Southern Cone Reduces Poverty, Hunger

By Gaudin, Andres | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, May 30, 2014 | Go to article overview

Southern Cone Reduces Poverty, Hunger


Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


Every month so far this year, the World Bank and UN agencies have made note of moderately positive economic indicators reported in the Latin American-Caribbean region. Meanwhile, the global crisis has become increasingly complicated by serious problems in countries that are traditional consumers of Latin American and Caribbean products.

Although the region is still far from meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set in 2000 for fulfillment by 2015, experts laud regional progress toward reaching the first of those goals--reducing hunger and poverty. The UN and the World Bank attribute progress to increased employment and social inclusion throughout most of the region in recent years.

Correspondents from the Argentine daily Tiempo who, in early May, went to Lima, Peru, for the 35th session of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) reported that delegates focused on the "vigorous policy of social inclusion that reversed trends of the previous period and permitted the reduction of the scourges" of hunger and poverty (NotiCen, May 1, 2014). Simultaneous to ECLAC discussions, the UN held its 33rd Regional Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Santiago, Chile, calling it "a great opportunity" to further Latin American and Caribbean efforts to end those twin evils.

Argentine Agriculture Minister Carlos Casamiquela, president of the FAO conference, said that, although the region has made more progress in ending hunger than other parts of the world in the last 20 years, 47 million people in the region are still undernourished. "That's one of every 13 of us, which is a truly dreadful statistic," he said.

The FAO had already acknowledged regional progress toward ending poverty and hunger in its "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013" report published March 27. Undernourishment in Argentina had dropped to 5%, according to the report, and, like Uruguay before, Argentina had reached the goal of zero hunger based on FAO indicators. In addition, it had the lowest rate of population with unmet needs, followed by Uruguay at 5.9%; Costa Rica, 17.8; and Brazil, 18.6%.

"Social Gains in the Balance" and other World Bank reports offered similar information. The Social Gains report published in February highlighted the decline in poverty and inequality in the region in the past decade and specifically called attention to Southern Cone countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay) as leaders in the effort to reduce poverty in 2012 and 2013. It notes, however, that meanwhile the number of poor remained relatively unchanged in Central America and Mexico (NotiSur, Sept. 3, 2010).

Addressing a gathering of permanent Organization of American States ambassadors in April, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, a Korean-American, distanced himself from the philosophy of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which pushes major economic adjustments despite previous failures. "The region's continued reliance on indirect taxation, such as value added taxes, has undermined some of its gains in equity," he said. "The good news is that there's still room to use fiscal policy to promote a more equitable society."

The World Bank president also noted, "Over the past decade, Latin America and the Caribbean have made tremendous progress in reducing poverty and in boosting shared prosperity. Poverty has fallen by half to 12.3%. The middle class--currently 34% of the population--is growing. Meanwhile, inequality in Latin America--historically the world's highest--has fallen, even as it rises in practically every other part of the globe. For the first time, the number of people in the middle class surpasses those living in poverty."

"Fiscal policy can be used to sustain and deepen the region's significant social gains--and over the last decade, Latin America has increasingly used this strategy," Kim said.

The Fome cero (Zero Hunger) policy President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) set in place in Brazil in 2002, and which his successor President Dilma Rousseff has maintained, has been decisive in such progress (NotiSur, April 11, 2003). …

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