Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon cautioned today that progress so far in the fight against poverty risked being reversed by a failure to put people at the centre of development policies and strategies aimed at economic recovery following the global financial crisis.
“In the name of fiscal austerity, we cannot cut back on common-sense investments in people,” Mr. Ban said in a message to mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, noting that too many people have been seized by the fear of losing their jobs, their ability to feed their families and access to health care.
“We can meet the challenges we face – the economic crisis, climate change, rising cost of food and energy, the effects of natural disasters. We can overcome them by putting people at the centre of our work.”
He pointed out that too often in the debate about the future, the voices of the poor and the young are being ignored, and so are environmental concerns.
“As we work to avoid a global financial meltdown, we must also work to avoid a global development meltdown,” said Mr. Ban.
He called for greater efforts to accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the anti-poverty targets world leaders have pledged to achieve by 2015.
“Malaria can be stopped. AIDS can be reversed. Millions of mothers can be saved from dying in child birth. Green investments can generate jobs and growth,” said the Secretary-General.
“Now is the time to push harder to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Together, let us listen to people – and stand up for their hopes and aspirations. That is how we will build a world free of poverty.”
The United Nations independent expert extreme poverty and human rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda, for her part, urged States to immediately address the growing inequalities between the rich and the poor, saying that disparities are being exacerbated by austerity measures devised to facilitate economic recovery.
“These rising inequalities have diminished social cohesion and increased insecurity and exclusion throughout the world,” she said in her message. “Should these inequalities persevere, the result could be increasing social unrest and conflict, such as that seen over recent months.”
“While States are going ‘back to business’ on the presumption of a ‘post-crisis’ recovery, the financial and economic crises are still very much in full swing for those living in poverty,” Ms. Sepúlveda said. “At the current rate, it will take more than 800 years for the bottom billion of the world population to achieve 10 per cent of global income.”
She noted it was clear that the poorest and most excluded bore the brunt of the financial crises, while the incomes of the richest segments of society continued to soar in many of the countries most affected.
In the United States, example, six million people have fallen into poverty since 2008, and one in seven people now lives below the poverty line, more than at any time in the past 50 years, she pointed out.
“The twisted irony is that those who have benefited most from past economic growth and development have been those who were already better off, and those who have suffered the harshest effects of the cumulative crises have been the poorest and the marginalized in all societies, including single-parent families, older persons, ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities and migrants,” Ms. Sepúlveda noted.
“What is required are recovery measures that are equitable, accompanied by human rights safeguards and designed from the ground up, taking into consideration the specific needs of vulnerable populations.”