World’s Rural Poor Need Social Protection, Says UN

  • by Thalif Deen (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

Over 70 percent of the world's poor live in rural areas and amongst indigenous communities which are deeply entrenched in rural environments.

The United Nations says these include subsistence farmers and herders, fishing communities and migrant workers, artisans and indigenous peoples – all of them struggling for economic survival.

But the world body points out that empowering rural people-- largely in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean-- "is an essential first step to eradicating poverty".

In today's world, says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, too many people continue to face exclusion, too few economies have attained inclusive and sustainable growth, and people were frustrated at "working harder" while "falling behind".

He said economies must be put at the service of people, through effective integrated social policies, particularly in a world where inequality was still too high and where too few economies had attained sustainable growth.

Perhaps one of the most successful weapons in the fight against rural poverty and economic inequality is social protection—as evidenced in several developing countries, including India, Kenya, Namibia, Cuba, Rwanda and Botswana.

These include state-funded health care, free primary and secondary education, cash transfers, economic subsidies, social security, old age pensions and affirmative action towards eliminating discrimination against women, indigenous peoples and the disabled.

Sergei Zelenev, Executive Director of the Kampala-based International Council on Social Welfare, says strengthening social protection systems was among the best policy approaches for ending poverty and building individual resilience.

His organization has approached such systems as an investment rather than a cost because access to them, including to basic income security, should be guaranteed to anyone who needed it, given national priorities and constraints. The UN's post-2015 development agenda provided an unparalleled opportunity for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Bank to join forces to make social protection a reality for everyone and everywhere, he told a meeting of the UN Commission for Social Development (CSD) in early February.

He said States could consider elaborating on a draft Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) resolution on national social protection floors as a step towards universal protection.

Kunal Sen, Professor of Development Economics and Policy at the University of Manchester, told a recent UN panel discussion that weak administrative capabilities and lack of political commitment are some of the reasons for the poor implementation of social and economic policies.

On social protection, he said, current policies were an integral part of anti-poverty programmes in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Singling out his research in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia, he argued that political commitment and sharing best practices, as well as funding, were keys to success.

The total number of people living in extreme poverty is over 1.2 billion out of a total world population of more than 7.2 billion people.

India, with a rising population of over 1.3 billion people, and an annual population growth rate of 1.3 per cent, is projected to become the world's most populous country by 2035. Currently, more than 400 million people in India live in poverty, mostly in rural communities.

Mayank Joshi of India says that development was only sustainable when all sections of society realized their full potential and contributed their fullest.

India, which has a high percentage of rural poverty, has adopted a governance model that was focused on a faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth approach that focused on the welfare and well-being of its people.

At the moment, he said, India was implementing the world's largest cash transfer programme, allocating $5 billion in funds, to bolster national efforts towards inclusive economic growth.

Berzack Maphakwane of Botswana said national efforts in several areas, including good governance, citizen participation and poverty, had included a comprehensive, people-centred social protection system comprising material and cash transfers to protect and empower vulnerable groups and a targeted youth empowerment scheme.

The government of Botswana has introduced subsidies that promote food production and accumulation of assets among the resource-poor to help achieve household food security and graduate out of poverty, he said.

Ambassador Koki Muli Grignon of Kenya said despite remarkable gains over the past few years, it was alarming that sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia still accounted for 80 per cent of global poverty.

As pointed out in the Secretary-General's report, she said, Africa continues to face challenges in tackling high levels of poverty, inequality and widespread unemployment, especially among youth, women and other disadvantaged groups. Taking a people-centred approach, the Government of Kenya has undertaken various measures to ensure that all persons enjoyed equal opportunity. To ensure social inclusion, Kenya has set aside 30 per cent of all tenders for works, goods and services to youth, women and persons with disabilities, empowering their entrepreneurship to create wealth and spur development.

Furthermore, it had allocated $700 million to address the unique needs of youth and provide capital to young people to start their enterprises.

Namibia's Employment Equity Commissioner Vilbard Usiku said a supportive, fair and enabling economic and financial architecture and a genuine global partnership for sustainable development were crucial to complement national efforts.

In the context of its history of apartheid policies, which had left a legacy of serious income inequalities, Namibia had enacted an affirmative action law aimed at ensuring that persons in designated groups, including women, previously racially disadvantaged persons and those with disabilities, were given preferential consideration in employment decisions. Poverty eradication was among national priorities, he said, adding that quality education, training and investment in "human capital" put people at the centre of sustainable development.

Leonar Aguilar Hechavarria of Cuba said his country attached great importance to addressing the needs of families, persons with disabilities, youth and older persons.

The Cuban Government had created various initiatives and national action plans to create a society for all, in which individuals, each with rights and responsibilities, had an active role.

Such plans aimed at improving accessibility for persons with disabilities, participation of young people in the decision-making processes and the provision of social assistance to those in need. Turning to ageing, he said there were 2.14 million older people in the country and the Government saw them as a priority, providing free access to health care.

Takyiwaa Manuh, Director of the Social Policy Division of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said Africa was close to achieving universal enrolment in primary education and it had posted the highest increase globally in women's representation in parliament between 2000 and 2014 while reducing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Still, progress had been slow and uneven in many social areas. Nearly half the population remained poor, hunger and malnutrition had fallen by only 8 per cent between 1990 and 2013 and youth unemployment remained a serious development challenge.

Overall, few jobs offered secure employment and social protection. Highly educated workers tended to migrate, creating a dearth of skilled professionals.

The rapid growth of urban poverty coupled with climate change had had serious adverse consequences for the region. The African Agenda 2030 complemented the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The main challenge, he said, was to unlock the continent's resource potential through suitable macroeconomic and social policies that would lead to sustained high economic growth.

Jeanne d'Arc Byaje, Deputy Permanent of Rwanda, said social development would play a crucial role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda as it was central to achieving the overarching goal of eradicating poverty. To tackle inequities and allow social development to thrive, the Government of Rwanda has offered free access to primary and secondary education for free, she added.

Rwanda had also provided access to universal health coverage and ensured food security through enhancing agricultural productivity and food production processes.

To ensure social inclusion and inclusive development, the Government had introduced policies to meet the needs of vulnerable people.

In addition, she said, it had launched Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme, an integrated local development initiative to accelerate poverty eradication, rural growth and social protection to eradicate extreme poverty for the most vulnerable groups.

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© Inter Press Service (2016) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service