UN says more investment needed in Latin America to reduce poverty

Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). (Inter-American Dialogue/Flickr)

Latin America’s economy is growing, but many officials speaking at a U.N. forum in Mexico City said low investment in the region threatens to slow poverty reductions.

Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto said poverty, injustice and discrimination are still “appalling realities” across the region. Peña Nieto said promoting sustainable economic equality will rely on countries’ abilities to follow the 2030 development agenda, which addresses a range of equity issues from poverty and human rights to climate change and economic stability.

Speaking at a U.N.-sponsored forum in Mexico City, Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), stressed the need for greater public spending and economic activity if the region is to reach the poverty reduction goals agreed upon by U.N. members in 2015.

“By 2030, we have to take 75 million people out of extreme poverty,” Bárcena told Reuters. “Zero is the only acceptable level of poverty.”

The senior U.N. representative noted that from 1990 to 2015, the regional poverty rate in Latin America fell from 48 percent to 28 percent. But that trend has suddenly been reversed, she warned, as the poverty rate increased by one percentage point last year.

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The forum coincides with U.N. agency’s first annual report on the Latin America’s progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. One of the findings is that after two years of economic contraction in Latin America, the regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is now expected to grow 1.1 percent in 2017.

To sustain this growth, the U.N. agency recommends countries prioritize social equality and the environment.

“At a national level, a new generation of policies on social matters, education and productive development are needed that insert the region in the new technological revolution, where innovation, growth with social inclusion and environmental protection converge,” Bárcena said.

Mexico’s Peña Nieto called on governments in the region to work “so that unity, cooperation and integration prevail as the central pillars of regional development,” in a way that “prioritizes multilateral agreements as a sign of our global responsibility,” according to a U.N. press release.

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Mexico suffers one of the highest rates of economic inequality in the region, with its large indigenous population lagging far behind the rest of the population, according to government data. The country’s education system is in the midst of an overhaul that politicians hope will improve school systems in the country’s poorest and most neglected communities.

At the forum on Wednesday, Peña Nieto officially inducted Mexico’s recently created National Council on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which will coordinate Mexico’s efforts relating to implementation of the Agenda.

U.N. officials said at least 13 other countries from the region are also expected to present voluntary national reviews on their progress by the end of this year.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com