Conflicts, inequality, volatile financial markets, corruption, climate change challenges and health‑related threats were among the obstacles stymying progress on achieving sustainable development for all, delegates warned at the opening of the fifty‑sixth session of the Commission for Social Development, with many calling for sharpening the focus of national and global efforts to reach vulnerable groups.
“Eradication of poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, remains the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, particularly in Africa and in the least developed countries, small island developing States, landlocked developing countries and in middle‑income countries,” said Ghada Waly, Minister for Social Solidarity of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, summing up a common view.
In tackling obstacles to development gains, the Commission had a crucial role to play in identifying targeted strategies, ministers and representatives stressed. Gaps and inequalities persisted, cautioned some, expressing concerns about uneven progress and exchanging stories of success and challenges.
Viet Nam’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), reported that innovation, inclusivity and international cooperation had kept the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on track, with the number of people living in extreme poverty in the region dropping to 44 million in 2015 from 138 million in 2000.
The representative of Equatorial Guinea, speaking for the African Group, said that despite multiple poverty eradication commitments and pledges, 390 million Africans remained mired in extreme poverty. Obstacles needed to be overcome, including challenges related to poverty drivers such as economic slow‑downs, war and civil unrest. Further, international support and partnerships were needed to boost ongoing efforts, with stepped‑up investments from the private sector, civil society and the United Nations.
More generally, the international community must boost cooperation and coordination, many delegates said. Similarly, Deputy Secretary‑General Amina J. Mohammed declared “this Commission has a key role in addressing these challenges”, calling on countries to empower people living in poverty and address the phenomenon’s root causes.
Social policies that ensured social protection, including safety nets, could be crucial, she said, describing the current absence of such mechanisms in many countries as “unacceptable”. “I encourage you to be creative and to prioritize accelerating action” to help implement the 2030 Agenda, she said.
Liu Zhenmin, Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that while the Commission was meeting at a time when the global economy continued to show signs of improvement, “economic growth is not enough”. While some 1.1 billion people had escaped poverty since 1990, many were still living barely above the absolute poverty line and remained at risk of falling below it again if impacted by disaster, illness, the loss of a job or lack of social protection. Going forward, it would be crucial to develop a comprehensive and integrated socioeconomic policy framework.
Economic and Social Council President Marie Chatardová (Czech Republic) said the Commission’s deliberations on eradicating poverty would significantly contribute to the forthcoming United Nations high-level meeting on sustainable development. Policies produced during the session would serve to guide future generations, she continued, adding that the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, which would begin on January 30, could benefit the Commission’s work by hearing young people’s perspectives.
Agreeing, Commission Chair Nikulás Hannigan (Iceland), elected at the outset of the meeting, emphasized that the 2030 Agenda’s success depended on empowering all groups in society. “Let us seize this opportunity and strengthen international cooperation in implementing the 2030 Agenda, building on the achievements of the World Summit and the Millennium Development Goals and seeking to address their unfinished business,” he said. “Let us also ensure that this year’s resolution places a strong emphasis on social policies and strategies that have proved effective at eradicating poverty.”
Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the United Nations Secretary‑General’s reports on ageing and poverty eradication strategies as well as a note by the Secretariat on emerging cross‑cutting issues, focusing on innovation and interconnectivity for social development.
Delegates also debated strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all during a high-level panel discussion moderated by Jane Barratt, Secretary‑General of the International Federation on Ageing. It featured a keynote address by Juan Somavía, Director of the Diplomatic Academy of Chile, and panellists Ana Helena Chacón Echeverría, Vice‑President of Costa Rica; Ghada Waly, Minister of Social Solidarity of Egypt; Mark Kamperhoff, Head of the Unit of European Union Coordination and International Affairs of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany; and Mark McGreevy, Group Chief Executive of DePaul International and the founder of the Institute of Global Homelessness.
The fifty‑sixth session, which runs through 7 February, would feature several high‑level panel discussions on a range of issues.
At the start of the meeting, the Commission adopted its provisional agenda (document E/CN.5/2018/1 and Corrigendum 1) and elected Mr. Hannigan as Chair and Lot Dzonzi (Malawi) and Mihaela Mecea (Romania) as Vice‑Chairs, with Ms. Mecea also serving as Rapporteur.
Delivering statements today were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Bulgaria (for the European Union), Costa Rica (also for the Group on Ageing), Peru, Paraguay, Portugal, Egypt, Ghana and Guatemala.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the NGO Committee for Social Development and of the European Union Youth Forum.
The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 30 January, to continue its work.
NIKULÁS HANNIGAN (Iceland), Chair of the fifty‑sixth session of the Commission for Social Development, said the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development depended on empowering young people, persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous peoples and families as rights holders and agents of change. While the Commission’s work constituted the basic framework for the promotion of social development for all, he warned that inequality was worsening within and among nations, with the World Inequality Report 2018 reporting that one per cent of the world’s people had twice as much income growth as the bottom half since 1980. Tackling such challenges would require effective social policies and strategies, including job creation, increased investments and tapping into the benefits reaped by globalization.
Addressing elements of the session’s agenda, he noted that high‑level discussions would address aspects of sustainable development, and debates would consider issues such as the social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the situation of persons with disabilities, youth and older persons. As 2018 marked a policy‑focused session in the Commission’s two‑year cycle, its priority theme would be an action‑oriented draft resolution.
“Let us seize this opportunity and strengthen international cooperation in implementing the 2030 Agenda, building on the achievements of the World Summit and the Millennium Development Goals and seeking to address their unfinished business,” he said. “Let us also ensure that this year’s resolution places a strong emphasis on social policies and strategies that have proved effective at eradicating poverty.”
MARIE CHATARDOVÁ (Czech Republic), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Commission’s work during the session would be critical to advance progress in other forums on sustainable development. Deliberations on eradicating poverty to ensure sustainable development for all would also significantly contribute to the 2018 high‑level meeting on related issues. Policies produced during the session would serve to guide future generations.
Highlighting the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum, which would begin on Tuesday, she said the concurrent gatherings could be mutually beneficial. Youth representatives would also be sharing the forum’s activities, she continued, expressing hope that their contributions would benefit the Commission’s work. Commending the Commission’s work during its last session, she wished delegates success and voiced the Economic and Social Council’s support.
AMINA J. MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary‑General of the United Nations, said this year’s theme was particularly timely as the world sought transformative actions to implement the 2030 Agenda. “National development policies are now more likely to place people at the centre of development,” she said, outlining recent strides achieved at the national and global levels. However, the drop in extreme poverty remained uneven, and millions had slid back into poverty annually due to global shocks. Poverty remained pervasive among women, young people, indigenous persons and other vulnerable groups, and youth were suffering from unemployment that could leave them at risk of extremist recruitment. “This Commission has a key role in addressing these challenges,” she said, calling on countries to empower people living in poverty and address the phenomenon’s root causes. Social policies that ensured social protection, including safety nets, could be crucial, she said, describing the current absence of such mechanisms in many countries as “unacceptable”. This year, the Commission’s adoption of a resolution on its working methods — in particular, its alignment of the body’s work with the Economic and Social Council’s High‑Level Political Forum — would be crucial, she stressed, concluding: “I encourage you to be creative and to prioritize accelerating action” to help implement the 2030 Agenda.
LIU ZHENMIN, Under‑Secretary‑General for Economic and Social Affairs, said poverty eradication was both a stand‑alone goal as well as an overarching theme mainstreamed throughout the 2030 Agenda. That agenda highlighted that people living in poverty and vulnerable situations faced barriers that hindered their ability to escape their lot, such as lack of access to education, health care, clean water and sanitation, affordable food and decent jobs. While the Commission was meeting at a time when the global economy continued to show signs of improvement, “economic growth is not enough”. While some 1.1 billion people had escaped poverty since 1990, many were still living barely above the absolute poverty line and remained at risk of falling below it again if impacted by disaster, illness, the loss of a job or lack of social protection. Going forward, it would be crucial to develop a comprehensive and integrated socioeconomic policy framework to eradicate poverty, supported by strong institutions, broad‑based participation and evidence‑based policymaking. Creative employment production and decent work for all were critical, as was addressing informality, irregular employment, low skills, and low‑wage traps. In addition, it would be important to invest in people’s skills and build the resilience of people living in poverty or vulnerable situations, including those living in places most vulnerable to climate change.
DANIEL PERELL, NGO Committee for Social Development, said social protection was an essential tool, with Governments playing their part in ensuring related rights. However, implementing social protection schemes must be the result of meaningful consideration, taking into account local communities and their resources and aspirations. Any given scheme was a means, not an end, to bring about development in a manner aimed at the flourishing of communities. To bring about that development, the NGO Committee and civil society stood ready to support those goals with a view to achieving progress for all.
LUIS ALVARADO MARTINEZ, youth representative of Spain and President of the European Union Youth Forum, provided a snapshot of young people today and those who had grown up during the Millennium Development Goal era, pointing out that the latter were now adults. Facts related to poverty today had demonstrated that clear strategies were needed to tackle the multidimensional nature of related challenges. Pointing to several areas of concern, he said strategies must focus on access to quality work, a guarantee of robust social protection and continued progress in political inclusion.
“We generally face a lack of power,” he said, emphasizing that youth must be active participants, fully engaging in shaping policies that would guide their future. The eradication of poverty would only be achieved by focusing on the broad range of interconnected elements of sustainable development. “Let’s jointly work to achieve a better future,” he said. “Imagine what we could do together if young people were a full part of this conversation.”
Introduction of Reports
DANIELA BAS, Director, Division for Social Policy, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced several reports of the Secretary‑General: “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all” (document E/CN.5/2018/3); “Social Dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development” (document E/CN.5/2018/2); “Third review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002” (document E/CN.5/2018/4) and “Implementation of the objectives of the International Year of the Family and its follow‑up processes” (document A/73/61-E/2018/4), as well as a note by the Secretariat titled, “Emerging issues: towards sustainable and resilient societies: innovation and interconnectivity for social development” (document E/CN/5/2018/5).
On the former, she said the report provided a review of progress made to date to eradicate poverty and discussed strategies that countries were implementing to achieve that goal for people everywhere. It emphasized that poverty eradication required political commitment as well as realistic and determined social and economic policymaking and implementation, among other critical elements. It further emphasized the importance of ensuring policy coherence and coordination across sectors. The report on NEPAD made several recommendations aimed at accelerating Africa’s progress in implementing development programmes and priorities, including the scaling up of social protection schemes, promoting structural transformation and investing in agriculture.
Noting that the Commission would, on 31 January, hold a high‑level panel discussion related to the evidence‑based mainstreaming of disability in the 2030 Agenda’s implementation, monitoring and evaluation, she then turned to the Secretary‑General’s report on ageing, on which another high‑level panel would be held on the same day. That report presented the conclusions of the third review and appraisal carried out by Member States and coordinated through the regional commissions, identified major trends and roadblocks to implementation in the regions, and listed future areas of focus for regional policy. Outlining a number of the reports’ recommendations, she said the report on implementing the objectives of the International Year of the Family focused on recent initiatives to create national frameworks and institutions for the design, implementation and monitoring of family policies and programmes, such as those supporting work‑family balance. Meanwhile, the Secretary‑General’s note on sustainable and resilient societies — prepared ahead of a high‑level panel discussion to be held on 30 January — identified emerging trends in innovation and technology, highlighting both the opportunities and challenges they presented and offering a set of policy recommendations.
GHADA WALY, Minister for Social Solidarity of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said Sustainable Development Goal 1 on ending poverty should not be considered as an individual goal but in light of its interlinkages with all the 2030 Agenda’s other goals and targets. “Eradication of poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, remains the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, particularly in Africa and in the least developed countries, small island developing States, landlocked developing countries and in middle‑income countries,” she stressed, also spotlighting the needs of countries and peoples living under colonial and foreign occupation and countries in conflict and post‑conflict situations. The Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development — along with further initiatives adopted by the General Assembly at its twenty‑fourth special session and the Commission’s own discussions — constituted the basic framework for the promotion of social development at the national, regional and international levels.
Expressing concern over the uneven progress achieved to date in ensuring full and productive employment and decent work for all, she emphasized the importance of strengthening social policies that paid attention to the specific needs of disadvantaged groups such as children, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, indigenous persons, migrants, refugees, internally displaced persons and others. The international community also had an obligation to remove obstacles to the full realization of the rights of peoples to self‑determination, especially those living under colonial and foreign occupation and other forms of alien domination. Calling for the empowerment of older persons, she welcomed progress towards implementing NEPAD priorities in Africa, and underscored the crucial role of North‑South, South‑South and triangular international cooperation. Concluding, she said the Commission could feed into the discussions of the High‑Level Political Forum on “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”, including promoting social policies that ensured innovation, interconnectivity and inclusion.
GEORGI PANAYOTOV, European Union delegation, said that the Sustainable Development Goals should be fully integrated into the European policy framework. The European Pillar of Social Rights had anchored a strong social dimension in the future of the European Union. The Pillar put forward common values and set out 20 principles and rights in order to positively impact people’s lives and ensure that no one was left behind. It confirmed that young people have the right to continued education, apprenticeship, traineeship or a job offer of good standing within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education, for example. It also confirmed that persons with disabilities had the right to income support to ensure that they could live in dignity, with access to services that enabled them to participate in the labour market and in society.
The European Union remained fully committed to implementing the 2030 Agenda abroad as well, he said. The new European Consensus on Development sought to support the achievement of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals in an integrated manner. It also underlined the intention to work more strongly and effectively will all partners, including countries at all stages of development. The European Union would continue to target its assistance to the least developed and conflict‑affected countries, and also to strengthen its partnerships with middle‑income countries, including the more advanced developing countries.
NGUYEN PHOUNG NGA (Viet Nam), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and associating himself with the Group of 77, said the number of people living in extreme poverty in the ASEAN region was on track to be under 25 million in 2030, compared with 138 million in 2000 and 44 million in 2015. Such progress could be attributed to innovation, inclusivity and international cooperation, she said, citing several ASEAN initiatives aimed at promoting science and technology, inclusive communities, women’s economic empowerment, youth development and the rights of women and children. ASEAN was also developing a regional plan of action for implementing the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Ageing: Empowering Older Persons in ASEAN. Meanwhile, an inclusive business framework sought to mainstream market‑driven solutions to poverty reduction, economic empowerment and social impact.
Emphasizing the role of cooperation with external partners in poverty alleviation, she said ASEAN and the United Nations had been working closely to align the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the 2030 Agenda. Poverty eradication, resilience, infrastructure, sustainable consumption and production, and sustainable management of natural resources had been identified as priorities for leveraging the complementary aspects of those two agendas. Synergies would help intensify efforts to eradicate all forms of poverty by 2030 and raise living standards. The Statement on Cooperation in Poverty Alleviation, adopted at the East Asia Summit last year, would serve as a framework to increase mutual support and assistance, strengthen the means of implementation and promote global partnership for sustainable development, she said.
MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea), speaking on behalf of the African Group, endorsed the Group of 77, saying that poverty was the root of many ills and threatened economic growth. Despite multiple poverty eradication commitments and pledges against a backdrop of 1.3 billion people having escaped extreme poverty, 390 million Africans remained destitute. Obstacles needed to be overcome, she said, including challenges related to poverty drivers such as economic slow‑downs, war and civil unrest. Several efforts were making progress, including the African Union’s 2002 Protocol on Peace and Security, the Silencing the Guns initiative and the Agenda 2063.
However, breaking the cycle of poverty in Africa required, among other things, full employment and decent work for all, she said. Young people were particularly affected by the current trends, with large numbers lacking education, jobs and skills. The African Union Commission was currently shaping a framework for a decade‑long strategy. The 2030 Agenda had set lofty goals, with Governments tackling challenges within and across borders. In Africa, many efforts were under way, from increasing school enrolment to meeting the needs of persons with disabilities. Yet, international support and partnerships were needed to boost those efforts, with stepped‑up investments from the private sector, civil society and the United Nations. Among recent developments, NEPAD was making strides and other endeavours were focusing on fields including infrastructure and job creation.
ANA HELENA CHACÓN ECHEVERRÍA, Vice‑President of Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said the increasing number of older persons around the world and the growing trend towards ageing societies represented a significant challenge to demographic structures as well as to the three dimensions of sustainable development. Noting that societies could benefit from the many contributions of older persons — whose numbers were projected to reach 1.4 billion globally by 2030 — she underlined the urgency of ensuring their social inclusion and integration as well as their full participation in all aspects of civil, political, economic, social and cultural life. Older persons must be fully empowered, ensuring that they were not only recipients of special care and social protection but also active agents and beneficiaries of change. Calling for the mainstreaming of issues related to older persons into development policies, she noted with concern that major constraints remained, including in the implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing. A rights‑based perspective on ageing was needed and must find its place in the policy approaches of every State.
Speaking in her national capacity, she said the Commission’s efforts over recent years had been closely aligned with those of her own tenure as Costa Rica’s Vice‑President. Noting that her term would soon end, she reflected that too little had been accomplished, adding “we must commit to accelerating and doing a little better every day”. Indeed, all delegations were duty‑bound to be the voice of the most vulnerable and “we cannot let them down”. Fundamental rights and freedoms should be expanded, allowing people to take control of their own destinies, while States must create more opportunities to succeed. Just as the Commission’s work had allowed her to engage in soul‑searching and reflection, she encouraged all delegates to do the same, underlining the enormous urgency of meeting the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda. For its part, Costa Rica had firmly embraced those commitments, including by establishing a multidimensional poverty index, bolstering investments in education and technology and delivering rights to women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals; indigenous persons and others. Emphasizing that social development was more fragile and diverse than economic development, she said people must always be put ahead of politics and power grabs, and leaders must forge societies that allowed all people to pursue their dreams.
JORGE MELÉNDEZ CELIS, Minister for Development and Social Inclusion of Peru, said despite his country’s middle‑income status, more than 6 million people lived in poverty. Progress was being witnessed too often alongside levels of great inequality, with wealth unevenly spread and climate change‑related incidents pulling people back into poverty. Government efforts were aimed at making improvements, including guaranteeing early childhood development services and boosting access to opportunities among indigenous communities. Additional initiatives targeted vulnerable groups, aiming at ensuring hard‑won development gains were not lost over challenges including climate change. To achieve those goals, State action was not enough and partnerships were needed with private sector and civil society partners. Further, all middle‑income countries should be adequately supported to ensure that they themselves did not reverse back into poverty.
HÉCTOR CÁRDENAS, Minister for Social Action of Paraguay, said poverty eradication challenges required creative and innovative initiatives. Paraguay’s national indicators had demonstrated a reduction in extreme poverty, to 5 per cent in 2016 from 7 per cent in 2012, while social investments were making further gains, including cash transfer programmes, food allowances for older persons, housing construction for low‑income families and new initiatives aimed at preventing people from sliding back into poverty. For instance, digital cash transfers were now reaching those who had difficulties accessing traditional banks, but could use their mobile phones to manage their finances. Reducing inequality and fostering social inclusion were among the principles behind efforts to achieve sustainable development for all, he said.
JOSÉ ANTÓNIO VIEIRA DA SILVA, Minister of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security of Portugal, associating himself with the European Union, said poverty eradication was a priority for any economy that aspired to be competitive and sustainable. It required, in the medium- and long‑term, strategic, integrated and coherent measures which covered all political and territorial dimensions and all population groups. He emphasized the importance of comprehensive educational systems, inclusive and sustainable labour markets and more effective and efficient social protection systems. Those priorities shared the sustainability of development as a common fundamental concern, he said, underscoring the value of new jobs in the green economy and circular economy as well as citizens’ skills and the balanced use of public resources, including social protection systems. In response to increased poverty during the recent economic crisis in Portugal, the Government reinforced integrated policy measures which combined the recovery of disposable family incomes with incentives to promote labour market entrance and permanence. One example was a social insertion income for those living in extreme poverty, composed of cash transfers for meeting basic needs as well as a programme to support the social, labor and community integration of beneficiaries. Updating the minimum wage also contributed to reducing inequalities. On United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups, he said particular focus should be given to women.
Ms. WALY, delivering a national statement on behalf of Egypt, described her country’s “Vision 2030” to achieve sustainable development, noting that it put in place economic reforms tackling challenges to Egypt’s economy. Among other things, it provided unconditional cash assistance to the elderly and those with other special needs, expanded and partially subsidized housing and worked to rebuild slums. Universal health insurance was gradually being put in place across the country and there was now a quota for women in Parliament. In addition, she said, heavier sentences were in place for perpetrators of violence against women and harassment, and Egypt had enacted its first law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Food assistance had been provided to more than 75 million Egyptians, while microfinancing schemes were providing funding to many small businesses across the country. Recalling that Arab ministers had recently held their first regional conference on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, she said the Ministerial Council had issued its first report on that topic with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other partners.
OTIKO AFISAH DJABA, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, said economic growth over two decades, coupled with social interventions for the poor and vulnerable, helped Ghana to halve poverty under the Millennium Development Goals. Regional disparities and inequalities among socioeconomic groups remained, however, she said, citing the example of a 23‑year‑woman who, despite a tertiary education, had no job, a deceased father and a mother who barely made ends by selling chewing sticks. Ghana was currently developing legislation to ensure sustainable funding and effective implementation of its National Social Protection Policy. It was also establishing a database that would be the primary mechanism for selecting beneficiary households. A cash transfer programme, started in 2008 with 1,645 beneficiaries, was projected to reach 450,000 households this year, while a labour‑intensive public works programme had provided temporary employment to 167,233 people, most of them women. However, cash and in‑kind transfers alone would not provide a way out of poverty without sustainable livelihoods, income generation and employment, she said, explaining that her Government was developing a more robust productive inclusion strategy that would provide a more sustainable means of addressing extreme poverty and vulnerability.
ALCIDES RENÉ OBREGÓN MUÑOZ, Minister for Social Development of Guatemala, associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Friends of Older Persons, said that as a middle‑income country, Guatemala faced several structural gaps, food insecurity and other challenges that affected the most vulnerable. Calling for strategies to address insecurity, inequality and climate change, among other major issues, he warned against a siloed approach. “We need a new focus to ensure that we can tackle what are increasingly interconnected problems,” he stressed, noting that the 2030 Agenda was the “fruit of consensus” and should guide countries to work together. Indeed, that road map should be followed to protect the most vulnerable around the world and ensure that they benefited from the fruits of development. A combination of policies was needed, including the strengthening and reshaping of trade and workplace policies and boosting employment opportunities. Guatemala had put in place modern policies in those areas that were focused on job creation, and was reforming its national infrastructure as part of a more open, transparent approach to policymaking.
This afternoon, the Commission held the first in a series of high‑level panel discussions to be convened throughout its session. Today’s session on the theme “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all” was moderated by Jane Barratt, Secretary‑General of the International Federation on Ageing, and featured four panellists: Ana Helena Chacón Echeverría, Vice‑President of Costa Rica; Ghada Waly, Minister for Social Solidarity of Egypt; Mark Kamperhoff, Head of Unit, European Union Coordination and International Affairs, Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany; and Mark McGreevy, Group Chief Executive of DePaul International and the founder of the Institute of Global Homelessness.
Juan Somavía, Director of the Diplomatic Academy of Chile, former Special Adviser to the Secretary‑General on Interregional Policy Cooperation, former President of the Economic and Social Council and former Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), delivered a keynote address at the meeting’s outset. Describing the 2030 Agenda as a “three‑legged stool” with one leg that remained flimsy, he said countries around the globe faced serious economic challenges while the United Nations system lacked the depth and technical know‑how that underpinned its work in the social and environmental arenas. Indeed, specific economic obstacles were impacting global markets and driving inequality, he said, adding that more attention should be paid to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals’ multidimensional character.
Noting that the Department of Economic and Social Affairs could play a major convening role in driving new types of thinking, he emphasized that poverty was not just about economic factors, but must be managed politically. The United Nations system must prepare to help Governments “bite that bullet”, he said, calling for a completely new mindset that rejected sectoral divisions in favour of a more holistic approach. Also urging a tailored region‑by‑region approach, more participatory processes and an urgent push for gender equality, he called for more space for technical discussions during the Economic and Social Council’s High‑Level Political Forum and proposed that a system‑wide strategic document be drafted to help bring together the disparate elements of sustainable development. The Commission itself remained critically important and must continue to carry weight even against the backdrop of new bodies and agendas, he said, adding: “You have an enormous and beautiful job in front of you.”
Ms. BARRATT, agreeing that the 2030 Agenda was both complex and interlinked, said she had been struck by Mr. Somavía’s message that parts of the agenda were in fact fragile and deeply vulnerable. Delegates should reflect on “who we are as representatives” and examine how they could translate those deeply felt messages into specific policies for their people.
Ms. CHACÓN, underlining the fact that the world was suffering more from inequality than ever before, stressed that Governments must work to give people back their dignity and freedoms through the enjoyment of human rights. Sustainable development policies must have human development and gender equality at their heart, as 50 per cent of the world’s population was still not living on an equal footing with the other half of humanity. “We are not all as committed as we should be,” she said. In Costa Rica, a holistic approach had been put in place, including social mapping aimed at identifying areas where the greatest poverty existed, and a multidimensional poverty index which took into account such factors as access to housing, education, health and social protection. Those and other efforts had helped the country make progress towards ensuring the human rights and well‑being of all people, and had reduced extreme poverty to 5.7 per cent in recent years. Indeed, Costa Rica was working to abandon outdated “palliative measures” in favour of modern social policies based on technical criteria, funded by earmarked resources and supported by strong political will.
Ms. WALY, outlining a number of development challenges facing Egypt, spotlighted slow economic growth and high inflation rates, high levels of malnutrition in some areas, early marriages, low or non‑existent female employment levels and inefficient organizations and institutions. In response to those issues, the Government had begun to distribute cash transfers to women and others in need and had created a database that collected and analysed information on the various dimensions of poverty. Noting that technology could also be used in training and to fight corruption, she said connecting people to safe water, sanitation and better health care enabled them to pursue better lives. Meanwhile, the Government continued to foster the inclusion of women, training them in such work as the production of crafts and other items. Underlining the importance of safety, security and stability — including good governance — she warned that conflicts and displacement would negatively impact the outcome of the 2030 Agenda. “Societies need to feel safe in order to engage in development,” she concluded.
Mr. KAMPERHOFF, also sharing some of Germany’s anti‑poverty policies, said the country’s new national sustainable development strategy brought the Sustainable Development Goals to a practical level. Among other challenges, that strategy aimed to tackle social discrimination, exclusion and lack of participation in decision‑making, all of which contributed to poverty. Recalling that Germany had introduced a minimum living wage in 2105, he said fighting poverty also required ensuring decent jobs, which helped entire families thrive. A “parental allowance plus” system had been introduced, making the reconciliation of work and family care easier. Sound childcare facilities were critical in that regard, he said, noting that Germany aimed to have 35 per cent of children up to two years of age in quality childcare facilities by 2030. It was also working to reduce the gender pay gap and increase wage transparency, and had set quotas for women in executive and other high‑ranking positions.
Mr. MCGREEVY, drawing attention to persons who suffered from street homelessness as a population at high risk of neglect around the world, said unsheltered homelessness was growing in many places — both poor and wealthy — and the issue was often overlooked in policymaking. Data collection on street homelessness was nearly non‑existent. Shelter and housing were crucial for people to address other causes and effects of poverty, he said, describing street poverty as “death‑including poverty”. Street homelessness was also often related to discrimination and other challenges, such as vulnerability to climate‑related events and lack of access to basic services. Stressing that it was in fact possible to end street homelessness, he said his organization was working in some 50 countries and had made promising strides around the world. Clear goals and targets were required, as were citywide or national strategies that included both prevention and response activities and an adequate supply of safe and affordable shelter. In addition, existing poverty reduction strategies should be amended to include the issue of street homelessness, and an indicator on the issue could be included among the Sustainable Development Goal targets, he said.
Briefly responding to a question posed by Ms. Barratt about data collection, Ms. CHACÓN ECHEVERRÍA said evidence‑based data was critical for decision‑making. Ms. WALY, noting that data was lacking on street children in Egypt, described the use of innovative mobile units to help reach them with social services. Mr. MCGREEVY said one‑on‑one interviews with street homeless people could help officials better understand the phenomenon.
In the ensuing interactive discussion, delegates from around the globe shared their experiences in combating poverty and its various dimensions. Conversations also emerged about such issues as employment policies, national debt burdens and the importance of social protection systems, with panellists responding to several questions from the floor.
A number of speakers drew attention to the needs of specific groups at high risk of poverty, including rural dwellers, persons with disabilities and others. A representative of the National Council for the Elderly of Costa Rica spotlighted the particular needs of people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease — many of whom lived in poverty — and urged countries to help reintegrate them into society. Those persons must be taken into account in anti‑poverty campaigns and never institutionalized or neglected, she said.
The representative of Namibia underscored the need to reach people working in the informal employment sector, who should benefit equally from national social protection measures. He asked the panellists whether they could describe any successful case studies in that regard.
Many delegates echoed the panellists’ emphasis on the importance of employment, including as a marker of pride, identity and empowerment. The Minister for State for Family and Youth Affairs of Hungary said an entire generation of children in her country had grown up without seeing their parents go to work, with extremely negative consequences. Hungary now placed a strong emphasis on policies aimed at ensuring decent jobs for its people.
In that regard, Mr. MCGREEVY agreed that a decent job underpinned many other aspects of life, including creating role models for children, ensuring people’s ability to participate in the economy, and allowing them to care for others.
The representative of the European Union said labour market exclusion, especially for young people, continued to increase poverty levels. While more decent jobs and policies that prioritized inclusion and economic growth had the best chance of lifting people out of poverty, social protection was equally critical. In that spirit, the European Union had laid out a set of 20 key principles to support fair labour markets, including many aimed to ensure effective social protection schemes.
The theme of social protection resounded throughout the discussion. A representative of the non‑governmental community emphasized that too many Governments viewed social protection as “charity” or a “reward” for their political allies, adding that Africa was particularly vulnerable because many administrations remained in power too long and forgot about their most vulnerable citizens. For that reason, he stressed that social protection should be legally enshrined in national constitutions, and asked the panellists how Governments could be persuaded to view social protection as a right and legislate it as such.
Ms. CHACÓN ECHEVERRÍA, responding to a question posed by the representative of El Salvador, who asked whether Costa Rica had undertaken any independent impact studies to measure the effects of its anti‑poverty policies, agreed that external evaluations were critical to objectively determining whether measures were working on the ground. Outlining some of the data emerging from her country, she added that more had been gathered and was widely available.
Morocco’s delegate said countries of the global South were still suffering from development challenges due to a lack of political commitment from its development partners. In that respect, she asked the panellists to address the issue of poverty from the perspective of debt‑burdened developing countries.
Responding, Mr. SOMAVÍA said many global financial institutions required States to repay their debts as quickly as possible before lending to them, which negatively impacted anti‑poverty efforts. That issue was just one important reason he had advocated, in his keynote address, for a broad rethinking of the global economy, especially in the areas of trade and investments.
The panellists also delivered brief closing remarks, with Ms. CHACÓN ECHEVERRÍA saying that Costa Rica was making progress toward implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. Ms. WALY also expressed optimism about countries’ implementation efforts, but reminded delegates that countries and sectors needed to work together to achieve sustainable development targets. Mr. KAMPERHOFF emphasized that Germany’s sustainable development policy was expressly aligned with the 17 global goals, and underlined such thematic priorities as addressing human trafficking. Mr. MCGREEVY called for more sensible discussions about compromise and “the common good”, emphasizing that not everything should be about profit. Mr. SOMAVÍA agreed that inequality was “the major issue of our time”, stressing that the Commission had the important mandate to examine that phenomenon.
Also participating were the representatives of Mexico, Cuba, Brazil and South Africa, as well as several other non‑governmental organizations.
* The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release SOC/4848 of 10 February 2017.