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Latin America Keeps Poverty Goals in Sight Despite Harsh Times
email this pageprint this pageemail usBeatrice Paez - Inter Press Service
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July 03, 2010

United Nations - Nine million more people have fallen into poverty in Latin American and Caribbean countries since the global financial crisis struck, threatening the achievement of all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the 2015 deadline, according to a report released this week by 18 U.N. agencies.

The region has almost crossed the finish line in certain areas, but others remain largely unfulfilled, the report said.

For example, between 2002 and 2008, Latin America saw poverty rates drop from 19.4 percent to 12.9 percent. While the 2008 crisis interrupted this trend, the social and economic policies pursued by many governments leading up to and following the crisis helped to cushion the blow, said Antonio Prado, the deputy executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The forecast for economic growth in Latin America this year is still expected to be 4.5 percent.

Prado explained to IPS that, "Latin America went through over the last six, seven years a quite different period of development – growth with income distribution…We had very dynamic periods before but without income distribution."

He added that its adoption of an unorthodox approach - refusing to cut social expenditures and not implementing a sharp reduction of fiscal expenditures - "enhanced the social resilience of the region".

The report examines the strides and challenges that remain for Latin America and the Caribbean in narrowing gaps in development between the wealthy and the poor. It assumes a rights perspective to ensure that inequalities are addressed at each level, namely those based on gender, ethnic identity, socio-economic status and territory.

Poverty is greatest among children, women, indigenous peoples, and Afro-descendants and in rural areas, and these asymmetries must be addressed, said Prado. "We don't think it is possible to deal with poverty in a horizontal way, we have to consider and distinguish the different situations," he told IPS.

Its measurement of poverty reduction looks beyond the raw data - it also assesses progress in opportunities for productive employment and decent work, with close attention to the employment conditions of women and young people.

Prado reported that these groups are at the bottom of the ranks – many belong to sectors with low productivity and without an increase in the jobs available, significant economic progress will remain elusive.

If the trend and momentum continues, Latin America could fulfill its objective of cutting extreme poverty in half. Countries such as Brazil and Chile have reached this objective, with Peru trailing close behind.

On MDG 2, ensuring that children complete their primary education, the registration rates for most countries peak at 90 percent, close to levels in the developed world.

Prado indicated that in the area of education, more efforts are being poured into ensuring that educational enrolment extends to secondary and post-secondary education as well. "It's a necessary target mainly because of the quality of jobs and the question of productivity," he said.

The story is different for improving maternal health (MDG 5) and environmental sustainability (MDG 7). Most countries have met the demand for family planning but the report also notes that gaps persist in access to sexual education, modern contraceptives and services. As for the environment, the rate of deforestation across the region has doubled in comparison to the rate worldwide.

The records for MDGs 4, 5 and 6 as a whole are mixed - there has been progress, but these improvements have not trickled down to all groups. Despite a regional progress rate of 79 percent since 2009, only about a third of these countries may witness a reduction of the infant mortality rate by 50 percent.

While women remain underrepresented in occupations that afford security and benefits, Prado is hopeful that through the increase in their presence across the political landscape, more policies reflecting the concerns of women will be advanced. Since 1990, representation for women in parliament increased by 10 percent for Latin America, seven percent for the Caribbean.

"We have seen progress in women's participation in decision making and politics, especially in parliament, for countries like Argentina, Chile, and Jamaica," he added.

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