For a more resilient Latin America and Caribbean | Jessica Faieta

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Foto: PNUD Paraguay

As we lost Gabriel Garcia Marquez this year I’m reminded of his speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize in 1982: "Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death.”

Indeed, in these last 30 years Latin America and the Caribbean has undergone tremendous transformations. Democracy has consolidated in the vast majority of countries and, after the lost decade of the 80s, men, women, children, youth and the elderly have experienced major improvements in health, education and access to economic resources, the dimensions which compose the Human Development Index (HDI), a measure of well-being of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In fact, Latin America and the Caribbean today has the highest HDI compared with other developing regions. And while income inequality has increased in other regions of the world, ours has managed to reduce the gap, mainly due to the expansion of education and public transfers to the poor.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, poverty has been reduced by almost half in the last decade, and the middle class rose from 22% of the population in 2000 to 34% in 2012, according to new figures released today in El Salvador at the regional presentation of UNDP’s global Human Development Report.

Despite these achievements, a very high share of the population is living in constant uncertainty. They are neither classified as living in poverty, nor have they gained access to a stable middle class status. These are our region’s vulnerable people: just over a third of the population, 200 million men and women living on US$4-10 a day and risking falling into poverty. Almost half of them (98.5 million) are working. Of these, 54.4% are informal workers; almost half, 49.6% have no access to medical services; 46.1% are not entitled to a pension for retirement and 53.2% have no formal contract.

Clearly, if countries of the region do not reduce their vulnerabilities and strengthen their resilience to financial crises and natural disasters, we won’t able to guarantee, let alone expand, progress in the social, economic and environmental realms.

The Human Development Report entitled "Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience" also shows that not only in Latin America and the Caribbean, but in all regions, the pace of social and economic progress is slower than in the past decades. The average annual growth rates in the region’s HDI dropped by about half over the past five years compared to growth between 1990 and 2000. This was a larger drop than in all other regions except the Arab states.

More of the same policies will not yield the same results as before. The report emphasizes the need to expand a truly universal social protection scheme, particularly in the most critical phases of life, as is the case and children, young people entering the labor market and the elderly, and to expand our resilience, that is, our ability to deal with adversities without a major setback in well-being.

Job quality is a key concern for our region.  Workers, mostly informal, living in precarious urban dwellings, are highly vulnerable to shocks. In the long term, access to more decent jobs will be critical to advancing human development, social cohesion and citizen security, another crucial challenge for the region.

Investing in the "resilience" of people and countries to increase their capacity to cope successfully with crises, whether financial or related to natural disasters, is certainly a way to boost "the persistent advantage of life over death," as Garcia Marquez immortalized in his historic speech.

Today we have an urgent task that requires a joint effort of our societies, with private sector and governments that are increasingly efficient and committed to a long-term vision of sustainable development.

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Jessica Faieta is United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Director for Latin America and the Caribbean

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Press Release

Although poverty in Latin American and the Caribbean has been cut nearly in half in the last decade, many have been unable to enter into the middle-class: the population at risk of falling into poverty reaches 200 million.

Profile of social groups in Latin America: the poor, the vulnerable and the middle class

UNDP calls attention to the high proportion of Latin Americans whose well-being risks being severely affected in case a crisis hits. These are the vulnerable populations, currently the largest group in the region (38%)–more than a third of the regional population. (pdf in Spanish)

Latin America and Caribbean region reduces inequality and boosts human development, but at slower pace

Compared to all other developing regions, Latin America and the Caribbean has the highest Human Development Index (HDI)—a composite measure of longevity, standard of living and education. However, progress has slowed in this and other regions over the past five years compared to 2000-2008.

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