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Ban laments worsening global poverty as UN Assembly meets


Presenting the report to journalists at the weekend at the UN headquarters, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Dr. Rose-Ashe Migiro, also disclosed that the world body is now adopting a system to alert of similar dangers in the future. She announced the development of the United Nations Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System (GIVAS).

The report, which would be shared with world leaders this week at the UN summit, stated for instance that countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, have the largest percentage of its populations descending into the poverty line.

For instance, the report said sub-Saharan Africa has the largest prevalence of undernourishment relative to its population, saying 32 per cent of Africans in sub-Sahara are undernourished this year. That percentage is a further worsening of the situation last year when there were only about 265 million people hungry in Africa or 21 per cent of the population.

While all regions of the world have been affected by this global rise in hunger, however, Asia has the highest sheer number of the rising hunger with 642 million people undernourished.

According to the report, the economic crisis is “predicted to substantially slow down global efforts to eradicate poverty. Hard-won ground is being lost. All estimates point to the fact that progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of reducing by half the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day has been slowed or halted by the global economic crisis.”

This, the UN report stated, might mean for many countries failure to achieve their poverty-reduction targets. Based on the World Bank data, the UN report projects that “in 2009, about 100 million more people will be trapped in extreme poverty – living on less than $1.25 a day – than was anticipated before the onset of the crisis, which means that in 2009, the number of people in extreme poverty will still be more than 1.3 billion, that number was expected to be reduced to 1.2 billion.”

The UN Deputy Secretary-General, herself a former minister from Tanzania, Dr. Migiro, said many of the people now falling into extreme poverty had seen their fortunes improve over the past decade, but now they risked falling back, exhausted by crisis after crisis – first food and fuel, and now the economic downturn.

She said while the first “green shoots” of recovery were evident in some places, the crisis was far from over in the developing world. Forecasts implied that remittance flows to developing countries would be reduced by some 7.3 per cent in 2009, and the number of unemployed youth had risen by 18.2 million this year.

The global financial crisis might have severe long-term consequences, she warned, adding that millions of children would suffer cognitive and physical injury due to malnutrition. The further spread and evolution of the H1N1 influenza pandemic should be monitored, as well as the onset of new natural disasters.

Noting that there was a deadly lag between the onset of a crisis and the emergence of an accurate picture of its impact on the poor and vulnerable, she said that up-to-date information was crucial for policymakers in order to craft the right policy responses.

According to her, the UN is now trying to address that problem by developing GIVAS, which would collect real-time data by using new technologies. The system would be provided “as a public good for all” and, said Mrs. Migiro, “it promises to be a 21st century tool designed to help analyse 21st century global problems.”

Explaining to reporters what new technologies would be used for GIVAS, Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning, said the “workhorse” of the system would be the most simple but also most powerful tool and one which had not been available 10 years ago, namely worldwide cell phone use and “SMS-ing.” New data collection and sorting technologies would also be applied, as well as new data dissemination technologies.

To a question about pressure by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on governments to reduce social spending in exchange for loans, Migiro said it was true that there was such pressure in times of crisis such as the present one. It was important, however, she said to link social services with sustainable development.

She noted that that was the message of the Secretary-General to the G-20 and G-8 when he warned that it would be wrong to request cuts in social services. For poor and vulnerable people, those services really mattered. The UN system remained focused on ongoing problems in the social sector such as education, health and agricultural subsidies.

Responding to a question about the UN budget, Orr said the greatest impact of the crisis on the budget was yet to come, as there was a time gap between the adoption of a budget and incoming funds for it. That was why the Secretary-General had been talking about doing more within fiscal constraints. It was not a time to “trim our sails”, but a time to invest – a time when the most vulnerable people in the world most needed help.

Concerning the absence of donor funding, Migiro said the Secretary-General had been advocating donor funds. He had advocated for the $1.1 trillion financing package for developing countries at the G-20 summit. Recently, his advocacy had led to a pledge of $20 billion during the G-8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy.

Asked for a breakdown by country for the 100 million people in danger of falling below the poverty line, Migiro said the report had not wanted to rank countries, but to see the extent of the vulnerability. Not all vulnerable people were poor but all poor people were vulnerable in terms of the impact of the crisis, as well the ability to cope, she said.

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