Representatives of civil society organizations, businesses, universities, and Parliaments lamented this morning the enduring effects of the global recession on developing countries and urged financial reform and new thinking to help the world's poor even as the Greek debt crisis shows that the current world economic recovery is fragile.
UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said in opening the organization's 2nd annual public symposium that since the crisis hit in 2008, some 53 million people in the developing world have fallen below the poverty line "and more than 100 million additional people are going hungry. These numbers are not moving in the right direction."
"Prior to the crisis, the chances of achieving the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) were deteriorating," he told the meeting. "Now, after the crisis, it will be near to impossible to achieve all of the MDGs." The goals are centred around the target of halving extreme poverty by 2015.
The Secretary-General said developing countries should look to one another for support, noting that "South-South" regional trade and financial arrangements have been vital in recent years for providing investment, stable economic arrangements, and climbing trade. He cautioned that it is unlikely that industrialized economies "will constitute reliable sources of recover from the current crisis.
He also said impetus appeared to be dwindling for deep and meaningful reforms to the international financial system, and urged that the United Nations, rather than just the G20 group of countries, be given a lead role in devising reforms: "A truly inclusive multilateralism must be based on the G192, the number of all member States of the UN," he said.
In a panel discussion on "Responding to global crises: new development paths" that followed, the Secretary-General termed developing countries "the innocent bystanders of the most severe recession in 70 years. We cannot just go on with business as usual. We have yet to see 'human recovery' from the recession."
Jean Feyder, President of UNCTAD's Trade and Development Board, said, "We consider that States should play a major role in development" as poorer nations struggle to recover, noting, "If there was massive government intervention in the economies of the North, the question has to be asked what they should do in the South."
Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, told the meeting: "It is very important to put more money into agriculture," as productivity, especially in Africa, has lagged far behind farming yields in more developed regions. When food shortages surfaced in 2008, he said, "the result was that these countries were unable to respond."
Anne Jellema, International Policy and Campaign Director of ActionAid International, South Africa, told the meeting that international financial markets "dictate for many countries what is and what isn't possible " and described those markets as "a global casino." She said more -- and more stable -- financial resources must be made available to developing nations for investment in such sectors as agriculture "so that finance serves the goal of development."
Makhotso Magdeline Sotyu, Chairperson of the Parliament of South Africa, said attention to such matters as climate change and women's rights should not be left out of efforts to respond to the global recession or to prevent future crises. "If climate change turns out as predicted, we will have serious problems with water," and Africa's agricultural difficulties already are serious enough, she said.
Rehman Sobhan, Chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue of Bangladesh, remarked that increases in poverty in the developing world reflect the "structural nature" of the recession. Under current market systems, he claimed, employment is considered a "by-product" of economic growth, and when growth stagnates, joblessness increases. "We need to move past these models and address the sources, which lie in the unjust nature of the global financial and social order. We need to integrate the excluded."
And David Nabarro, Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition of the United Nations High-level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, said "the food crisis is still with us, and it's alarming, with around 1 billion people hungry around the world, despite record grain harvests last year. . . There are very great challenges that aren't going be resolved simply by government decrees." Extensive structural reforms are needed in which the focus is on agricultural production "within communities, depending on partnerships between smallholder farmers, communities, and civil society," he said. There should be "partnership between all nations" and not merely a focus on productions statistics alone.
Speakers from the floor cited such issues as the extent of extreme poverty, now estimated at 1.5 billion people; the effects of financial speculation on the prices of such critical foods as rice, wheat and sugar; the effects of political decisions on food prices; the importance of international action to support the prices of commodities, which are the major exports of many developing countries; early warning systems for financial crises; the expansion of urban development onto agricultural land; lack of progress in reforming the international financial system; and obstacles to achieving the MDGs.
Moderator for the debate was Jonathan Lynn, World Trade Correspondent and Chief Correspondent for Reuters News Geneva Office.
The public symposium continues through 11 May.