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News > Latin America

Latin America: Inequality, Hunger Grow Despite Decades of Progress

  • A farmer moves bags of provisions, donated by the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), during food aid distribution to families affected by a drought, Aug. 28, 2014.

    A farmer moves bags of provisions, donated by the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), during food aid distribution to families affected by a drought, Aug. 28, 2014. | Photo: Reuters

Published 18 October 2018

The U.N. and World Bank say economic gaps and hunger in Latin America are growing in recent years due to a lack of social programs, and climate change.

A long-term World Bank study revealed that there are over 26 million people living on less than US$ 1.90 a day in Latin America despite a reduction in extreme poverty in the region over the past 25 years.

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The study, which looked at data between 1990 and 2015, found that extreme poverty in Latin America decreased from 14 percent to 4 percent during that time frame, but that has still left "26 million people living under the extreme poverty line," a World Bank economist, Ana Maria Lugo told AFP.

The economist said that, globally, the greatest proportion of the poor live in rural areas and the poverty rate among children is higher than adults.

Lugo pointed out that Latin America has made important progress to reduce poverty and increase income distribution — 40 percent of the most impoverished are getting stuck at the bottom.

"While the incomes of those in the bottom 40 percent of distribution continue to grow more than average, they are growing slower than in previous years," she said, adding that these economic signs are worrying.

"In the last three, four years, there is reason … to ensure that growth continues in an inclusive manner," she concluded.

The World Bank report Wednesday echoes United Nations findings released at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Committee on World Food Security forum taking place this week that says that resource gaps are widening and this is affecting food security in Latin America.

Speaking from its Rome headquarters the Director-General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Jose Graziano da Silva, said that economic growth must continue at two percent in order to "pay the rich and distribute the crumbs to the poor."

Da Silva says that prior to the 2008 economic crisis "social policies had been created" that guaranteed minimum incomes, school food programs, and fair pension systems. However, currently, millions of people are deprived of food and social safety nets and currently live in "total exclusion." For example, said Da Silva, 7 million Brazilians have no source of income and depend on charity.

"They are the culture of future poverty in the region," said the Director-General of FAO, who insisted on demanding more political commitment.

The growing number of right-wing governments in Latin America, including Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Honduras, and Argentina are also eliminating the social programs provided by leftist leaders in the last decade, contributing to hunger issues and income gaps. 

According to the latest U.N. figures, hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean affected 39.3 million in 2017, a 6.1 percent increase from the 38.9 million people affected in 2016 due to the economic slowdown in South America.

The regional director of the World Food Program (WFP), Miguel Barreto, agreed that economic stability is needed to finance social protections and investments that have declined in recent years in Latin America.

Barreto called for "incorporating the climate change component into social protection strategies" to prevent the most vulnerable communities from losing decades of development due to drought, a hurricane or an earthquake since it is not enough to transfer money.

Aura Leticia Teleguario of the Development Fund of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (Filac) called for "integral programs" capable of generating employment and promoting family agriculture plans to decrease food insecurity.

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