Rising poverty over past 10 years threatens stability, says UN report

25 August 2005

Increasing poverty and a growing schism between the “haves” and the “have nots” continue to pose a major threat to developing democracies around the world, and the resulting economic and social inequality will continue to breed violence and terror if the trend is not reversed, a United Nations report said today.

The report entitled “The Inequality Predicament”, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) warned of growing “violence associated with national and international acts of terrorism,” which are the result of stark economic and social inequalities, and competition over scarce resources.

Solutions to inequality outlined in the report include addressing economic asymmetries not just within countries but also between them: 80 per cent of the world’s domestic product belongs to 1 billion people living in the developed world, while the remaining 20 percent is shared by 5 billion people living in developing countries.

“This is an especially important report because it concentrates on inequality of income as well as inequality in access to basic social services, as well as decision-making,” Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Jose Antonio Ocampo, said today as he introduced the report.

Noting that the report comes 10 years after the 1995 Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development – where governments pledged to confront profound social challenges and to place people at the centre of development – he said some decade-old social gaps had actually widened, particularly gender disparities.

Although more women and girls were being educated, formal employment figures for women had stagnated or even decreased in some parts of the world. Even more troubling was the sharp increase of women being employed by the informal sector, he added.

The modest gains made in gender equality, education and other areas proved that social mobilization, particularly civil society engagement, can help raise awareness to social problems and spur action at national and regional levels, he said, noting that the report also stresses the critical importance of boosting access to basic services as one of the most important instruments States had to deal with inequities.

The report notes that in a world of increasing development when societies should be reaping the economic benefits of progress, instead many are experiencing alarming increases in the discrepancies between rich and poor.

The United States, Canada and Britain have not escaped this disturbing trend, it said, seeking to nudge both developed and developing countries to take more vigorous steps in the direction of assuring equality while responding to the economic urgency for growth.

In a summary of the report, Mr. Ocampo said that “failure to address this inequality predicament will insure that social injustice and better living conditions for all people remain elusive,” and that this trend will continue to lead to social instability in the world.

Socio-economic strategies should focus on access to resources, social services and the markets that must be incorporated alongside economic development programmes. Economic stimulation without the associated social programmes is inadequate to eradicate the cycle of poverty: “Focusing exclusively on economic growth and income generation as a development strategy is ineffective, as it leads to the accumulation of wealth by a few, and deepens the poverty of many,…and does not acknowledge the intergenerational transmission of poverty,” says the report.

In the final word of his report, Mr. Ocampo says, “The failure to pursue a comprehensive integrated approach to development will perpetuate the inequality predicament, for which everyone pays the price.”


Video of press conference [35 mins]


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