Monday, September 20, 2010

U.N. foresees poverty around the world

U.N. foresees dramatic cuts in poverty

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 20, 2010; 8:43 PM
Source : Washington post

A decade ago, world leaders at the United Nations signed off on eight goals aimed at transforming the lives of the world's least fortunate - including cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015. Many Americans were skeptical; in a poll, only 8 percent thought that was possible.

This week, as nations gather to assess the goals, the United Nations countered the skeptics with an announcement: The world is actually on track to halve the percentage of people on the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Even with the brutal global recession, the ranks of the world's desperately poor are likely to shrink to 15 percent of the population by 2015, less than half of the original 42 percent, said a recent U.N. report. The World Bank, in a separate analysis, said the objective appears "well within reach."

Despite the achievement, not everyone is celebrating.

Because of the economic crisis and jumps in food and fuel prices, "the momentum has been derailed" toward even deeper cuts in poverty, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, of the International Monetary Fund, said Monday at the opening session of a summit on the Millennium Development Goals, as the U.N. benchmarks are known.

Several of the original eight goals will probably not be met, including slashing the maternal and child mortality rate worldwide. Moreover,the progress on poverty comes with caveats: The absolute number of poor will shrink less than the percentage figure, because of population growth. Many note that the decline in poverty is due in large part to changes in a few big countries - in particular, China.

Still, development experts say that there are numerous underreported success stories in other countries, even in Africa. While the economic growth drove the reductions in poverty, the ambitious U.N. goals prompted a greater flow of international aid, and got some poor countries to adopt better policies, experts say.

"What is not often understood is how many countries there are that have been making real progress," said Mark Suzman, policy director at the Global Development Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For example, he said, nine African nations have already succeeded in halving their rate of extreme poverty since 1990, the baseline for the U.N. targets.

The U.N. goals are aimed at the dirt-poor, a different level of misery than what's measured in the United States. The U.S. census sets the poverty level at $22,000 a year for a family of four. The U.N. goal, in contrast, targeted people living on less than $1 a day (later raised to $1.25 to reflect inflation). Many of them live in mud huts and shanty towns, with little access to flush toilets, medicine or high school.

How have so many people managed to get out of poverty? China, with 1.3 billion people, has had the biggest impact. About 60 percent of its massive population lived in extreme poverty in 1990; because of pro-market overhauls, that figure had plummeted to 16 percent by 2005, according to U.N. figures.

Excluding China, the percentage of people worldwide in extreme poverty is still projected to drop from about 35 percent to 18 percent in 2015, according to the World Bank.

"There are a lot of very large countries in terms of population that have had dramatic reductions in poverty," said Benjamin Leo, a researcher at the Center for Global Development. He cited Brazil, Pakistan, Vietnam and Bangladesh as examples.

While growth is the most critical ingredient in lowering poverty, other factors have mattered too - like remittances, improved governance, international aid and social spending.

For example, Brazil's growth averaged 4.2 percent a year from 2003 to 2008, healthy if not red-hot like China's. But about one-quarter of the Brazilian population is now getting small cash payments under an innovative government program known as Bolsa Familia. The country's rate of extreme poverty fell by one-third, to 5 percent, according to the World Bank.

The relatively bright picture on poverty reduction doesn't extend to sub-Saharan Africa, which fared the worst of all regions. Analysts say development there has been stalled by conflicts in big countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of theCongo, as well as environmental devastation.

Africa's poverty rate fell from 58 percent in 1996 to 50 percent in 2005, according to the World Bank. But because of population growth, the absolute number of poor grew from 296 million to 388 million. In other words, the poor were a smaller slice of the pie, but the pie got bigger.

Still, analysts say, there are notable examples of improvement in the continent. Consider Ethiopia, which became the symbol of African suffering during the 1984 famine. The level of extreme poverty there has dropped from 60 percent to 39 percent.

The country was, of course, coming off a low base. But Ethiopia has benefited from strong growth and government policies that are more business-friendly and give local communities more say in spending on schools, water and sanitation, according to Africa experts.

"They've improved delivery of basic services quite dramatically," said Shanta Devarajan, chief economist for Africa at the World Bank, a major provider of aid to the country.

The Millennium Development Goals were originally proposed by a broad movement of activists and others to reinvigorate foreign aid after it plunged in the aftermath of the Cold War.

"In this context, they were extremely successful. Aid has exploded over the last 10 years," with such programs as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said Leo. In addition, billions of dollars in poor countries' debts have been forgiven.

But many countries participating in the summit are angered the developed world hasn't been more generous, and hasn't kept some of its aid promises.

While many initially saw the goals as wildly optimistic, they were embraced by aid institutions and many poor countries.

"When I look at governments in low-income regions around the world, the [development goals] are very high on the minds of the cabinet, and very much embedded in government strategies and structures," said Jeffrey Sachs, a leading economist and adviser to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

"This has been a big change. . . .It's surprising, because most U.N. goals are not remembered, they don't last 10 years. They don't necessarily last a year."

Brown angry at slow work to meet UN poverty goals

Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has expressed "anger" at the failure of rich nations to honour pledges to combat global poverty.

The United Nations' eight Millennium Development Goals were set out in 2000 with the aim of being reached by 2015.

Mr Brown is particularly concerned by the lack of progress in ensuring every child has access to primary education.

Speaking in New York, Mr Brown said he wanted to "press, inspire and push" people to see the virtues of education.

Ensuring education for all was an issue of "security, anti-poverty and health", he added.

Millennium Development Goals

* Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
* Achieve universal primary education
* Promote gender equality and empower women
* Reduce child mortality
* Improve maternal health
* Combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases
* Ensure environmental sustainability
* Develop a Global Partnership for Development

* UN millennium goals 'can be met'

"I'm angry because we made commitments that we would meet these Millennium Development Goals," he told the BBC at a meeting to review progress towards them.

"I think rich countries have not done enough to honour the promises that we made."

He added that it was "too easy sometimes for the governments to say something else has come up, some other thing has changed our view".

Mr Brown, who was UK chancellor at the time the pledges were made, said the governments of wealthy nations needed to face continuing public pressure to ensure they stuck to their pledges.

Turning his attention to poorer nations, he said their governments "have to put resources into education and not into corruption, to put resources into health and not to waste them on prestige projects".

Mr Brown's comments came after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the Millennium Development Goals could still be met if enough work was done.

Mr Ban urged world leaders meeting in New York to stick to the task despite the global downturn, insisting they could be achieved by 2015.

More than 140 leaders are meeting to review progress toward the targets.

The UN itself concedes that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to meet some of the targets.

The Millennium Development Goals aim to tackle global poverty and improve living standards for developing countries. We've taken key indicators, broken down by UN-defined regions as shown here, and set the 2015 target as a baseline to reveal the true picture of how each region is faring.


Developing nations are on track to meet the poverty target largely because of progress in China. But in Sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia the proportion of hungry people has increased. Globally, the number of hungry people rose from 842 million in 1990-92 to 1.02 billion people in 2009.~

While countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have seen great improvements by abolishing school fees and offering free school lunches, the target is unlikely to be met. The drop-out rate is high, and although there has been some investment in teachers and classrooms, it is not enough.

Gender gaps in education have narrowed, but remain high at university (tertiary) level in some developing countries because of poverty. Employment for women has improved but there are still many more women than men in low-paid jobs. There have been small gains for women in political power.

Child deaths are falling but at the current rate are well short of the two-thirds target. They more than halved in Northern Africa, Asia,Latin America and the Caribbean but remain high in parts of Southern Asia. In Sub-Saharan Africa the absolute number of children who have died actually increased.

Although in all regions there are advances in providing pregnant women with antenatal care, the maternal mortality rate is unacceptably high, with progress well short of the decline needed to meet the target. Those at most risk are adolescent girls, yet funding on family planning is falling behind.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has stabilised in most regions, but new infections are rising in some areas and antiretroviral treatment has mushroomed. Global funding has helped control malaria but is still far short of what is needed. On current trends tuberculosis will have been halted and started to reverse.

The world will meet the drinking water target on current trends but half the population of developing regions still lacks basic sanitation. The 2010 target to slow decline in biodiversity has been missed. Improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers has been achieved but their actual numbers are rising.

Levels of aid continue to rise, but major donors are well below target. In terms of volume the USA, France, Germany, UK and Japan are the largest donors. G8 countries have failed to deliver on a promise to double aid to Africa. Debt burdens have been eased for developing countries. ~

Source : BBC

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