Poverty challenge unheeded, ministers warn

23/03/2010 | Sid Verma, Greg Brosnan

Policymakers in Cancun yesterday expressed fears that Latin America’s huge development challenges are being forgotten in the euphoria surrounding the market rebound

Policy-makers in Cancun yesterday expressed fears that Latin America’s huge development challenges are being forgotten in the euphoria surrounding the market rebound.

Ecuador Finance Minister Elsa Viteri told Emerging Markets that policy-makers and development practitioners must look beyond growth figures and headline indicators.

“We share the concept of improving well-being, but this concept is often misunderstood as economic standards,” she said in an interview in Cancun yesterday.

“We see well-being as going far beyond this and [instead] focus on improving concretely the lives of the poor and vulnerable communities.”

Her comments were echoed by Nicaraguan finance minister Alberto Guevara, who told Emerging Markets yesterday: “People sometimes get carried away talking about numbers. The truth is the figures don’t reflect the human tragedy that is poverty.” He lamented: “Behind [the figures] are desperate human beings.”

Referring to suggestions multilateral lenders should increase conditions attached to loans, Guevara said: “It’s very difficult to explain to a child that he’s not going to get a school dinner today because some politicians couldn’t come to an agreement.”

Rampant crime and drug trafficking have marred President Felipe Calderon of Mexico’s anti-poverty drive over the past year. And in Cancun yesterday, he called on the IDB to become the financing partner in the region that “can pull us out of the stagnation and underdevelopment that keeps millions and millions of people in poverty in the region.”

The global financial crisis knocked the region’s poverty reduction efforts off course. The number of people living on $2 a day or less in Latin America increased in 2009 by 1.1% or 9 million people, bringing the total to 189 million, or 34.1% of the population, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Marcelo Giugale, the head of the World Bank’s Economic Policy and Poverty office for Latin America, said that region’s sharply rising currencies was contributing to the under-employment of lower-income workers in the export sector.

Critics argue governments must redress the income disparities between the rich and power, which shot up over the past as a result of the financial crisis.

According to ECLAC, the poor in Latin America make up almost fourth of the population that had leapt out of poverty between 2002 and 2008 in the economic bull run.

Nevertheless, Giugale said: “Our econ-omies are a lot healthier than they every have been and the crisis has not lead to a spike in inflation that would have undermined the purchasing power of the poor.”

Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the IDB, said that no task is more important than “the fight against poverty, that affects nearly one third of people in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

Moreno added: “We have to drag these 200 million people in (the region) who don’t have a proper roof, job or food, out of the jaws of poverty.”

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