Experts warn of threats to MDG progress in Caribbean

WASHINGTON DC, United States, July 30, 2008 – Top United Nations experts on Latin America and the Caribbean have warned that global economic shocks could throw some 16 million people of the Americas into extreme poverty, threatening important gains toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the region.

Concluding a two-day meeting at the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) this week, the regional directors of 13 UN agencies promised joint action to ensure continued progress on the MDGs in the Americas over the next two years.

“Latin America and the Caribbean have made real advances toward fulfilling the MDGs, particularly in areas like infant mortality, hunger and poverty reduction,” said PAHO Director Dr Mirta Roses Periago.

“But not all groups have benefited equally, and the new global developments are a real threat to our progress. We need to mobilise and coordinate development action among UN agencies and the region’s governments to continue to fight poverty and promote sustainable and equitable development.”

Executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, noted that the region has already reduced the proportion of the population living in poverty from 48 per cent in 1990 to 35 per cent in 2007, thanks to sustained economic growth over the past decade coupled with poverty reduction strategies.

“But this still leaves 190 million poor people, of which 70 million are extremely poor,” she said, noting that an additional 16 million people could be forced into extreme poverty as a result of the global economic slowdown that began in mid-2007, primarily due to declining remittances, slower growth in exports, and lower prices on manufacturing exports.

Under their joint action plan, the U.N. agencies will develop a joint assessment of the impact of higher food prices and other external shocks on hunger, poverty and inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean, using common data and indicators; define a set of integrated development actions that address the needs of the most vulnerable population groups, including indigenous people, Afro-descendants, women, youths and migrants; mobilise resources from governments and international donors to support these actions; and launch a new Pan American Alliance for Nutrition and Development to coordinate and promote the UN agencies’ efforts to fight hunger and improve nutrition, particularly among vulnerable groups.

The PAHO Director noted that, despite overall improvements in nutritional status at the aggregate level in Latin America and the Caribbean, 52 million people in the region are still undernourished, and nine million children under the age of five are chronically malnourished.

The Pan American Alliance for Nutrition and Development would promote better nutrition not just through food production and distribution but with a broad range of actions, ranging from safer cooking stoves and safe water to urban agriculture and sustainable use of natural resources.

“We must take action, and we must focus on the issue of equity. If not, we’re going to miss the groups who need the MDGs the most,” said UNICEF Regional Director, Nils Kastberg.