What can the US learn from Latin America’s declining inequality? | Heraldo Muñoz

29 Jan 2014 by Heraldo Muñoz

Artesana utilizando materiales producidos localmenteAn artisan from the northern province of Salta using locally produced materials. Photo: UNDP Argentina
As the debate about inequality grows in the U.S., what lessons can be drawn from Latin America, which — although still highly unequal — is the only region that managed to reduce income inequality in the last decade? Despite being the world’s largest economy, the U.S. is the most unequal among the industrialized countries. In 1979, the top 20 percent of Americans received 43 percent of income, while the top 1 percent got 9 percent. Today, however, the top 20 percent of the population captures over 50 percent of pre-tax income, while the top 1 percent receives nearly 15 percent. Meanwhile, Latin America has steadily become more middle-income while reducing poverty.In16 of 17 countries there has been a significant decline in income inequality over the past 10 years. How did they do it? First, nearly half of the decline in inequality can be explained by improvements in household labour income. Economic growth created greater demand for domestic goods, moving more people into the labor force, driving wage increases. This helped reduce the wage gap between college-educated workers and those without a degree. In the U.S., this education gap has increased in recent years. Second, Latin America leads the world in social … Read more

To tackle AIDS and poverty, empower women and girls | David Wilson & Jeni Klugman

27 Jan 2014 by Jeni Klugman and David Wilson

A woman being tested for HIV/AIDS IN Burkina FasoA woman being tested for HIV/AIDS at a Prevention care and treatment center in Burkina Faso. Photo: Giacomo Pirozzi and UNDP Burkina Faso
"You cannot eat a sweet with the wrapping," young men from South Africa told researchers as part of a recent World Bank study, explaining why they refuse to wear condoms despite a high and well-known risk of HIV. Men often don’t see condoms as manly, and women feel unable to insist. What does this mean? A 2011 Gallup poll of 19 sub-Saharan African countries, home to more than two-thirds of the world's HIV-infected population, found most adults know how to prevent the spread of HIV. But while 72 percent agreed people should use condoms every time they have sex, only 40 percent said they ever had. Social norms such as these help explain why AIDS disproportionately affects women in many countries. Empowering women and challenging these norms is vital to tackling the epidemic, with broader dividends in the fight to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. AIDS, like poverty, demands action and innovation on multiple fronts with women and girls in mind, from public transport to policing: During the ‘World We Want’ global conversation on post-2015 development goals, a young mother from Papua New Guinea described sometimes skipping HIV treatment because she fears being raped or attacked during her long … Read more

The 'foreign-aid-doesn’t-work' argument | Jérome Sauvage

24 Jan 2014 by Jérome Sauvage

 Vietnamese mother and her babyA Hmong woman and her baby in the village of Sin Chai. Vietnam is an example of how successful foreign aid interventions can transform a country. Photo: Kibae Park/UN
Since my arrival in the United States one year ago, I have come across authors such as Roger Riddell who ask pointed questions to those responsible for aid programs. There is an energetic and well-established body of literature that is skeptical of bilateral and multilateral aid. Here in Washington, I appreciate how USAID focused more on evidence-based reporting whilst we at UNDP are sharing our results much better (as our top IATI rating demonstrates), one person and one country at a time. Yet a significant piece of evidence is often missing in our demonstrations: the very countries that successfully emerged out of poverty. I just returned to Vietnam over the New Year holidays. Hanoi was my first post with UNDP. Then, in 1985, the country’s devastation from the war was everywhere. UNDP joined a small group of donors supporting various rehabilitation projects, notably in the coffee and rubber sectors. Today, Vietnam is the second-largest coffee producer after Brazil (OK, mainly Robusta) and is likely to become the world’s third-biggest rubber producer.  Although our presence needed much justifying internationally, we stayed, were able to support the reform process the moment it began, and later on advised the country’s leadership in its negotiations … Read more

Working for the few: private power over democracy | Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva

24 Jan 2014 by Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva

Children in a slum in BangladeshAccording to a new UNDP report, to be launched next week, income inequality increased by 11% in developing countries between 1990 and 2010. Photo: Kibae Park/UN.
Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years. In a paper released this week, Nick Galasso, from Oxfam America, and I explore the current growing concentration of income and political capture. Firstly: The rich are getting richer, faster. The poorest half of the world's adults, 3.5 billion people, own a total of $1.7 trillion worth of assets. That is similar to the wealth owned by the world's richest 85 people. In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth between 2009 and 2012, while the bottom 90 percent became ever poorer. Secondly: This growing concentration of income and wealth is closely associated with political power and influence. It sounds obvious but it's very easily forgotten. Either through lobbying, campaign finance, or avoiding regulation, the rich exert their power over how the rest of society is governed. In Working for the Few we explore the mechanism by which wealth brings political influence, which in turn breeds greater wealth for a select few. The lopsided influence of the wealthy occurs through different channels. Take the example of Mexico and Carlos Slim. Slim is the CEO and Chairman of … Read more

Avoiding another crisis in the Central African Republic | Abdoulaye Mar Dieye

22 Jan 2014 by Abdoulaye Mar Dieye

Children collect waterAkadus Zangoa, aged 10, carries a container of water to his mother, who sells manioc from a small stall to make enough money to feed her family. Without access to clean water the fear of an epidemic within the camp is heightened. Photo: UNHCR/S. Phelps
First of all, I would like to draw attention to the tragedy unfolding in CAR. The sectarian violence in the Central African Republic has uprooted nearly one million people and it is estimated that 2.2 million, about half the population, need humanitarian aid. Now, a major food crisis is looming. According to the U.N., 94 percent of communities report that they do not have enough seeds to plant for the next agricultural season. There needs to be a strong and massive response from the international community. However, we must understand that the crisis has deep structural causes that are development-related. Extreme poverty, considerable inequalities, poor governance, weaknesses and failures of the political class triggered the crisis. While we invest in humanitarian action, we must also tackle the structural causes of that crisis as part of a wider effort aimed at putting the country back on a more robust development path.  When the violence subsides, attention must stay focused on rebuilding essential infrastructure such as water reservoirs, sewers, bridges and local clinics. To that end, public works projects can provide vital sources of revenue for women and men. Such initiatives can help restore trust and confidence among local communities across ethnic and … Read more

UNDP strategic plan 2014-2017: Changing with the world | Turhan Saleh

20 Jan 2014 by Turhan Saleh

An aerial view of the city of Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan An aerial view of the city of Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan's southern Sindh Province. Photo: UN/WFP/Amjad Jamal.
We are at a very important moment in modern history, an inflection point, meaning that things are going to be very different in the future than they have been in the past. First, the role that developing countries play in the world – in the economy, science, technology, politics, culture – is changing dramatically. Their importance and influence, which is rising rapidly already, will increase greatly. Second, for the first time in human history, more people are living in cities and towns than in villages. The fastest rates of urbanization are in developing countries, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa. Just think about how this changes our conventional view of where and how people live in the developing world. Third, we have technologies now that are profoundly changing the way we work with each other, relate to each other,  and make and sell things. And the boundaries of these technologies are shifting quickly.    So this is really an incredibly exciting time for development. But there are big dangers: •    Growth and development are not necessarily bringing benefits fairly to everybody, so tensions are rising – and sometimes boiling over –  in a growing number of countries. •    Sometimes the changes taking place are so … Read more

Why Latin America and the Caribbean matter for the Post-2015 Agenda | Alejandra Kubitschek Bujones

17 Jan 2014 by Alejandra Kubitschek Bujones

Hands for peace and cooperationHands for peace and cooperation (Photo: UNDP Chile).
For several reasons, Latin America could emerge as one of the most influential regions in the negotiations on what will follow the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015. First: The politics — As discussed in a recent independent report commissioned by UNDP, ‘A Laboratory for Sustainable Development? Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Post-2015 Agenda’, Latin America has successfully captured the most important positions in the bodies engaged with the post-2015 framework. This gives the region a unique opportunity to lead and influence the outcome of the negotiations. Colombia currently presides over the Economic and Social Council, Bolivia heads the G77 group of nations, and Antigua and Barbuda will hold the Presidency of the General Assembly until the 69th session. In addition, Brazil currently leads the World Trade Organization, and the COP 20 climate negotiations will take place in Lima, Peru. Second: The lessons and experience — Latin America is a testing ground for innovative sustainable development approaches. The region has designed and implemented some of the most recognized development programs, combining poverty reduction with social inclusion. Successful cash transfer schemes, such as Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, Mexico’s Oportunidades and Chile’s Solidario have helped increase household incomes, raise school enrollment … Read more

Welcome to a new generation of ‘development issues’ | Duncan Green

16 Jan 2014 by Duncan Green

woman having blood pressure measuredHealth problems such as obesity, once more common in countries of the Global North, are increasingly rising in the South, and the development focus for health may need to shift as a result. (Photo: UNDP Fiji)
As I browsed my various feeds over the Christmas break, one theme that emerged was the rise of the “North in the South” on health, or what I call Cinderella Issues: things like traffic accidents, the illegal drug trade, smoking or alcohol that do huge (and growing) damage in developing countries, but are relegated to the margins of the development debate. If my New Year reading is anything to go by, that won’t last long. ODI kicked off with Future Diets, an excellent report on obesity that shows the number of obese/overweight people in developing countries (904 million) has more than tripled since 1980 and has now overtaken the number of malnourished (842 million, according to the FAO). Other key messages include that diets are changing wherever incomes are rising in the developing world, with a marked shift from cereals and tubers to meat, fats, sugar and fruit and vegetables. While globalisation has led to a homogenisation in diets, their continued variation suggests that there is still scope for policies that can influence the food choices people make, particularly in the face of the serious health implications. Meanwhile, the Economist ran a two-page report and editorial on “the new drugs war”: … Read more

What the international community can do right now on Syria | Sima Bahous

13 Jan 2014 by Sima Bahous

Syrian refugees at the Turkish borderWomen and children sitting at Atme camp in full view of the Turkish border post. Photo: IRIN/ JODI HILTON
The tragic images of death, destruction, and suffering continue to pour out of Syria as the conflict nears the three-year mark.   More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed so far, with 6.5 million people now displaced from their homes by fighting. But Syria's plight is not just one of humanitarian suffering that will end when hostilities cease. With more than 50 percent of Syria’s population now living in poverty, this is a crisis that will have long-term implications for development. Ravaged infrastructure, collapsed services, economic disintegration and rampant unemployment — all a direct toll of the fighting — have now rolled back Syria’s development levels by at least 35 years.   More than 2.3 million Syrians have already sought refuge in neighboring Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt. Refugees now make up approximately 10 percent of Jordan’s population and 20 percent of all people living in Lebanon. This influx is changing the demographic balance in host countries and local communities, which threatens to stoke social tensions and increase competition for already-scarce resources such as land, water and jobs. The potential for instability is great. To prevent the conflict from sowing decades of poverty in the region, the international community must … Read more

Consumption consumes you | George Gray Molina

10 Jan 2014 by George Gray Molina

a woman in a factory in MexicoCasimira Sanchez prepares pieces of gym equipment at a plant in Mexico City. A UNDP programme to strengthen small and medium-sized businesses increased their access to new market technology. Photo: Luis Acosta/AFP for UNDP
F. Scott Fitzgerald used to say about alcohol: “First, you take the drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” The same thing could be said about consumerism as a way of achieving social status and recognition. First, let’s look at a few facts. Consumerism is the engine driving growth in Latin American economies. It represents 59 percent of the GDP in Brazil, 66 percent in Mexico, 69 percent in Chile, 77 percent in Honduras and 88 percent in the Dominican Republic — so more than two thirds of the economic growth in Brazil, Mexico and Chile over the past twelve months. Consumerism also led to a significant reduction in poverty and favored the emergence of the middle class in the region. Today, most of the population is no longer “poor” in the statistical sense of the term, but “vulnerable” as they work in precarious labour markets yet enjoy higher levels of income and purchasing power than before. Secondly, let’s look at some areas of concern. Consumption is intrinsically linked to high levels of liquidity, easy access to credit, and household debt. Household debt has increased throughout the region: According to Morgan Stanley, the ratio of household debt to income is … Read more