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The Lost Decade
By Larry Elliott
Wednesday 09 July 2003
They were promised a brighter future, but in the 1990s the world's poor 0afell further behind
The widening gulf between the global haves and have-nots was 0astarkly revealed last night when the UN announced that while the US was booming 0ain the 1990s more than 50 countries suffered falling living standards.
The UN's annual human development report charted increasing 0apoverty for more than a quarter of the world's countries, where a lethal 0acombination of famine, HIV/Aids, conflict and failed economic policies have 0aturned the clock back.
Highlighting the setbacks endured by sub-Saharan Africa and the 0acountries that emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union at the end of the 0acold war, the UN called for urgent action to meet its millennium development 0agoals for 2015.
These include a halving of the number of people living on less 0athan a dollar a day, a two-thirds drop in mortality for the under-fives, 0auniversal primary education and a halving of those without access to safe 0adrinking water and improved sanitation.
The report said the 90s had seen a drop from 30% to 23% in the 0anumber of people globally living on less than a dollar a day, but the 0aimprovement had largely been the result of the progress in China and India, the 0aworld's two most populous countries.
Despite some sporadic successes such as Ghana and Senegal, there 0awas little hope of Africa meeting the UN's 2015 development goals; on current 0atrends it would be 2147 before the poorest countries in the poorest continent 0ahalved poverty and 2165 before child mortality was cut by two-thirds. Thirty of 0athe 34 countries classified by the UN as "low human development" are in 0asub-Saharan Africa.
Taking issue with those who have argued that the "tough love" 0apolicies of the past two decades have spawned the growth of a new global middle 0aclass, the report says the world became ever more divided between the super-rich 0aand the desperately poor.
The richest 1% of the world's population (around 60 million) now 0areceive as much income as the poorest 57%, while the income of the richest 25 0amillion Americans is the equivalent of that of almost 2 billion of the world's 0apoorest people. In 1820 western Europe's per capita income was three times that 0aof Africa's; by the 90s it was more than 13 times as high.
In Norway, top of the UN's league table for human development, 0alife expectancy at birth is 78.7 years, there is 100% literacy and annual income 0ais just under $30,000 (about 18,200). At the other end of the scale, a newborn 0achild in Sierra Leone will be lucky to reach its 35th birthday, has a two in 0athree chance of growing up illiterate and would have an income of $470 a year.
Overall human development, measured by the UN as an amalgam of 0aincome, life expectancy and literacy, fell in 21 countries during the 90s. By 0acontrast only four countries suffered falling human development in the 80s.
"Though average incomes have risen and fallen over time, human 0adevelopment has historically shown sustained improvement, especially when 0ameasured by the human development index," the report said. "But the 1990s saw 0aunprecedented stagnation, with the HDI falling in 21 countries.
"Much of the decline in the 1990s can be traced to the spread of 0aHIV/AIDS, which lowered life expectancies, and to a collapse in incomes, 0aparticularly in the commonwealth of independent states."
The UN said the events of September 11 had created a "genuine 0aconsensus" that poverty was the world's problem, but urged the west to abandon 0athe one-size-fits-all liberalisation agenda foisted on poor countries.
Mark Malloch-Brown, administrator of the UN development 0aprogramme, said many countries in Africa and Latin America held up as examples 0aof how to kickstart development were among the stragglers in the global economy.
"The poster children of the 1990s are among those who didn't do 0aterribly well," he said. "There are structural restraints on development. Market 0areforms are not enough. You can't just liberalise; you need an interventionist 0astrategy."
The report added that: "Over the past 20 years too much 0adevelopment thinking and practice have confused market-based economic growth 0awith laissez faire."
The west needed to tear down trade barriers, dismantle its lavish 0asubsidy regimes, provide deeper debt relief and double aid from $50bn to $100bn 0aa year. This would provide the resources for investment in the building blocks 0aof development - health, education, clean water and rural roads.
"Poor countries cannot afford to wait until they are wealthy 0abefore they invest in their people," said Jeffrey Sachs, special adviser to Kofi 0aAnnan, the UN secretary general, on the UN's millennium development goals.
Economic growth alone would not rescue the world from poverty, 0athe report said. "Without addressing issues like malnutrition and illiteracy 0athat are both causes and symptoms of poverty, the goals will not be met.
"The statistics today are shaming: more than 13 million children 0ahave died through diarrhoeal disease in the past decade. Each year, over half a 0amillion women, one for every minute of the day, die in pregnancy and childbirth. 0aMore than 800 million suffer from malnutrition."
It added: "For many countries the 1990s were a decade of despair. 0aSome 54 countries are poorer now than in 1990. In 21, a larger proportion is 0agoing hungry.
"In 14, more children are dying before age five. In 12, primary 0aschool enrolments are shrinking. In 34, life expectancy has fallen. Such 0areversals in survival were previously rare."
Matthew Lockwood, head of UK Advocacy Team, ActionAid, said: "The 0ashocking truth is that the poor are getting poorer. Leaders, in rich and poor 0acountries alike, are not taking poverty seriously enough.
"You don't solve this problem by making the leaders of poor 0acountries accountable to their rich-country counterparts. They need to be 0aaccountable to their own citizens. Poor people must have a voice.
"We agree with much in the report but we would have liked to see 0amore about grassroots participation."