Speakers Call for Inclusive Food Systems, Digital Upgrades to Reach World’s Most In-Need, as Social Development Commission Caps First Week of Session
Hunger Has ‘Stark Racial Gradient’, South Africa’s Delegate Says, as Others Spotlight Anti-Poverty Measures, Gender-Responsive Budgeting
The protection of vulnerable groups and the need for system-wide solutions to address inequalities, which had become further entrenched during the pandemic, were recurrent themes in the Commission for Social Development today, as representative of Government discussed ways to renew progress towards eradicating poverty and hunger and galvanizing progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
In a general discussion that spanned half a day, held online, speakers from around the world described measures taken by their countries to mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic on the most marginalized people. Many emphasized the importance of tailoring responses to the needs of vulnerable groups, including the speaker from South Africa, who observed that hunger has “a stark racial gradient” in the country, with the hunger rate in the black population being 6 to 11 times higher than that in the white population. However, she pointed out that efforts to support these communities were hampered by a lack of coordination and communication among State and non-State actors, demonstrating the insufficiency of social relief mechanisms.
Several speakers highlighted the need to strengthen the resilience of food systems — both agriculture and fisheries — to enable them to support people during shocks such as the pandemic. Echoing these points was the representative of Fiji, who said that, during the past two years, her country has been beset by slowed growth and natural disasters, which impacted its basic infrastructure and food systems. She underscored the need for more sustainable fisheries and welcomed progress towards a treaty on the protection of the high seas.
Throughout the meeting, speakers agreed on the need for an inclusive and equitable pandemic recovery, through carefully designed and ambitious policies and strategies that take aim at pre-existing systemic challenges. The representative of Portugal spotlighted his country’s national anti-poverty strategy, introduced in December 2021, which aims to lift more than 660,000 people out of poverty and halve the poverty rate among children. Meanwhile, Argentina’s representative highlighted the adoption of a gender-sensitive budget, which pays attention to women’s financial inclusion, access to technology and the inclusion of unpaid domestic work. He further noted that fostering gender equality in pandemic recovery will be the focus of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) conference in Buenos Aires in November.
Also speaking in the discussion were representatives of Mexico, Japan, Israel, Bolivia, Russian Federation, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Slovenia, France (on behalf of the European Union), Poland, Chile and Bangladesh.
The Commission for Social Development will reconvene on Monday, 14 February, at 10 a.m. to continue its sixtieth session.
The representative of Argentina underscored the need for greater cooperation to avoid the concentration of the benefits of economic growth in a few hands. The systemic crisis has especially impacted children, the elderly and women of all ages, he said, underscoring the need for macro-measures — such as those involving the production of food — to take meet the needs of the most vulnerable. He quoted, in this regard, Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández, who said: “Start with the last to reach everybody.” During the twentieth session of the High-Level Committee on South-South Cooperation, chaired by Argentina in 2021, participants highlighted the need to review economic structures, which led to inequalities during the COVID-19 crisis, he said, calling for policies with a humane and intersectional approach. He spotlighted Argentina’s gender-sensitive budget, which pays attention to financial inclusion, access to technology and the inclusion of unpaid domestic work, and said gender equality in pandemic recovery will be the focus of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) conference in Buenos Aires in November. He added that Argentina is working to narrow the digital and social gap in education, implement the 2002 Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing and strengthen the protection of migrants.
The representative of Portugal, associating with the European Union, said the demographic and socioeconomic challenges his country has faced for years have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2021, the Government adopted the 2021-2030 national strategy to combat poverty. Framed within the broad challenge of reducing inequalities, the strategy is centred around six priorities, notably to lift more than 660,000 people out of poverty and halve the poverty rate among children. In 2021, Portugal’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union defined just recovery from the pandemic as its major priority. The Social Summit in Porto was the highlight of its presidency, where the first-ever European agreement was signed between Governments, employers and workers on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. By 2030, the bloc should reach an employment rate of at least 78 per cent, with at least 60 per cent of adults attending training courses every year, reducing the number of people at risk of social exclusion or poverty by at least 15 million.
The representative of Japan said the concept of human security holds the key to tackling the COVID-19 crisis and a range of other global challenges through people-centred, context-specific and prevention-oriented responses. Underlining the need for universal health coverage, he said Japan provided $1 billion at the COVAX Facility AMC Summit in 2021, providing 1.8 billion vaccine doses to developing countries. As the human security crisis of COVID-19 has also made the fight to eradicate poverty and hunger more urgent, financing for development that is conducive to sustainable growth has become all the more crucial. He noted the challenges posed by rapidly ageing populations, such as that of Japan, pointing out that the country’s revised “Guideline of Measures for Ageing Society” covers such fields as employment, pension, long-term care and technological innovation. He also underscored the need to tackle challenges that disproportionately impact children and youth and to take a human security approach to climate change.
The representative of Israel cited inequitable access to food, disrupted global and national food supply chains and rising food prices as some of the pandemic’s most prevalent outcomes around the world — especially among rural households. Spotlighting the disproportionate impact on children, he went on to note that the effects of climate change are also ravaging farmers’ livelihoods and rural communities. Innovative solutions are needed, including the leveraging of agricultural technologies to increase the global food supply and make agri-food systems more resilient to crises. Recalling that Israel is often known as the “start-up nation”, he outlined some of its many technology initiatives — including those that seek to help vulnerable populations — and added that, as a member of the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Israel shares its policy experience on land and water use with partners around the globe.
The representative of France, speaking on behalf of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, expressed support for implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as essential for the post-pandemic world. Commending the Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report, he stressed the need to create a world in which benefits are distributed fairly. Social inclusion and reduction of poverty and hunger are fundamental values of the European Union, and the bloc is committed to reducing exclusion by 15 million people, including children, by 2030. Older people are at higher risk of falling into poverty during the pandemic, a matter of great concern, he said, underscoring the need to establish a sustainable social protection system. He went on to emphasize the bloc’s efforts to combat intergenerational poverty, by providing children with free access to high-quality education and school meals, guaranteeing minimum wages and promoting the rights of women and girls. He also pointed to the 2021-2030 strategy to address the exclusion of people with disabilities, as only 28 per cent of these people have access to social services, as well as the European Union’s support for the transition to an inclusive green economy.
The representative of South Africa said a recent study on the status of the population found that the country was already vulnerable to food and nutrition security before the onset of the pandemic. Lockdowns, along with the related business closures and job losses, led to more people in need of food aid. “Hunger had a stark racial gradient,” she said, pointing out that the hunger rate in the black population was 6 to 11 times that in the white population. While various forms of support were rolled out, a lack of data on who needed support, the bureaucracy involved in verifying disaster relief funds and food claims, and a lack of coordination and communication among State and non-State actors demonstrated the insufficiency of social relief mechanisms. “Hunger and financial insecurity [are] a permanent challenge among the poor and low-income communities in South Africa,” she said. She went on to list a number of social protection instruments in place, including social grants, free education and a school nutrition programme, among them, which account for 60 per cent of Government expenditure and cover 18 million of the most destitute citizens in South Africa.
The representative of Fiji said that, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, there was an assumption that it would come to an end; however, two years in, she pointed out, “the international community is confronting the important question of how to progress and achieve recovery — not in the aftermath, but in the midst of an unfolding pandemic”. During the past two years, Fiji, like other small island developing States, has experienced slowed growth and severe economic shocks, compounded by natural disasters that have impacted its basic infrastructure and food systems. She expressed alarm at the uptick in the incidence of hunger and poverty globally, pointing out that “690 million people are hungry as we speak”. Noting that Fiji suffers from a “perpetual cycle” of soaring inflation and unpredictable revenue, she underscored the need for sustainable debt recovery. She outlined social protection measures taken by the Government since the start of the pandemic, including immediate cash transfers, which formed a “first line of defence”. More must be done to strengthen self-sufficiency so a pandemic‑triggered food crisis can be mitigated by domestic food production, she said. Sustainable fisheries are important in this regard, she said, welcoming progress towards a treaty on the protection of the high seas. Small island developing States and least developed countries are worst hit by the pandemic, she noted, emphasizing the importance of the Multi-dimensional Vulnerability Index, which took three decades to develop and should be adopted by all financial mechanisms.
The representative of Poland, associating himself with the European Union, welcomed the timely convening of the United Nations Food Systems Summit in September 2021. Also voicing strong support for the Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report and its calls for renewed global solidarity and increased cooperation for humanity’s welfare, he said the COVID-19 pandemic was a major shock to Poland’s economy. Rising inflation remains a challenge, but the labour market and real gross domestic product (GDP) have gradually improved. He outlined a range of national policies implemented to those ends, including the “Anti-Crisis Shield Scheme” — which introduced wage subsidies and grants for micro- and small enterprises — and the “Polish Deal for Rural Areas”, which targets the development of the agri-food sector and rural parts of the country. Meanwhile, on the global level, Poland is a member of the School Meals Coalition, which strives to give every child the opportunity to receive a healthy, nutritious meal in school by 2030.
The representative of Chile, stressing the importance of food security, said eradicating poverty and hunger is not possible without enough food. Citing an alarming increase in food insecurity, reported by FAO, she said ending poverty and hunger is a matter of political will. She also emphasized the need to tackle poverty multidimensionally. Ending poverty in all its forms means reducing inequalities, she said, highlighting the importance of including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex (LGBTI) persons, as well as women and older people among other vulnerable groups. Being poor does not simply mean having a low income; it also means not being able to live with acceptable standards. Chile deems agriculture as critical infrastructure, she said, calling for a more sustainable innovative system of food production involving indigenous peoples, youth and women. As digital gaps in rural areas must be addressed, Chile has launched a rural development plan, she added.