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U.N. Experts Warn on New Threats to MDG Progress in Latin America and the Caribbean

Rising food, energy prices and global financial uncertainty demand new action to advance U.N. development goals in the Americas.

Washington, D.C., July 25, 2008 (PAHO)—Top United Nations experts on Latin America and the Caribbean warned this week 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.

(Photo Sonia Mey-Schmidt/PAHO)

Concluding a two-day meeting at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional directors of 13 United Nations 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 mobilize and coordinate development action among U.N. agencies and the region's governments to continue to fight poverty and promote sustainable and equitable development."

Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), noted that the region has already reduced the proportion of the population living in poverty (MDG-1) from 48 percent in 1990 to 35 percent 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. 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, she said.

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.
  • Mobilize resources from governments and international donors to support these actions.
  • Support the use of a new "Atlas of Vulnerability" developed by PAHO and ECLAC's population division (CELADE) to identify areas and population groups with the most urgent development needs.
  • Support ongoing integral development projects in cross-border areas, including Central America's Mosquito Coast, South America's Chaco region, the Amazonian tri-border area, and the Altiplano of Bolivia and Peru.
  • Launch a new Pan American Alliance for Nutrition and Development to coordinate and promote the U.N. agencies' efforts to fight hunger and improve nutrition, particularly among vulnerable groups.

PAHO Director Roses 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 9 million children under 5 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.

Nils Kastberg, UNICEF regional director, told the group: "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."

Participants included the regional heads of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The Millennium Development Goals are a series of goals and targets that U.N. member countries have agreed to work to achieve by 2015. They address eight key development areas: eradicating poverty and hunger; promoting universal primary education; empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing global partnerships for development.

PAHO, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

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