Magazine article UN Chronicle

Assessing Social Welfare: A Mixed Success

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Assessing Social Welfare: A Mixed Success

Article excerpt

Improving the social welfare of mankind has seen mixed success in recent years, according to the 1993 Report on the World Social Situation. Prepared every four years by the UN Department of Economic and Social Development, it provides a background on major issues to be addressed by the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

On the positive side, the end of the cold war potentially freed vast resources to be diverted from armaments to social programmes. Economic expansion in China and other Asian countries showed that developing countries could achieve quick economic and social progress.

At the same time, the political and economic transition process in Eastern European and former Soviet States caused great social disruptions, exacerbated in some parts by ethnic conflicts. The gap between rich and poor countries widened.

Some of the main issues and trends covered by the world social situation Report are outlined below, starting with the basic necessities of human existence and ending with the elusive concept of quality of life.

Rich and poor: A widening gap

"The outstanding economic and social problem in the world is that of poverty", stated Ji Chaozhu, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Development, in his preface to the Report. An estimated 1.1 billion people--one fifth of mankind--are considered to be poor, in the sense of being unable to afford a minimum adequate diet and other bare necessities of life.

The Report states that there was a "widespread impression" that inequality had increased during the 1980s between developing and developed countries. In 1981, the per capita output in the latter was 20 times that of developing countries, but at decade's end that figure had risen to 22. Not all developing countries had the same experience: those in South and East Asia enjoyed fast growth, while those of other regions sharply decelerated.

The economic transformation of the societies of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union was bound to "make their income and wealth distribution more uneven than before", even if social transfers to more vulnerable groups had increased, the Report stated.

Among suggestions to alleviate poverty worldwide are: more equitable distribution of land resources, employment creation, and improvement in economic and social conditions of women, as the burden of poverty falls heavily on them.

Half a billion hungry

The World Food Council in 1992--17 years after setting a target to end world hunger within two decades--estimated that 550 million people in 1990 still suffered from chronic hunger, and millions of others were vulnerable to periods of hunger each year.

The food situation in East and South Asia improved, even though the region was still home to almost 60 per cent of the world's hungry. The largest increase in hunger was in Africa--home to 30 per cent of the hungry--where high population growth, poor economic performance and manmade and natural disasters were blamed. The political and economic changes in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union "put millions at risk of hunger, as the accustomed social safety nets broke down".

At both national and international levels, fresh measures were taken to improve food security and eliminate hunger and malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiency diseases, particularly those associated with deficiencies of vitamin A, iodine and iron.

New health concerns

Despite higher life expectancy and progress in medical technology, several major concerns of public health emerged over the past few years, the Report states. The acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) pandemic raged across much of Africa and threatened to balloon in Latin America and Asia as well, after its initial spread in Europe and North America. Malaria re-emerged as a major health threat in parts of Africa and Asia. …

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