Economic slowdown to push 100m into poverty

IRIN, 12 September 2008 - Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, warns in a new report that the gains made in reducing extreme poverty are under threat from the rise in global food and fuel prices and global economic slowdown.

In the UN's Millennium Development Goals Report 2008, launched on 11 September, Ban writes: “The largely benign development environment that has prevailed since the early years of this decade, and that has contributed to the successes to date, is now threatened. The economic slowdown will diminish the incomes of the poor; the food crisis will raise the number of hungry people in the world and push millions more into poverty; climate change will have a disproportionate impact on the poor.”

According to World Bank data, the number of extreme poor has fallen — from 1.8 billion to 1.4 billion — between 1990 and 2005, with the biggest gains made in eastern Asia, in particular, China. In sub-Saharan Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States, however, the number of poor has increased in the same period.

These figures confirm that the global poverty rate is likely to be halved by 2015 — achieving the first MDG.

However, the worldwide increases in food prices will push another 100 million people into absolute poverty, according to the UN report.

“Even though the proportion of people worldwide suffering from malnutrition and hunger has fallen since the early 1990s, the number of people lacking access to food has risen. With recent increases in food prices, it is estimated that one billion people will go hungry, while another two billion will be undernourished,” the report states.

Sub-Saharan Africa's poverty rate is constant at 50 percent, while East Asia cut its rate over 25 years from almost 80 percent to less than 20 percent. Overall numbers are thus down from 52 percent in 1981 to 26 percent in 2005.

Slight improvements have been seen in primary school enrolment — up from 83 percent to 88 percent on average worldwide, although the rate for sub-Saharan Africa is only 71 percent, with 38 million children of primary school-going age not in school. In contrast, the enrolment ratio tops 90 percent in Southern Asia, although 18 million children do not attend school.

The fourth MDG, cutting child mortality, also saw improvements, with the number of deaths of under-fives falling below 10 million for the first time in 2006, to 9.7 million. The rate has declined from 93 to 72 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2006.

However, in 62 countries under-five mortality is not falling fast enough to meet the target of reducing the mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015. Improving maternal health, goal five, has seen the least progress — maternal mortality rates fell by less than 1 percent a year between 1990 and 2005, significantly below the 5.5 percent annual improvement needed to meet the target.

In sub-Saharan Africa, with the highest level of maternal mortality, progress was negligible. A woman's risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes is about one in seven in Niger, against one in 17,400 in Sweden, according to the report.

Progress on universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS by 2010 and of halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 has been limited. The majority of people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa, 60 percent of them are women; globally, the numbers have risen from around 30 million in 2001 to 33 million in 2007.

However, access to anti-retroviral treatment improved by 42 percent in 2007; by the end of that year, three million people were receiving treatment in development countries, out of an estimated 9.7 million in need.

On the second prong of goal six, combating malaria, about 250 million insecticide-treated bed nets are needed to reach 80 percent coverage in sub-Saharan Africa alone, states the report. Funding so far is sufficient for 100 million nets, and between 350 and 500 million cases of malaria occur worldwide.

Halfway to the target year, said Ban, “it is clear that we are not on track to meet the Goals, especially in Africa. And new global challenges — an economic slowdown, high food and fuel prices, and climate change — threaten to reverse the progress we have made.”

A high-level meeting of premiers and private sector, NGO and civil society leaders on 25 September will seek to address these challenges.

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