That was not a quid pro quo with social protection; it involved working-time flexibility, as well as training. It also stressed the importance of maintaining levels of social protection that provided adequate income support.
TAVENGWA NHONGO, Africa Policy Director of HelpAge International, said the number of older persons was increasing despite HIV/AIDS and other scourges, and the elderly would account for 2 billion people by 2050. Poverty was a major concern among older persons, and research showed that most of the older people in Africa were poor. The current food crisis was merely exacerbating the poverty and food scarcity that already existed among older people. Many older Africans survived on one meal a day. The food and fuel crises in Africa and Asia had forced many older pensioners to spend all their money on food. Few could afford a balanced diet or basic heating services.
He said he feared that, in the wake of the current economic crisis, there would be a decline in aid for programmes serving older persons. There was a need for pro-poor policy responses characterized by more and better-targeted aid, stimuli for consumer markets, money for the poor and social protection. Government social spending should not be reduced. If implemented well, social protection could have a major positive impact on poor people in Africa. Social pensions reduced poverty in all households, including those headed by older persons.
Cash transfers impacted financial growth in a positive way, he said, citing Zambia and Ghana, where people were investing in the local economy through such transfers and helping to reduce poverty. Social protection was affordable even by the poorest of economies. Lesotho had been able to implement a social pension from its own resources without help from international financial institutions. Social pensions for older persons never went beyond 2 per cent of gross domestic product.
HENK-JAN BRINKMAN, Chief, New York Liaison Office, World Food Programme (WFP), said the severe impact of high food prices on nutrition worldwide, would have lifelong consequences, even for the middle class. Food prices had started to rise in 2001 and had then soared in 2006 ‑- first maize, then wheat and then rice. The poor spent up to 80 per cent of their income on food and had few coping mechanisms to address high food prices. To cope, they tried diversifying their income, ate less and less well, took children out of school, increased their debt and spent less on health care. Even a small change in food prices affected the consumption of vulnerable people, which in turn affected nutritional status, particularly among children under the age of 2 and among pregnant and lactating women. A short-term crisis, therefore, could have long-term and irreversible effects on nutritional status.
Indeed, one study had found a direct correlation between the price of rice and underweight children, he noted, adding that stunted children suffered long-term health consequences, which affected their education and productivity. In a 1970 study involving very young children given a nutritional drink, children tracked down 30 years later, particularly the boys, had been found to earn wages 40 per cent higher than those not given the drink. The cost of hunger was very high, amounting to more than 11 per cent of gross domestic product. The spike in food prices had raised the number of hungry people by 50 million in 2007 and 2008, even as 2.2 billion people had suffered from micro-nutrient deficiencies before the food crisis.
Besides food prices, he said, the global financial crisis would affect gross domestic product growth, trade volumes, commodity prices, tourism, foreign direct investment, financial internal flows, remittances and, perhaps, ODA. That in turn would affect social development around the world. In terms of response, there was a division of labour between WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) with regard to increasing agricultural production among smallholders and building up social protection systems. The WFP would allocate almost $1 billion, including $250 million for newly hungry people in more than 20 countries. The budget for 2009 exceeded $5 billion, and the Executive Director had called for a human rescue package focused on food and nutrition assistance, next to the finance and fiscal stimulus package, which ran in the trillions of dollars.
JUHO SAARI, Professor at the University of Kuopio in Finland, said the deep global recession was unlike any other experienced before, and the world was in that situation due to creative destruction and economic transformation. Despite good programmes and policy commitments at the beginning of the century, many people worldwide lived in dire straits, particularly in developing countries. That would last three or four years, at least in economic terms. The European Union would have excessive public deficits for 3 to 5 years and excessive public debts for 10 to 15 years at least. The population would also age during that period. Resources in wealthy, affluent societies were stretched and few increases would be seen for social protection funding and ODA. However, that could be prevented; there was a huge space for new ideas on how to mend economic systems during difficult and complex times.
Emphasizing that cuts were not necessary during a recession, he pointed to Finland’s biggest recession in 1991, which had been characterized by 16 per cent unemployment. The country had responded by expanding social policy expenditures, maintaining its institutions intact. That had been a far better policy than cutting and, therefore, deepening the recession. It was important to have a good understanding of evidence-based policymaking and to be able to adjust and adapt to a crisis, combining technology and institutions in productive ways. The Scandinavian model was a good one to follow, and could be achieved in some contexts. Long‑term thinking was needed to ensure a life-cycle approach to public policy and to ensure pensions. Uncertainty caused unhappiness and the regulation of housing and capital markets ‑- all fundamental for families ‑- was very important in preventing uncertainty. It was necessary to understand better how to limit the rat race.
In the ensuing interaction, one speaker said the scale and speed at which lack of confidence in financial markets had spread from one part of the world to another was a matter of concern to Europe. The crisis had affected not only financial markets, but everyday lives as well. There was a need for prompt action to avert poverty and unemployment. Responses to the crisis must include improved access to food for all.
Calling for the promotion of initiatives to support investment growth and entrepreneurship as key conditions for achieving more and better job opportunities, he said priority action should be given to mitigating the negative impact of current developments on vulnerable people. The European economic recovery plan reaffirmed the region’s intention to remain actively involved in seeking the best approaches and policies to overcome the consequences of the crisis. With respect to balancing the emphasis on long- and short-term responses, should there be a greater strategic focus on the short-term effort to preserve employment in the most affected sectors, on long-term targets, even if they failed to stabilize the labour market in the short-run, or on a balanced combination of both? How should social policies and protection systems react to the current economic crisis?
Another speaker asserted that the economic and social situation in developing countries was presently very acute owing to the history of the global economy, which had caused increased poverty and systemically eradicated all social and traditional networks while negatively impacting the climate. In East Africa alone, drought had been very significant. It was obvious that the world needed to address “first things first”, starting with reform of the global financial economic architecture. There was an increasing propensity to base the solution on current modalities ‑- current market dominance and deregulation, for example. Unfortunately, those pushing for that simply wished to maintain their global dominance, while developing countries paid the social cost in the form of a worsening financial and social crisis. A new solution must be more holistic, development-oriented and climatically sound. It must make social development and social justice the keys to whatever trade-offs must be made. A rapid response to the issue of food security was needed.
Yet another delegate stressed the need for policies and strategies that would promote development without discrimination, and uphold human rights. When taking stock of the Millennium Development Goals, it should be kept in mind that many global crises had erupted simultaneously, affecting the poorest economies. Social profitability offered more than sporadic responses to the need to build economies of solidarity and turn stakeholders into true agents of development. The international community should convene an in-depth discussion on a new model to restore dignity and independence to vulnerable groups, based on solidarity and wealth creation, a task for which the expertise of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development would be welcome.
Regarding the future of international cooperation in the midst of the financial crisis, a delegate asked whether it could help mitigate the impact of a crisis experienced by so many countries.
Another representative asked the panellists about their recommendations for addressing the financial and food crises in the context of social development. What should be done in the short term and the long term to lessen their grave effects and how long would those effects last?
Mr. SAARI, addressing questions concerning incentives, said they were important and institutional frameworks for organization should support social cohesion and employment simultaneously. Regarding lessons from the European Union, it was a sufficiently big unit that it could buffer global fluctuations, but as a regional structure it did not necessarily work both at the global and domestic levels. Regarding neo-liberalism and bad policies, there was an imbalance in self-regulating systems.
Mr. BRINKMAN, addressing food security, said food assistance helped reduce short-term vulnerability and increase long-term growth prospects. Nutrition was highly undervalued in social protection systems. Concerning the Commission’s role it had an important role in emphasizing the social cost and impact of the current financial crises. As for the role of cash in assistance for the elderly and youth, it was important but not always a feasible response or option in certain countries. Food vouchers were often a better solution.
Mr. NHONGO, stressing the importance of learning from progressive efforts in many countries, said social development must be an important part of the development agenda. Social protection went to the heart of poverty and put resources in the hands of the poor. A social pension would be the best way to address issues of the elderly, as demonstrated by Ghana and many other countries that had used that and other good options to lift people out of poverty. It was possible to collaborate on a South-South basis, but that cooperation must be honest and not exploited.
Mr. PRATS-MONNE, addressing the question of short- and long-term measures, said there were often similar policies in different countries. The real issue was that such policies had become extremely urgent overall. It was more difficult to implement social policies in the current circumstance, with scarcer resources, but it was also more necessary to do so. Past experiences had shown that the best solution countries could focus on was the welfare of their women, the strongest resource of their human capital.
Ms. INNERARITY said a mix of short- and long-term measures was needed to address the current crisis, including by dealing with urgent social concerns. There were many opportunities for international cooperation on climate change and other social issues, but individual nations must take responsibility in addressing them.
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