• 90

    Million people entered middle class 2000-2012

  • 220

    Million people are vulnerable to shocks (neither classified as poor or as middle class)

  • 10

    Of the 15 most unequal countries in the world are in Latin America and the Caribbean

  • 80%

    Of the population living in cities in 2012 : most urbanized developing region in the world.

  • 12%

    Region's share of global CO2 emission (Source: World Resources Institute)

  • 57

    Million people affected by natural disasters between 2005-2012

About Latin America and the Caribbean

About Latin America and the Caribean

Men from Guatemala
Indigenous men in Guatemala. Photo: UNDP Guatemala / Caroline Trutmann

The Latin American and Caribbean region has made enormous development strides in recent decades, from the consolidation of democratic governments and continued advances in health and education to more recent progress in protecting the environment and reducing inequality. By 2015, the region as a whole will have met the majority of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a historic achievement.

As countries adopt and work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 they must also think of progress as ‘multidimensional’—beyond economic gains alone. This requires transforming traditional development models, raising the quality of life of all people while also preserving and restoring biodiversity and eco-systems. This is crucial for the Latin America and the Caribbean region, a “biodiversity superpower”, with one of the greatest endowments of natural capital in the world, according to a UNDP report.

There is no doubt that countries enjoy stronger, better-integrated economies and more solid democracies than they did 20 or 30 years ago. Despite some setbacks, the region has experienced its longest period of democratic rule, beginning in the 1980s and, more broadly, in the 1990s. Apathy has turned to activism, particularly among the social media-savvy, especially the youth. Citizens demand more effective and transparent governments playing a substantive role in boosting employment, education, and health—and guaranteeing safer societies.

The region is more prosperous, less poor and unequal. It was the only region in the world that managed to reduce income inequality during the first decade of the 21st century. Latin America and the Caribbean also added 90 million people to an emerging middle class from 2000-2012. This took place following that decade’s economic boom and innovative social transfer programmes, which helped keep children in schools while improving lives of women and their families. Other countries worldwide also adapted such programmes. 


Driven by high prices in the last decade, countries have increasingly prioritized agricultural commodities and extractive industries in their development strategies. These generate resources for economies and can play a role in lowering food costs while providing resources for cash-transfers and fiscal incentives for poverty reduction. But they also tend to accumulate wealth in specific sectors, further increasing inequalities and in many cases causing significant environmental degradation. Despite all the progress, 10 of the 15 most unequal countries in the world are in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a UNDP report.

Many citizens have not reaped the benefits from the last decade’s economic boom. Over 220 million people in the region have neither been able to rise into middle class, nor are classified as poor, according to UNDP estimates. These are the vulnerable women and men in the region, living on slightly above a US$4/day poverty line but risking falling into poverty as soon as a financial crisis or natural disaster hits.

Amongst the most vulnerable are women and youth – particularly in poor or rural communities  – as well as those of African and indigenous descent. Boosting their social, economic and political inclusion is an essential part of our work in the region.

A crucial challenge is that the recent economic downturn resulted in a slowdown in inequality reduction rates and an increase in the number of poor—for the first time in a decade.  

Poor men—and especially women—also stand to suffer disproportionately from climate change and natural disasters and from irreversible changes to ecosystems, which decrease their options of direct and indirect income and wellbeing. This is particularly important for Latin America and the Caribbean, the world’s second most disaster affected region according to the International Disaster Database—a problem that is likely to further increase with the impacts of climate change.