Press Conference to Launch 1997 Human Development Report

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13-Jun-1997 00:32:49
Extreme poverty could be banished from the globe by early next century, according to the 1997 Human Development Report launched yesterday at Headquarters by the Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Rafeeuddin Ahmed. The report -- the eighth annual report in the series prepared by the UNDP -- was released simultaneously in cities around the world -- including Bonn, Capetown, Copenhagen, Brussels, Ottawa, Madrid and Washington, D.C.

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The 245-page document analyses poverty (chapter I); progress and setbacks in human poverty (chapter II); resisting new forces of poverty (chapter III); globalization -- poor nations, poor people (chapter IV); the politics of poverty eradication (chapter V); and eradicating human poverty worldwide (chapter VI).

Mr. Ahmed said the Report demonstrated the urgency to act on a global compact for the eradication of poverty. It discussed successful country experiences -- such as Malaysia, Indonesia, China and India -- and proposed policy measures in a globalizing world economy. Based on earlier successes, it was evident that the international community had the resources and the skills to eliminate absolute poverty in 20 to 30 years. The report was a contribution to that great endeavour.

He said the six policy measures proposed in the Report to end absolute poverty in the span of a generation were: the empowerment of women and men by encouraging their participation in decisions that affected their lives and that enabled them to build their strengths and assets; gender equality as a part of each country's strategy for eradicating poverty, both as an end and as a means to eradicate other forms of human poverty; "pro-poor growth" in every country; and an accelerated growth in more than 100 developing countries and countries with economies in transition, where growth had been falling.

The Report also suggested that the forces of globalization should work for and not against poor people, Mr. Ahmed continued. The focus should be on better policies, fairer rules and fairer terms for poor countries to enter markets, especially for agricultural exports. At the same time, poor countries needed much stronger support from the international community through concessional assistance, debt relief and trade preferences. In addition, the Report states that an environment must be created in which State policies as well as market forces, civil activism and community mobilization contribute to the fullest possible extent to the eradication of poverty.

The last policy measure proposed in the Report stresses the need for special international support for special situations, he added. It called on the international community to do more.

Mr. Ahmed drew attention to two other areas of interest in the report: a new concept of human poverty; and a message of optimism, tempered with a note of warning.

He said the 1997 Report proposed a multidimensional measure of poverty: the Human Poverty Index. It was a composite index, calculated by looking at the percentage of people expected to die before age 40, the percentage of adults who are illiterate and a composite of three variables: lack of access to health services, to safe water and the percentage of malnourished children under five. Traditional ways of measuring poverty were not reliable because they focused on one symptom of poverty. Poverty was caused by poor health, low levels of education, the inability to find a meaningful job and lack of access to credit or land.

Mr. Ahmed said some countries had done better in reducing income poverty than human poverty, which refers to the number of people falling beneath a certain income poverty line. Other countries had reduced human poverty compared with the reduction in income poverty.

The good news and the note of optimism in the Report was that eradication of absolute poverty was within reach. "Great strides have been made in the war on poverty" because development works, Mr. Ahmed stressed. In the past 30 years, developing countries had succeeded in making as much progress as the industrial countries had managed in a century of progress. By the end of the twentieth century, some 3 to 4 billion of the world's people would have experienced substantial improvements in their standards of living, and about 4 to 5 billion would have access to basic education and health care.

However, in spite of the progress, "a backlog of poverty persists", unevenly spread across continents and within societies, Mr. Ahmed said. New forces were affecting societies worldwide, dragging entire countries back to levels of malnutrition, vulnerability and ignorance that had been left behind. Civil war, global pandemics, environmental degradation and failures of economic growth were the four forces pushing people back into the poverty trap, reversing the gains made in the war on poverty.

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