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

24 Jan 2014

image According to a new UNDP report, to be launched next week, income inequality increased by 11% in developing countries between 1990 and 2010. Photo: UNDP PARAGUAY

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

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

20 Jan 2014

image 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

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

16 Jan 2014

image Health 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

Consumption consumes you | George Gray Molina

10 Jan 2014


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% of the GDP in Brazil, 66% in Mexico, 69% in Chile, 77% in Honduras and 88% 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 labor 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 60%, in Brazil, the ratio stands at more than 30%,  Read More

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

09 Jan 2014


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 the recent UNDP-commissioned, NYU/Center on International Cooperation (CIC) independent report, 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 post-2015 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 has served as a laboratory for designing and implementing innovative sustainable development approaches. The region has developed some of the best-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 played an important role in increasing  Read More

Boosting transparency and accountability policies in Latin America | Gerardo Berthin

19 Dec 2013


One of the main challenges undermining human development and democratic governance in Latin America and the Caribbean is the lingering perception of corruption, particularly bribes. This jeopardizes the potential of public policies as important means to promote greater equality and human development. For example, people make a direct correlation between the perceived corruption and the quality and effectiveness of public services in a given country. In November 2013 the Fifth Session of the Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC ) took place in Panama City with more than 1,500 Member States delegates, in addition to representatives from civil society, academia, the private sector and media outlets. To date, the UNCAC has been ratified by 169 states, and in Latin America only half a dozen of countries are not part of the convention. UNDP and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have been boosting efforts to better understand how UNCAC parties have been designing and implement transparency and accountability policies. The region and the entire world still lack further studies to assess the impact of coordinated anti-corruption policies and the role of specialized agencies in preventing. That’s how this first attempt to systematize anti-corruption  Read More

Pasando de la transparencia a la rendición de cuentas en la lucha contra la corrupción | Patrick Keuleers

13 Dec 2013

image Partido de futbol de Boca Juniors en Argentina, Campaña Anticorrupcion del PNUD y UNODC (foto PNUD Argentina)

La corrupción es un importante cuello de botella para el desarrollo sostenible: hace que las inversiones públicas y privadas no lleguen adonde son más necesarias, multiplica los costos y distorsiona la asignación de los recursos y las prioridades. Esta es la conclusión esencial que podemos extraer de las conmemoraciones del Día Internacional contra la Corrupción, celebrado el 9 de diciembre pasado, y de la V Conferencia de Estados Parte de la Convención de las Naciones Unidas contra la Corrupción celebrada recientemente en Panamá y a la que tuve la oportunidad de asistir. La lucha contra la corrupción ha sido una de las áreas de trabajo de nuestra cartera de gobernabilidad democrática que más rápido, y con mayor éxito, se han ido expandiendo. El Banco Mundial estima que la corrupción puede llegar a absorber hasta el 17% del PIB de un país. Nos podemos imaginar cuál podría ser el impacto a la hora de lograr los ODM para la fecha prevista de 2015 si solamente el 10% de esos recursos pudiera reconducirse hacia el desarrollo… A través de la Encuesta Global MYWorld, más de 1,5 millones de personas han identificado como una de las máximas prioridades del “Mundo que quieren” la necesidad  Read More

Political quotas for women: Myths & facts | Elizabeth Guerrero

09 Dec 2013

image Salvadorian parliamentarians celebrate the approval of the new law that addresses violence against women (Photo: El Salvador Legislative Assembly)

Women still comprise only 21.4 percent of members of parliaments (MP) around the world. While Latin America has more than 24 percent of women MPs — one of the highest shares in the world — the region still has a long road to travel towards gender parity. The provision of quotas — an idea that began in Europe and has spread to other continents — has effectively been used to boost women’s political participation, adopted as a temporary measure to encourage political parties to nominate a minimum percentage of women. This may take place as a voluntary action by political parties or through law-driven measures which push parties to nominate a certain number of women candidates. Yet several myths remain: Myth 1: "Quotas contradict the principle of equality before the law" This argument is based on the assumption that men and women actually have the same opportunities to run for elections. But that simply does not reflect reality. In many countries women can vote, but they cannot be elected. Evidence shows that women and men do not share the same opportunities to be appointed candidates because women face a number of barriers to be nominated by political parties. Therefore, the idea  Read More

Latin America: The paradox of economic growth hand-in-hand with citizen insecurity | Heraldo Muñoz

12 Nov 2013

In recent years, Latin America has set the stage for considerable advances in two areas: economic and social progressand crime. Despite the headway that has been achieved in terms of growth and improvements in health, education and the reduction of poverty and inequality, Latin America has become the most dangerous region in the world. In fact, in this region, homicide rates exceed the "epidemic" level, with more than 10 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants.   This is one of the conclusions reached by the Regional Human Development Report, “Citizen Security with a Human Face: Evidence and Proposals for Latin America,” which we have recently made public. The finding that insecurity is a shared challenge and simultaneously an impediment to social and economic development in all Latin American countries resulted in our dedicating two years of research in order to assess the problem and suggest a number of remedies that would improve public policy as and when required.   The report highlights the fact that Latin America has witnessed low-quality growth, based on consumption and withinsufficient social mobility. The deterioration of citizen security is also related to demographic trends caused by rapid and uncontrolled urban growth as well as by changes in family structure and deficiencies in the school system:  Read More

Hurricane Sandy one year on: What have we learned? | Heraldo Muñoz

26 Oct 2013


This week marks Hurricane Sandy's first anniversary. Most media attention will understandably focus on the destruction and suffering caused when Sandy struck the United States on October 29 last year, killing more than 110 people and causing more than $50 billion in damages. But what is likely to get less attention is that the US was just the last of many stops on the hurricane's tour of destruction. Beginning on October 24, Sandy, one of the largest Atlantic hurricanes on record, rumbled across the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and other countries before finally reaching the eastern seaboard of the US. The impact on this region was enormous. In Jamaica, most of the country was left without electricity, and public infrastructure suffered damages valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. Nearby Haiti was even more exposed, with at least 50 dead and millions affected. Cuba, where the storm reached peak intensity, was left with at least $7 billion in damage, including to more than half of the housing in Santiago de Cuba. And one year on from Sandy, there are many lessons that we should learn from those living in the Caribbean, a region regularly tested by the Atlantic hurricane season.  Read More