Inter Press ServiceInequity – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 24 Feb 2018 03:16:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Robots, Unemployment … and Immigrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/robots-unemployment-immigrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=robots-unemployment-immigrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/robots-unemployment-immigrants/#comments Mon, 19 Feb 2018 08:28:26 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154381 Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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For every industrial robot introduced into the workforce, six jobs are eliminated.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Feb 19 2018 (IPS)

Amazon has recently introduced Amazon Go, a shop where the customer enters, chooses a product from the shelves, charges the price on a magnetic card and swipes it on the way out, transferring the charge to the customer’s bank account . No queues, no cashiers, fast and easy, and the first shop in Seattle has been a roaring success.

Putting products back on the shelves will soon be fully automated, with robots doing the work previously done by humans. Floor cleaning is already done by a robot, and the aim is to have a fully automated shop, where no human can make mistakes, fall ill, go on strike, take holidays or bring their personal problems to work.

The US petrol industry calculates that the staff required at each well will be reduced from 20 to five within three years. Also within three years it is expected that small hotels will have a fully automated reception – guests arrive, swipe their credit card and a machine supplies the room.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

We are already accustomed to automated telephone for bookings and reservations, and we ourselves now do tasks at an airport which were previously done by clerks, such as checking in.

Contrary to what many think, self-drive vehicles are just around the corner, and car makers think they will be on the market by 2021.

In the United States, according to the ABI Research company, the number of industrial robots will jump nearly 300 percent in less than a decade. The National Economic Research Bureau has reported that for every industrial robot introduced into the workforce, six jobs are eliminated.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has released a “policy brief” indicating what this robotic revolution would mean in Africa, Asia and Latin America. “If robots are considered a form of capital that is a close substitute for low-skilled jobs, then their growing use reduces the share of human labour in production costs. Adverse effects for developing countries may be significant.”

In May 2016, the World Bank’s Digital Dividend Report, calculated that replacing low-skilled workers with robots in developing countries would affect two-thirds of jobs.

China is destined to become the biggest user of robots. China is aiming to become the global leader in high-tech. To take just one example, Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, reduced its workforce last year from 110,000 to 50,000 in Kunshan, thanks to the introduction of robots. The time of cheap imitations is gone, with China now registering more patents than the United States.

Economists call this wave of automation the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The first started, at the end of the 18th century, with the introduction of machines to do handicraft work, such as in textiles. Its impact become visible in 1811, when the followers of a fictional Ned Ludd started to destroy textile equipment because it left thousands of weavers jobless.

The second industrial revolution occurred in the middle of the same century, when science was applied to production, introducing engines and other inventions, creating the real Industrial Revolution. That meant rural populations migrating to towns to work in the factories. The third revolution in the middle of the last century is considered to be the introduction of the Internet, which once again changed forms of production. Gone were the jobs of secretaries in companies, lino typist in newspapers, accounting, documentation, libraries, archives and other hundreds of professions made obsolete by the ‘net’.

We see the Fourth Industrial Revolution in our daily life. But it is like climate change – we all know it exists, it is before our eyes. We have all the data showing an increase in hurricanes, disappearing glaciers, extreme weather conditions, hotter summers than have been recorded since we began measuring temperatures.

Yet, the outcome of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference means that the world is now geared to producing an increase of three degrees centigrade, while scientists unanimously agree that exceeding 1.5 degrees centigrade would be extremely dangerous.

We even have a president of the United States who withdrew from a non-binding Paris Agreement, declaring that climate change is a “Chinese hoax”. Then his appointment of Scott Pruitt – a person who says that global warming is “positive” – as Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).is like putting Dracula in charge of a blood bank.

The political approach to automation is similar. The 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos was dedicated to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The founder and director of the Forum, economist Klaus Schwab, even went to to the effort of writing a book on the subject for the meeting: it is a book in which he expresses his concern.

Previous industrial revolutions had liberated humankind from animal power, made mass production possible and brought digital capabilities to billions of people. This Fourth Industrial Revolution is, however, fundamentally different. It is characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, affecting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.

We need to take a concerted global approach in the world, to make the positive override the negative impacts. The theme was practically ignored at Davos 2016, because politicians now only discuss themes in the short term: what has to be dealt with during their period in office.

At Davos in 2016, Schwab called for leaders and citizens to “together shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”

Clearly, that goes against the tide of nationalism, the new vision for the United States, India, Japan, China, Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Great Britain, Turkey and so on.

Well, like it or not, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is here. Today automation already accounts already for 17 percent of production and services. It will account for 40 percent within 15 years, according to World Bank projections.

But we should also take into account the surprising seeds of development of artificial intelligence (AI) – also known as machine intelligence (MI) – which is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence (NI) displayed by humans and other animals.

We already have robots which can be reprogrammed and their functions changed. Without going into the vitally important relationship between AI and societies, it is important to note the most vibrant debate today concerns how our economy is mutating into an economy of algorithms and data and how this is impacting on politics.

Austrian economist and thinker Karl Polany saw this coming when he made a simple observation: capitalism, without controls and regulations, does not create a market economy but a market society where whatever is necessary for survival has a price, and that is submitted to the laws of the market.

In that kind of society, the state has no alternative but to sustain the system with laws, courts and police to protect private property and to secure good functioning of the market.

The explosion of social injustice, privatisation of common goods and fiscal support for the richest are all consequences of Polany’s analysis. Add to this monopolisation of data by a few giant companies, like Facebook or Amazon, and their impact in the social, cultural and economic sphere, and you can see where we are going. We have become data ourselves, and we are on the market.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will further reduce the centrality of the human being, who has already been replaced by the market ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall…

All this opens up another crucial issue. Labour was once considered an important cost factor in production, and it was the extent to which workers had rights to the resulting benefits that sparked the creation of trade unions, the modern Left and the adoption of universal values such as social justice, transparency and participation, which were the basis of modern international relations.

The relationship between machines and distribution of the benefits of production has inspired several thinkers, philosophers and economists over the last centuries. It was generally assumed that a time would come in which machines would eventually do all production and humankind would be free of work, maintained from the profits generated by machines.

This was, of course, more a dream than a political theory. Yet today, all managers of artificial intelligence and robotic production argue that the superior productivity of robots will reduce costs, thereby enabling greater consumption of goods and services, and this will generate new jobs, easily absorbing those displaced by machines.

The data we have do not show that at all. According to the Economic Report of the President of the United States, there is an 83 percent chance that those who earn 20 dollars an hour could have their job replaced by robots. This proportion rises to 31 percent for those who earn 40 dollars per hour.

Given that the new economy is an intelligence economy based on technical knowledge, people have a future if they are able to adapt to that kind of society, and the new generations are much more attuned to this. But what will a taxi driver who has had no technical education do to recycle himself?

The statistics show that today, when people lose their jobs at a certain age, any new job they may find will almost always be for a lower remuneration. So robotisation will affect the lower middle class above all, and a new generational divide will be created.

Over the years, a number of economists and influential people have expressed the idea of a universal basic income (UBI), arguing that there is a need to cushion society from tensions, instability and unemployment by giving all citizens a fixed income in order that they would be able to have a dignified life. In addition, by spending their UBI, they would generate wealth and increase demand, which would therefore stimulate growth and make for a just and stable society.

Martin Luther King was an early proponent, like neoliberal economist Milton Friedman. Now the billionaires of Silicon Valley like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, venture capitalist Mark Andreessen and Democratic Party senator Bernie Sanders have all expressed support for the UBI idea.

Meanwhile, Andrew Yang, an American entrepreneur and founder of Venture for America, is a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate running on a UBI platform. Yang notes that in the 2016 presidential elections, Donald Trump did particularly well in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states which have lost four million jobs because of automation: “The higher the concentration of robots, the higher the number of disgruntled people who vote for Trump.”

Yang plans to cover the two trillion dollars that UBI would cost (half of the US budget) with a new VAT tax and taxation on the companies who profit from automation. Of course, in the United States the idea that people who do not work should receive public money is the closest thing to communism, and UBI faces formidable cultural obstacles. But Yang says that otherwise in a few years there will be “riots in the streets: just think of the one million truck drivers, who are 94 percent male with an average high school education, suddenly all jobless.”

The above leads to a few considerations and a concrete proposal.

The first consideration is that Trump and all the other politicians who want to restore a past glorious future totally ignore this debate (unfortunately, it is not part of any political debate). Calling for restoring jobs in mines and fossil fuels, for example, fails to recognise that technological developments have already led to the loss of many jobs, and will continue to do so. So, the rallying of disgruntled people, as was the case in Britain with Brexit, is a consequence of the poverty of the political debate, where traditional political parties (especially on the Left), instead of explaining clearly the world in which we now are, and the one in which we are heading, are trying to piggyback on the feelings of the victims of neoliberal globalisation, often taking up the banners of nationalists.

The second political consideration is that migration has become a major theme in elections. Trump was elected on a strong anti-immigrant platform, which continues in his administration. Governments in Hungary, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia are based on refusal of immigrants. All over Europe, from the Nordic countries to France, Netherlands and Germany, anti-immigrant feelings are conditioning governments.

In order to take votes away from the xenophobic Matteo Salvini (leader of the right-wing Lega Nord) in the Italian elections (scheduled for March 2018), the old fox of Silvio Berlusconi (former Italian prime minister) has promised that he will expel 600.000 immigrants if he wins the election.

The fear is that immigrants are stealing jobs and resources from citizens in the countries in which they live. However, statistics from the European Union tell us otherwise. The number of non-EU citizens living in Europe (some for a long time) is now 35 million, of whom about eight million are Africans, and seven million Arabs out of a total of 400 million. Those figures also include illegal immigrants.

All statistics show that more than 97 percent of immigrants are totally integrated, that they pay on average more taxes than locals (of course, they worry about their future) and to date those who do not have a job are about 2.3 million people who are still awaiting a decision on their juridical status.

There is not a single study claiming that immigrants have taken the jobs of Europeans in any significant way. It was the same story with the entry of woman into the labour market. An increasing proportion of women have joined the labour force over the last 30 years, but these increases have not coincided with falling employment rates for men. A study on Brexit demonstrated that immigrants had helped to increase GDP, and that the increase in productivity meant a global increase in employment. But we have reached a point where nobody listens any longer to facts, unless they are convenient…

And now the concrete proposal. It is clear that the real threat to employment for the large majority of citizens comes from robotisation, not immigration. No employed person has been fired to be replaced by an immigrant, unless we talk of non-qualified jobs that Europeans do not want in any case.

Truck drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers and school drivers, to take some examples, do not fear for their jobs because of immigration. Within a very few years, their jobs will become obsolete in any case, and there will be no plans or preparations for that. When the problem explodes, politics might start looking at it.

Perhaps the more responsible thing to do – rather than stoking fear with populism and xenophobia – is that we start to come to terms with the real problem that our society is facing: automation.

And here is a simple proposal: somebody who takes a robot is making money because of its superior productivity, and he is firing somebody. After having paid the robot during usually a couple of years, he might be imagined to have a 100 percent benefit from the firing of a human being. Well, he will not have 100 percent but 60 percent because he will continue to pay the social costs of the human being fired: pension, taxes and health insurance.

That is not as costly as UBI, it is easy to organise and administer, and it will be a way to realise in part the old utopian dream that machines will work for humankind. Can a political debate be started?

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Excerpt:

Roberto Savio is founder of IPS Inter Press Service and President Emeritus

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Development, Self-Interest & Countries Left Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/development-self-interest-countries-left-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-self-interest-countries-left-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/development-self-interest-countries-left-behind/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 13:43:28 +0000 Sarah Bermeo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154300 Sarah Bermeo is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science; Faculty Affiliate, Duke Center for International Development at Duke University

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Development, Self-Interest & Countries Left Behind - Open drainage ditch, Ankorondrano-Andranomahery, Madagascar. Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

Open drainage ditch, Ankorondrano-Andranomahery, Madagascar. Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

By Sarah Bermeo
DURHAM, North Carolina, Feb 14 2018 (IPS)

The world’s wealthiest countries today promote development abroad in a way that is relatively new. For centuries, some of these countries colonized the developing world. As former colonies gained independence they were caught in the international power struggle of the Cold War, often led by dictators who found it in their interest to serve as pawns in great power proxy conflicts.

Development, Self-Interest & Countries Left Behind

Sarah Bermeo

A serious attention to development occurred mainly after the end of the Cold War. The focus sharpened in the early 2000s, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 drove home the realization that state failure thousands of miles away can have serious repercussions at home. Promoting development became a matter of self-interest for wealthy states.

The self-interest of developed countries affected policy on foreign aid, trade agreements, and even climate finance, as I argue in my new book, Targeted Development. The focus on development as self-interest did not usher in, as Prime Minister Tony Blair would have us believe, an era of enlightened self-interest where “idealism becomes realpolitik.”

Instead, development is promoted disproportionately when and where it serves the interests of wealthy countries. This will likely aid development in targeted states, but a widening gap will emerge as those not targeted are left further behind.

 

FOREIGN AID AND DONOR SELF-INTEREST

The pattern of aid allocation across countries has changed significantly over time. During the Cold War, geopolitical concerns drove more foreign aid to countries that were militarily important or held key positions, such as membership on the United Nations Security Council.

In the post-2001 period, donors focus more on countries from which they expect the biggest spillovers from underdevelopment: those that are poor, proximate, and populous. They also favor countries that send them higher numbers of migrants and imports. The impact of geopolitical concerns has become less significant during this time.

This is consistent with an increased emphasis on development and with focusing efforts in countries where transmission mechanisms—whether due to proximity, movement of people, or movement of goods—are high. Donors also care more about effectiveness in recent years, conditioning the type of foreign aid on the quality of governance in recipient countries.

Targeting foreign aid to areas where potential spillovers to the donor are high is not only the practice of great powers. Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland have all favored more proximate countries in the post-2001 period—when you control for measures of need such as income, disasters, and civil war.

For Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden, aid is also associated with bilateral migrant flows. The more a donor imports from a developing country, the higher aid flows are to that country; this is especially true for Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Taken together, the evidence shows that developing countries already connected to aid donors through proximity, migrant networks, and access to markets also receive more foreign aid. Those less connected are not so lucky. Aggregate data for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development donors show declines in aid to the poorest countries even while overall aid levels increase. Aid givers do not seem to favor states where development prospects are especially bad.

 

FOREIGN AID IS JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

This turn toward development promotion in countries of interest has gone beyond foreign aid. The number of preferential trade agreements between high-income and developing countries has increased markedly in recent decades, often tied explicitly to development promotion (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1: Trade agreements between industrialized and developing countries

 

A good example is the United States with Central America. The George W. Bush administration spent considerable political capital to bring about the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, which opened up trade for the U.S. with a market roughly the size of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The deal was rationalized in terms of self-interest: Helping Central America and the Caribbean develop would increase security and well-being in the U.S. Large amounts of additional foreign aid were funneled to the signatories to help them benefit from the agreement (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2: US development assistance to CAFTA-DR countries annual average for each period

 

This is not an exception. Generally, a high-income state is more likely to sign a trade agreement with more proximate developing countries and with those that already receive a higher percentage of its aid budget. States excluded from such agreements are doubly disadvantaged:

They do not receive preferential access to the most lucrative markets and must compete on unequal terms with countries that do receive such access. The rise in these preferential agreements is in sharp contrast to the failure of the Doha Round at the World Trade Organization, suggesting that wealthy states are more comfortable opening up trade with developing countries in a targeted—rather than universal—manner.

Patterns of giving to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are also closely related to traditional foreign aid flows, instead of focusing on areas where climate-related aid might do the most good for mitigation or adaptation.

ANOTHER TRAP?

Poorer countries with connections to wealthier states are likely to benefit from the rising emphasis on development. They are more likely to sign trade agreements and receive additional foreign aid and assistance to tackle climate-related problems.

This is the good news—and it is good—because it is an improvement compared with the times where wealthy nations mainly engaged the developing world through colonialism and Cold War competition. For states not targeted, however, the picture is bleak.

Where migration—and hence remittances—is low, foreign aid will also be low. When foreign aid is low, the chances of being granted preferential access to wealthy country markets is lower too. Where geographic distance is great, economic engagement will lag behind.

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Excerpt:

Sarah Bermeo is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science; Faculty Affiliate, Duke Center for International Development at Duke University

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Combating Africa’s Inequalitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/combating-africas-inequalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=combating-africas-inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/combating-africas-inequalities/#respond Mon, 12 Feb 2018 17:14:53 +0000 Ernest Harsch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154280 Nelson Mandela, shortly after becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa, spoke to both his countrymen and women—indeed, for Africans everywhere—when he declared, “We must work together to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity and power in our society.” As he spoke those words in 1996, South Africa was just emerging from […]

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A Tanzanian woman walks to the market as a petrol lorry passes by. Credit: Alamy /Wietse Michiels Travel Stock

By Ernest Harsch, Africa Renewal
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2018 (IPS)

Nelson Mandela, shortly after becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa, spoke to both his countrymen and women—indeed, for Africans everywhere—when he declared, “We must work together to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity and power in our society.”

As he spoke those words in 1996, South Africa was just emerging from a racist apartheid past in which non-whites, more than three-quarters of the population, were not only denied the vote but also denied land ownership, skilled jobs, and most basic services.

The country’s poverty rate, after a brief decline, has been on the rebound since 2015. While millions of South Africans have improved their educational and job prospects, overall income inequality in the country remains stubbornly entrenched.

According to a new study by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), South Africa has the highest recorded level of income inequality in the world. And in this, South Africa is not unusual among African nations. Of the 19 most unequal countries in the world, 10 are in Africa, according to the UNDP’s Income Inequality Trends in sub-Saharan Africa, a report released in New York during the opening week of the UN General Assembly this past September.

While many countries in the region, such as Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritius and Rwanda have registered remarkable economic performance over the past decade and a half, lifting millions out of extreme poverty and making schooling and health care available to larger shares of their populations, others have lagged.

One obstacle to higher incomes for all has been the region’s entrenched economic and social inequalities. The contrast between the visible wealth of elites and the daily misery of most ordinary people makes the disparities seem unjust, driving popular anger and contributing to protest and rebellion.

As President Hage Geingob of Namibia—a country that inherited the highest levels of income inequality in Africa when it gained independence from apartheid-era South Africa in 1990—told the UN General Assembly, “As long as the wealth of the country is disproportionately in the hands of a few, we cannot have lasting peace and stability.”

Radical shift

Until recently, income inequality received only sporadic attention from development practitioners and policy makers. Before the 1990s they focused mainly on stimulating economic growth. It eventually became clearer that growing markets alone does not necessarily benefit the poor and that excessive liberalization can in fact hurt them.

When the international community adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, their focus shifted more towards anti-poverty measures and improvements in social well-being.

Poverty subsequently fell in many African countries experiencing economic growth. Yet despite generally robust growth, nearly half the continent’s people still live on less than $1.25 a day.

Studies have shown that where there is less inequality, the benefits of growth reach wider sectors of the population. In more unequal nations, however, the rich garner the biggest share and the poor get little.

That realization underlay the 2015 negotiations over the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The global goals call not only for ending poverty, but also for reducing inequalities within and among nations. The UNDP terms this a “radical shift” intended to address the “last mile of exclusion” that prevents many people from improving their lives.

In analyzing income inequality in Africa, the UNDP report focuses on 29 sub-Saharan countries (which account for 80% of Africa’s population) for which there is adequate data on household consumption. It shows that between 1991 and 2011, 17 of those countries managed to reduce their degree of income inequality. But the remaining dozen registered an increase in income inequality over the same period.

That divergence reflects the historical, economic, social and political factors affecting income inequality in each country.

Countries with higher—and rising—income inequality are mainly in Southern and Central Africa; they have capital-intensive oil and mining sectors with limited employment or are former settler societies that still have large landholdings.

Countries with declining income inequality, most of which are in West Africa, generally started out with lower levels of inequality and have predominantly smallholder agricultural sectors in which many people stand to benefit from improvements in productivity.

Income inequalities in different countries differ by degree, but the more important distinction is the factors that shape them. The root causes of inequality are rarely the same from country to country and may include restricted access to land, capital and markets; inequitable tax systems; excessive vulnerability to unfavourable global markets; rampant corruption; and the patrimonial allocation of public resources.

Although gender inequalities exist in all countries and are particularly severe in Africa, they are generally underestimated in most standard measures, which rely on household income or consumption data. Such estimates tend to assume equal spending powers among all family members.

While some countries have seen efforts to reduce economic disparities, others have been marked by opposition to such efforts by “incumbent elites,” according to researchers cited in the report.

The marginalization of certain geographical regions or the social and political exclusion of minority ethnic and religious groups can bring especially explosive consequences, the new UNDP report says, contributing to unrest and even armed conflict.

No single solution

Because of the complex, multidimensional factors influencing inequality, “There is no one ‘silver bullet’ to address its challenge,” observes Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, UNDP’s assistant administrator and director of its Africa bureau. “Multiple responses are required.”

Africa Renewal, published by the UN’s Department of Information, examines many existing responses to income inequalities, including inequalities in education, those affecting a vulnerable group (albinos), those relating to business leadership, and those affecting Africa’s trade with other regions.

Whatever a country’s specific history and circumstances, a number of measures have proven especially fruitful in reducing inequalities across the region: increasing productivity among small-scale farmers, ensuring women’s access to land, reversing urban favouritism in services and economic opportunities, promoting labour-intensive industries, setting minimum wages, strengthening capacities to keep the wealthy from evading taxes, introducing strong social protection programmes and ending all forms of exclusion.

Ultimately, such efforts are intended to ensure that all Africans are able to live productive and fulfilling lives and to uphold the SDGs’ pledge to “leave no one behind.”

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Power of Partnerships in the Fight Against Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/power-partnerships-fight-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=power-partnerships-fight-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/power-partnerships-fight-poverty/#respond Fri, 09 Feb 2018 14:23:27 +0000 Amina Mohammed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154237 Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, in an address to the UN Commission on Social Development

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In Haiti, children in the Port-au-Prince slum of Bel Air enjoy a meal. Credit: MINUSTAH

By Amina J. Mohammed
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 9 2018 (IPS)

The 2030 Agenda is the most ambitious plan governments have ever developed to eradicate extreme poverty and safeguard our planet.

While it is a global agenda, it will only be achieved by addressing the multidimensional aspects of poverty and through ensuring ownership on the part of communities, local authorities and individuals.

There are many examples of local actors, cities and state governments in particular, that are creating new development pathways, overhauling their plans and budgets and taking other innovative steps to achieve the ambitious SDG targets.

Durban, South Africa and Cauayan City in the Philippines have aligned their development plans with the SDG targets, while local governments in Benin have made SDG progress a condition for accessing national funding.

Meanwhile, Kaduna State in Nigeria conducted a robust multi-level data exercise to analyze how all of its residents, particularly the most vulnerable, are faring in relation to each Sustainable Development Goal.

We need more of these local SDG leaders. At the 2017 session of the High Level Political Forum, it was revealed that local and regional governments have participated in only 57 per cent of the National Voluntary Reviews. We will not achieve the SDG’s if such low engagement with local governments continues.

To achieve the SDGs, all communities must be engaged substantively.

We must also increase our knowledge of local conditions. All data must be disaggregated, capturing the lives of residents in the most rural areas and densest informal settlements. And we must act on that knowledge with finance that reaches the communities most in need. Global and national funds must be decentralized and new financial instruments developed in cities and states.

As a former minister, I know the important role of community-focused programmes and projects. In my current role, I see, even more clearly, the value of local actions in realizing global development efforts.

You know as well as anyone the conditions that can make or break efforts to expand development opportunities to everyone.

Across Nigeria, local initiatives led by state governments, civil society actors and financiers are making outstanding contributions to poverty reduction.

The Ekuri Initiative, for example, which is located in the Cross River State, seeks to sustainably manage the forest as a community asset, generating income, subsistence materials and food.

The Smallholders Foundation is using rural radio broadcasts to educate 250,000 farmers on modern agricultural and environmental management techniques, to provide up-to-date market information, and give farmers a platform on which to advertise their products.

Nigeria, like many African countries, is at a crossroads. The country has an opportunity to build on recent economic, political and social gains and to leverage its vast human and natural resources to eradicate poverty.

At the same time, many internal conflicts are challenging the genuine efforts of Nigeria’s leaders, including the insurgency in the north-east, the issue of militancy in the Niger Delta and disputes between herders and farmers, thus undermining and reversing development gains.

To address these challenges, we must prioritize an integrated response to peace, security, human rights and development. And we must improve our efforts to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts while promoting inclusive, sustained and equitable development.

Harnessing the power of partnerships will be critical. We must deepen the joint and coordinated efforts of the federal government, state governments, local authorities, private sector and civil society organizations. Nigeria has taken concrete steps in this direction.

Under the leadership of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria launched the first national Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), to coordinate public-private partnerships and amplify locally-driven solutions to achieve the SDG’s. The PSAG includes 13 diverse partners, including Lagos Business School, the Dangote Group, General Electric and the Sahara Group.

The Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa is another inspiring example of partnership mobilization to achieve the SDG’s. Chaired by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Aliko Dangote, CEO of the Dangote Group, the Center brings together national governments, civil society and private sector leaders to collectively devise SDG solutions such as advancing inter-country projects on sustainable infrastructure and development of new platforms to better connect communities to achieve the SDG’s.

Meanwhile, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has stimulated inspiring partnerships between the Ministers, immunization and health experts in Nigerian States and private sector companies to strengthen vaccine cold chain infrastructure in Nigeria.

Together with initiatives such as Project Last Mile and Coca-Cola, the Foundation aims to increase the number of Nigerian children who can access life-ensuring vaccines, with the focus on the most vulnerable and hardest to reach children.

Similar work is underway elsewhere in Africa, such as in Ethiopia, where the Gates Foundation is supporting the advancement of national priorities and reinforcing government leadership in the areas of agriculture and health- through partnerships across the country that aim to improve agricultural productivity and increase the coverage of life-saving health and nutrition interventions.

UNDP is also partnering with the relevant authorities to promote SDG localization in Anambra, Benue, Kaduna and Kogi States, and to support implementation and monitoring of SDG-based State Development Plans.

The promise of the 2030 Agenda to leave no-one behind cannot be kept without translating global goals into local action. This requires concerted and coordinated efforts at all levels of decision-making, and the empowerment of local actors.

To eradicate poverty and ensure a life of dignity for all, we must work with the world’s most vulnerable people at the level of their everyday realities to make extreme poverty a problem of the past.

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Excerpt:

Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, in an address to the UN Commission on Social Development

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Inequality also Relates to Education, Health & Illiteracy, not Wealth Alonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/inequality-also-relates-education-health-illiteracy-not-wealth-alone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-also-relates-education-health-illiteracy-not-wealth-alone http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/inequality-also-relates-education-health-illiteracy-not-wealth-alone/#respond Wed, 07 Feb 2018 17:02:32 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154222 Bjorn Lomborg  is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

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A health worker marks a boy’s finger with ink to show that he has been vaccinated against measles in India’s Gujarat State. Credit: UNICEF/UNI133530/Pietrasik

By Bjorn Lomborg
COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Feb 7 2018 (IPS)

Antipoverty group Oxfam International got a lot of attention for claiming that there’s a global “inequality crisis,” but a far more important point is entirely neglected: globally, income distribution is less unequal than it has been for 100 years.

The best data on this comes from Professor Branko Milanovic, formerly of the World Bank, now at City University of New York. His research shows that, mostly because of Asia’s incredible growth, global inequality has declined sharply for several decades, reducing so much that the world hasn’t been this equal for more than a century.

Moreover, the conversation on inequality sparked by Oxfam fails to acknowledge that equality is about much more than money. Look at education and health. In 1870, more than three-quarters of the world was illiterate. Today, more than four out of every five people can read.

Focusing so narrowly on the topic does an injustice to the much more serious challenges affecting the world’s poorest, such as air pollution, tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies and barriers to equal and fairly distributed access to education.
Half of all of humanity’s welfare gains from the past 40 years come from the fact that we’re living longer, healthier lives. In 1900, people lived to be 30 on average; today, it’s 71. Over the past half-century, the difference in life expectancy between the world’s wealthiest and poorest countries has dropped from 28 to 18 years.

Oxfam almost entirely glosses over this reality, and instead points to wealth levels within individual countries. It’s true inequality on this measure has increased. But Oxfam overstates the case when it claims that the wealth of the world’s 42 richest people is greater than the bottom 50 percent of the planet (3.7 billion).

A little less than one-fifth of the “bottom half” are actually people with a collective debt of $1.2 trillion: likely mostly rich world citizens, like students with loans or people with negative equity in their houses. It is quite a stretch to classify such people among the world’s poor.

It would be fairer, then, to say that the wealth of the poorest 40 percent of the planet (excluding those with negative wealth) is equal to the wealth of the top 128 billionaires. But this wouldn’t be as catchy as claiming that just 42 people own as much as half the planet.

Oxfam’s repeated claim that the top 1 percent own more than half the planet’s wealth lacks historical context. Thomas Piketty looked at wealth for select countries and found a dramatic decline in the wealth of the top 1 percent from 1900 to about 1970-80, and a smaller increase since then. Thus, it’s likely that the world is more equal today in terms of wealth than it has been historically, apart from over the past three or four decades.

Looking at the United Kingdom for example, the top 1 percent of wealth has increased, yet the data show that the country was still more unequal every year before 1977.

More relevant than wealth, though, is the measure of income inequality, since this determines our lives from one year to the next. Inequality has indeed risen recently. But what of the bigger picture? Perhaps unsurprisingly, most diagrams used by Oxfam start in around 1980, at the historic low-point for income inequality.

The data show that the top 1 percent of income in English-speaking countries has returned to levels akin to those in the early 1900s, while in non-English countries it has declined dramatically.

Oxfam’s core purpose is “to end the injustice of poverty,” so it’s unfortunate that its simplistic narrative points to a need for redistribution within countries while overlooking the many things — like global free trade lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, and vaccination campaigns that have nearly eradicated diseases like polio — that need to be maintained to continue recent dramatic global progress.

Too much inequality can reduce growth and stifle social mobility, so it should be kept in check. But it is wrong to ignore the bigger story of humanity’s progress against poverty and inequality.

Focusing so narrowly on the topic does an injustice to the much more serious challenges affecting the world’s poorest, such as air pollution, tuberculosis, HIV, malaria, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies and barriers to equal and fairly distributed access to education.

All of these challenges have cheap and effective solutions. And it’s on these solutions that we need to focus.

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Excerpt:

Bjorn Lomborg  is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

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“No Time to Waste” in Ending FGMhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/no-time-waste-ending-fgm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-time-waste-ending-fgm http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/no-time-waste-ending-fgm/#comments Wed, 07 Feb 2018 16:17:11 +0000 Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154216 More than 200 million women around the world have experienced some kind of female genital mutilation (FGM) and more could be at risk, a UN agency said. Though the practice has declined in prevalence globally, alarming new figures from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) predict that any progress could be off-set as a further […]

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FGM is a taboo and complicated topic in Liberia and it is dangerous for women to speak out about it. Credit: Travis Lupick / IPS

By Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 7 2018 (IPS)

More than 200 million women around the world have experienced some kind of female genital mutilation (FGM) and more could be at risk, a UN agency said.

Though the practice has declined in prevalence globally, alarming new figures from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) predict that any progress could be off-set as a further 68 million girls face the risk of FGM by 2030.

The statistics from the UN were unveiled today as the world marks the 15th International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

“The new figures mean that this practice is threatening the life and wellbeing of more girls and women than initially estimated,” the Coordinator of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Program on FGM, Nafissatou Diop, told IPS.

“You and I and everybody and the girl next door can be affected,” she continued.

FGM – sometimes called female circumcision or being ‘cut’ — is often practiced for religious, personal, cultural, and coming of age purposes. According to the UN, most cases are inflicted upon girls from infancy to the age of 15.

The increase in ‘at risk of FGM’ cases is partly due to population growth in countries where FGM is common – namely in parts of northern and western Africa, the Middle East and pockets of Asia.

In Egypt alone, more than 90 parent of women have undergone the practice.

Both UNICEF and UNFPA denounce FGM, calling it a “violation of human rights’ and a “cruel practice” that inflicts emotional harm and preys on the most vulnerable in society.

“It is unconscionable that 68 million girls should be added to the 200 million women and girls in the world today who have already endured female genital mutilation,” they said.

Life-Changing Harm

FGM can cause lifelong trauma, including urinary and vaginal problems, increased risk of childbirth complications, and psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and low self-esteem.

Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Right Division at Human Rights Watch, told IPS that the predicted 68 million FGM cases was “unacceptable”.

“It’s a fundamental human rights violation that can ruin girls’ lives,” she said. “So often these girls don’t have a say – at infancy and childhood, how can you?

“There is no health benefit to women being cut, so you tend to see it in those societies that don’t have high levels of gender equality…This practice is rooted in gender inequality,” she added.

FGM = Gender Inequality

Gerntholtz highlighted that in order to tackle the practice, the international community needs to look at not just the specific act of FGM, but at the broader issue of entrenched gender inequality.

“As an international community, we can fight FGM not only by supporting FGM-specific initiatives, but also by looking holistically at the gender inequality in these regions, so investing in programs that support girl’s rights, girls’ education, community education on these things – that’s also key.”

UNFPA’s Executive Director Natalia Kanem echoed similar sentiments, saying that the world already knows what it needs to do to overcome FGM.

“We know what works, targeted investments that changing social norms, practices and lives,” Kanem said

“Where social norms are confronted villages by village…when there is access to health, education and legal services…where girls and women are protected and empowered to make their voices heard.”

Change has particularly come from the community level.

Fourteen-year-old Latifatou Compaoré became an advocate for ending the practice after learning of her mother’s experience with FGM.

“She told me that one of the girls who had been cut the same day as her had experienced serious problems and died following a haemorrhage that no one had taken care of,” Compaoré told UNFPA.

“When she became a mom, she made the commitment that if she had girls, she would never cut them. And she kept her word,” she continued.

In countries where UNICEF and UNFPA work, some 18,000 communities have publicly disavowed the practice and many African countries have moved to implement legislation outlawing it.

For instance, in 2016 after Kenya banned FGM, FGM rates fell from 32 percent to 21 percent.

Accelerated Action Needed

But legislation and verbal commitments are not enough, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“Without concerted, accelerated action, we could see a further 68 million girls could be subjected to this harmful practice,” he cautioned.

Diop similarly called for more efforts in allocating financial and human resources.

The goal of curbing FGM is highlighted in the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Its inclusion was praised because it was seen as an acknowledgement of the far-reaching consequences that FGM has – consequences that go beyond the individual to include social and economic repercussions for entire communities.

“Sustainable development cannot be achieved without full respect for the human rights of women and girls,” Guterres said in a statement.

The Secretary-General called upon governments to enact and enforce laws that protect the rights of girls and women and prevent FGM.

He also announced a new UN global initiative called the Spotlight Initiative which aims to create strong partnerships to end all forms of violence against women and girls.

“With the dignity, health and well-being of millions of girls at stake, there is no time to waste,” he said. “Together, we can and must end this harmful practice.”

*Marked annually on 6 February, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation aims to strengthen momentum towards ending the practice which is globally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women as well as perpetuates deep-rooted inequality between the sexes.

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Tackling Inequality Talk Is Easyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/tackling-inequality-talk-easy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tackling-inequality-talk-easy http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/tackling-inequality-talk-easy/#respond Tue, 30 Jan 2018 15:30:53 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154067 At this year’s Davos World Economic Forum (WEF), Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau warned the world’s business leaders and fellow politicians, “tackle inequality or risk failure”. Five years ago WEF founder Klaus Schwab had observed, ‘We have too large a disparity in the world; we need more inclusiveness… If we continue to have un-inclusive growth […]

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Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY & KUALA LUMPUR , Jan 30 2018 (IPS)

At this year’s Davos World Economic Forum (WEF), Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau warned the world’s business leaders and fellow politicians, “tackle inequality or risk failure”.

Five years ago WEF founder Klaus Schwab had observed, ‘We have too large a disparity in the world; we need more inclusiveness… If we continue to have un-inclusive growth and we continue with the unemployment situation, particularly youth unemployment, our global society is not sustainable.’ In 2014, the WEF released a 60-page report suggesting that income inequality, ranked first among the major global risks facing societies and economies.

Christine Lagarde, IMF Managing Director, told the 2014 WEF, “in far too many countries the benefits of growth are being enjoyed by far too few people. This is not a recipe for stability and sustainability”.

Similarly, in an interview ahead of the Spring 2014 Joint IMF-World Bank meeting, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim warned that failure to tackle inequality risked causing social unrest, “the next huge social movement is going to erupt…to a great extent because of these inequalities.”

Inequality still growing

Yet, inequality of wealth and income continues to grow unabated, and has even accelerated from time to time. Two recent reports – the Paris-based Inequality Lab’s World Inequality Report 2018 and Oxfam International’s Reward Work, Not Wealth – highlight how global inequality has worsened in recent years, especially since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis (GFC).

Despite difficulties in estimating wealth, other recent reports, such as the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, UBS/PwC Billionaires Report, Allianz Global Wealth Report and Credit Suisse Report, highlight similar or related trends.

Meanwhile, the rich and wealthy describe themselves as wealth creators; they justify their wealth accumulation by arguing that they employ millions of people even as they suppress wages through labour market reforms and other means, and jack up already already astronomical executive rewards.

They point to their philanthropy and support for the arts and sports, often used for money-laundering. Meanwhile, tax dodging grows, both through illegal tax evasion and legal tax avoidance even as their champions induce a ‘race to the bottom’ as tax competition cuts top marginal tax rates.

As the World Inequality Report 2018 and Reward Work, Not Wealth reveal, the super-rich are at the root of the problem. They deprive governments of billions of dollars, forcing governments to cut essential services and provision of public and social goods, aggravating the hardships of the majority as their earnings stagnate or even fall.

It is thus no wonder that while global wealth races ahead, global household debts increased by 5.5% in 2016, the highest growth since 2007. Global debt rose faster than nominal economic output for the first time since 2009, and the global debt-income ratio increased by almost one percentage point to 64.6%, despite total global wealth increasing by US$16.7 trillion, or 6.4%, in 2017.

Inequality social, not natural
In fact, growing inequality is not inevitable; it is created socially, the result of dismantling regulations restraining market excesses, transfers of public assets to private hands through privatization since the early 1980s, transnational corporation (TNC)-led globalization that required weakening of labour’s bargaining power.

Decisive actions can reverse growing inequality, as was done after the Second World War (WW II). Asset or wealth redistribution through actions such as radical land reform, inheritance and wealth taxes. Regulations, such as anti-trust laws and protection of labour rights, as well as public policy actions, e.g., universal access to education, health and social protection, helped check the vicious circle of growing inequality created by the wealthy.

There seems to be a growing consensus about core policy measures to tackle widening inequality. For example, the OECD suggests three main ways to tackle mounting inequality: promoting employment for all; enhancing access and performance in education and training at every level by investing in people’s skills; and reforming tax/benefit systems for fairer economic distribution while fostering growth.

Even IMF research agrees that fiscal policy can be a powerful redistributive instrument, and suggests enhancing the progressivity of taxation, universal basic income for emerging and developing countries, and the reduction of gaps in education and health.

The Oxfam report has a long list of recommendations for governments and international institutions to tackle growing inequality, including: limiting returns to shareholders; eliminating the gender pay gap; eliminating slave labour and poverty pay; enhancing labour’s bargaining power by allowing them to organize; regulating TNCs; promoting fairness; progressive taxation; progressive public spending including universal health and education; a universal social protection floor; and eradicating tax havens.

But who will act?
Missing from the discussion is agency, typically requiring state capacity to do the necessary, as the history of such reforms clearly shows. While the state has the mandate and legitimacy to redistribute wealth and resources through progressive taxation and social provisioning, the relentless attack on the state by neo-liberals has significantly diminished needed capabilities over the last four decades.

Rebuilding state capabilities needs much more than ‘good governance’ reforms or anti-corruption legislation as touted by international organizations and donors. Developing country governments must be enabled to develop the capacity to address critical obstacles to development and to overcome resistance from vested interests or established elites.

Rebuilding capabilities requires fiscal resources. Tax evasion and international tax competition, used by the rich to accelerate wealth accumulation, are two of the most critical obstacles to enhancing fiscal space.

If elites are at all serious about tackling the growing gap between the super rich and the rest of us, they know what they have to do. And it certainly is not more of the same.

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Wealth Concentration Continues to Increasehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/wealth-concentration-continues-increase/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wealth-concentration-continues-increase http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/wealth-concentration-continues-increase/#comments Tue, 23 Jan 2018 10:10:43 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153974 As the ‘masters of the universe’ gather for their annual retreat at Davos, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has just published its Inclusive Development Index (IDI) for the second time. After moderating from the 1920s until the 1970s, inequality has grown with a vengeance from the 1980s as neoliberal ascendance unleashing regressive reforms on various […]

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A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 2018 (IPS)

As the ‘masters of the universe’ gather for their annual retreat at Davos, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has just published its Inclusive Development Index (IDI) for the second time.

After moderating from the 1920s until the 1970s, inequality has grown with a vengeance from the 1980s as neoliberal ascendance unleashing regressive reforms on various fronts.

Sensing the growing outrage at earlier neo-liberal reforms and their consequences, as well as the financial sector bail-outs and fiscal austerity after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, politicians and business leaders have expressed concerns about inequality’s resurgence.

The record is more nuanced. While national level inequalities have grown in most economies over the last four decades, international income disparities between North and South have actually narrowed, largely due to growth accelerations in much of the latter.

But while income inequality trends have been mixed, wealth concentration has picked up steam, recently enabled by the low cost of credit, thanks to ‘unconventional monetary policies’ in the North.

According to the World Inequality Report 2018, the top 1% in the world had twice as much income growth as the bottom half since 1980. Meanwhile, income growth has been sluggish or even flat for those with incomes between the bottom half and the top 1%. Oxfam’s new Reward Work, Not Wealth report reveals that the world’s wealthiest 1% got 82% of the wealth generated in 2017, while the bottom 50% saw no increase at all!

The world’s 500 richest, according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index, became US$1 trillion richer during 2017, “more than four times” the gain in 2016, as their wealth increased by 23%, taking their combined fortunes to US$5.3 trillion. According to the UBS/PwC Billionaires Report 2017, there are now 1,542 US dollar billionaires in the world, after 145 more joined their ranks in 2016.

Mozambique’s capital city Maputo has street names after socialist and communist leaders, however, the country has a huge wealth disparity. Credit: IPS


Worsening wealth inequality

Meanwhile, the latest Credit Suisse Report found that the world’s richest 1% increased their share of total wealth from 42.5% at the height of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis to 50.1% in 2017, or US$140 trillion.

It shows that the bottom half together owned less than 1% of global wealth, while the richest 10% owned 88% of all wealth, and the top 1% alone accounted for half of all assets. Thus, global household debt rose by nearly 5% in 2017 despite total wealth increasing by US$16.7 trillion, or 6.4%.

The Report attributes this to uneven asset price inflation with financial asset prices growing much faster than non-financial asset values. Recent unconventional monetary policies of the world’s major central banks contributed to such asset price inflation.

The European Central Bank has acknowledged that quantitative easing (QE) has fuelled asset price inflation. Kevin Warsh, a former US Federal Reserve Board member, has argued that QE has only worked through the ‘asset price channel’, enriching those who own financial assets, not the 96% who mainly rely on income from labour.

An IMF study found that ‘fiscal consolidation’, typically involving austerity, has significantly worsened inequality, depressed labour income shares and increased long-term unemployment.

Another IMF research report shows that capital account liberalization — typically recommended to attract foreign capital inflows without due attention to the consequences of sudden outflows — has generally significantly and persistently increased national-level inequalities.

The World Inequality Report 2018 also observed that rising income inequality has largely been driven by unequal wealth ownership. Privatization in most countries since the 1980s has resulted in negative ‘public wealth’ — public assets minus public debt — in rich countries, even as national wealth has grown substantially. Over recent decades, countries have become richer as governments have become poorer, constraining governments’ ability to address inequality by increasing public provisioning of essential services.

An earlier IMF study also noted that the neoliberal reforms — promoting privatization, cutting government spending, and strictly limiting fiscal deficits and government debt — have also increased economic inequality.

On average, net private wealth in most rich countries rose from 200–350% of national income in 1970 to 400-700% recently as marginal tax rates for the rich and super-rich have fallen. The Oxfam report identifies tax evasion, corporate capture of public policy, erosion of workers’ rights and cost cutting as major contributors to widening inequalities.

The IMF’s recent Fiscal Monitor acknowledges that regressive tax reforms have caused tax incidence to be far less progressive, if not regressive, while failure to tax the rich more has increased inequality. Besides new tax evasion opportunities and much lower marginal income tax rates, capital gains are hardly taxed, encouraging top executives to pay themselves with stock options.

Misleading

It is quite remarkable how increasing wealth concentration has been described and presented to the public. For example, the Allianz Global Wealth Report 2016 has described the trends as ‘inclusive inequality’, claiming a growing global middle class even as inequality has been rising.

Similarly, the Credit Suisse Report argues that wealth distribution is shifting as the world becomes wealthier, thus lowering barriers to wealth acquisition. Increasing wealth and income inequality are thus merely reflecting faster asset accumulation, including the pace at which new millionaires are being created.

Josef Stadler, UBS head of global ultra-high net worth and lead author of the UBS/PwC Billionaires Report 2017, decries “the perception that billionaires make money for themselves at the expense of the wider population” as incorrect, attributing billionaires’ fortunes to the strong performance of their companies and investments.

Besides their philanthropic contributions and patronage of the arts, culture and sports, 98% of billionaires’ wealth are said by him to contribute to society as the world’s super-rich employed 27.7 million people. Rather than making money from their employees’ efforts, billionaires apparently make private welfare payments to them out of the goodness of their hearts!

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Davos: a Tale of Two Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=davos-tale-two-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:58:52 +0000 Ben Phillips http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153934 Ben Phillips is Launch Director, Fight Inequality Alliance.

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As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

By Ben Phillips
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

At the same time as the World Economic Forum’s rich and powerful hold forth about fixing the crisis of inequality they created, a new movement called the Fight Inequality Alliance is telling another story that is growing around the world.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2017. Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico

As the world’s 1% gather in the luxury Swiss mountain resort Davos this week, rallies are taking place around the world on mountains of a very different sort – the mountains of garbage and of open pit mines that millions of the most unequal call home.

People will be gathering in events in countries including India, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, United Kingdom, The Gambia, Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Denmark, Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Mexico to publicly demand an end to inequality.

Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation. Events worldwide include a pop concert at a slum next to a garbage mountain in Kenya, a football match in Senegal, a public meal sharing in Denmark, a rally at open-pit an mine in South Africa, a sound truck in Nigeria, and a giant “weighing scales of injustice” in the UK.


Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation.

The protesters are demanding an end to the age of greed, and say that the solutions to the inequality crisis will not come from the same elites that caused the problem. People living on the frontlines of inequality are the key to the radical change that is needed, they say.

They are already organising to build their power by joining together in a global Fight Inequality Alliance that unites social movements, women’s rights groups, trade unions, and NGOs in over 30 countries across the world. They are urging the world to hear the solutions to inequality from those who suffer it not those who caused it.

Nester Ndebele, challenging mining the companies widening inequality in South Africa, remarks: “These mining companies claim to bring development but they make a fortune while leaving our land unfarmable, our air dangerously polluted, and our communities ripped apart. Women bear the brunt of this. They claim it is worth it for the energy they provide but the wires go over our homes with no connection. The politicians need to stop listening to the mining companies fancy speeches and hear from us instead.”

Mildred Ngesa, fighting for women’s rights in Kenya, explains why the events are taking place at the same time as, and as a counter to, the elite Davos meeting in Switzerland: “All these rich men at Davos say all these nice things about women’s empowerment but when young women in the places I grew up have no economic security, many have little real choices beyond the red light. We need jobs, housing, and free education and health, not speeches from the same people who push for corporate tax exemptions which take away resources needed to advance equality.”

Campaigners call on governments to curb the murky influence of the super-rich who they blame for the Age of Greed, where billionaires are buying not just yachts but laws. Community groups ideas, which elites don’t mention, include an end to corporate tax breaks, higher taxation on the top 1% to enable quality health and education for all, increases in minimum wages and stronger enforcement, and a limit how many times more a boss can earn than a worker.

“We have rising inequality because the rich are determining what governments should do. Davos can never be the answer because the problem is caused by the influence of the people at Davos. Governments around the world must listen instead to their citizens, and end the Age of Greed. We know that governments will only do that when we organize and unite, so we are coming together as one. The power of the people is greater than the people in power.” says Filipina activist Lidy Nacpil, a co-founder of the international Fight Inequality Alliance.

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Excerpt:

Ben Phillips is Launch Director, Fight Inequality Alliance.

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“The World Has Gone in Reverse”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/world-gone-reverse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-gone-reverse http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/world-gone-reverse/#comments Thu, 18 Jan 2018 07:06:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153922 A year into his position, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that peace remains elusive and that renewed action must be taken in 2018 to set the world on track for a better future. Around the world, challenges such as conflicts and climate change have deepened while new dangers have emerged with the threat […]

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Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the General Assembly on his priorities for 2018. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

A year into his position, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that peace remains elusive and that renewed action must be taken in 2018 to set the world on track for a better future.

Around the world, challenges such as conflicts and climate change have deepened while new dangers have emerged with the threat of nuclear catastrophe and the rise in nationalism and xenophobia.

“In fundamental ways, the world has gone in reverse,” said Guterres to the General Assembly.

“At the beginning of 2018, we must recognize the many ways in which the international
community is failing and falling short.”

Among the major concerns is the ongoing and heightened nuclear tensions.

Guterres noted that there are small signs of hope, including North Korea’s participation in the upcoming winter Olympics as well as the reopening of inter-Korean communication channels.

“War is avoidable—what I’m worried is that I’m not yet sure peace is guaranteed, and that is why we are so strongly engaged,” he said.

Despite UN sanctions, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has refused to surrender the country’s development and stockpile of nuclear missiles.

During a meeting in Canada, United States’ officials warned of military action if the Northeast Asian nation does not negotiate.

“It is time to talk, but they have to take the step to say they want to talk,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told foreign ministers.

A recently released nuclear strategy also outlines the U.S. administration’s proposal to expand its nuclear arsenal in response to Russian and Chinese military threats which may only sustain global tensions.

Guterres has also pinpointed migration and refugee protection as priorities for the year.

Though arrivals have dropped, refugees and migrants from Honduras to Myanmar still embark on dangerous journeys in search of economic opportunity or even just safety. However, they are still often met with hostility.

“We need to have mutual respect with all people in the world. In particular, migration is a positive aspect—the respect for migrants and diversity is a fundamental pillar of the UN and it will be a fundamental pillar of the actions of the Secretary-General,” Guterres said.

The UN Global Compact for Migration is set to be adopted later this year after months of negotiations. The U.S. however has since withdrawn from the compact and is seemingly increasingly abandoning its commitments to migrants and refugees.

Most recently, U.S. President Donald Trump allegedly made offensive comments about immigrants from Caribbean and African nations.

The African Group of UN Ambassadors issued a statement condemning the “outrageous, racist, and xenophobic remarks” and demanded an apology.

UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville echoed similar sentiments, stating: “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”

Guterres expressed particular concern about U.S. cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) which has served more than five million registered refugees for almost 70 years.

“UNRWA is providing vital services to the Palestinian refugee population…those services are extremely important not only for the wellbeing of these populations—and there is a serious humanitarian concern here—but also it is an important factor of stability,” he said.

Just a day after the Secretary-General’s briefing, the U.S. administration announced that it will cut over half of its planned funding to the agency.

Former UN Undersecretary-General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland urged the government to reconsider its decision.”

“Cutting aid to innocent refugee children due to political disagreements among well-fed grown men and women is a really bad politicization of humanitarian aid,” he said in a tweet.

In light of the range of challenges, Guterres called for bold leadership in the world.

“We need less hatred, more dialogue, and deeper international cooperation. With unity in 2018, we can make this pivotal year that sets the world on a better course,” he concluded.

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Bangladesh Aims at Middle-Income Status by 2021http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/bangladesh-aims-middle-income-status-2021/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 16:14:03 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153526 The environmental challenges facing Bangladesh, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s “least developed countries” (LDCs), are monumental, including recurrent cyclones, perennial floods, widespread riverbank erosion and a potential sea level rise predicted to put about 27 million people at risk over the next two decades. But the first National Country Investment […]

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Bangladesh. Credit: FAO

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 13 2017 (IPS)

The environmental challenges facing Bangladesh, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s “least developed countries” (LDCs), are monumental, including recurrent cyclones, perennial floods, widespread riverbank erosion and a potential sea level rise predicted to put about 27 million people at risk over the next two decades.

But the first National Country Investment Plan for Environment, Forestry and Climate Change (CIP-EFCC), released December 13, provides a detailed road map for sustainable development that encompasses reduction in poverty, improving environmental and human health benefits and increasing resilience to climate change, among others.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, herself with strong environmental credentials, has endorsed the plan ratified at the highest levels of the National Environmental Council, pointing the way for other developing countries to emulate and follow in the footsteps on Bangladesh.

Described as a “strategic tool,” the plan is anchored to, and aligned with, the vision of transforming Bangladesh from a LDC to a middle income country by 2021, nine years ahead of the UN’s targeted date of 2030 to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The plan, which will enable Bangladesh to monitor and assess the state of the environment, as well as investments in the context of climate change, also provides an avenue for multi sector policy dialogue and coordination for investment in CIP-EFCC – where state agencies, private sector, and civil society are able to advance areas of common interest, including in the forestry and timber sector.

Marco Boscolo, Forestry Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organzation of the United Nations, and former Chief Technical Advisor of the project, told IPS that it was hard to underestimate the size of environmental challenges of Bangladesh.

“Every year, only due to riverbank erosion, tens of thousands of people lose their land and livelihoods, spurring a lot of internal migration, mostly towards cities. Landslides, cyclones and floods make headlines every year during the monsoon season,” he said.

The reasons are complex. Flooding is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. Because the country is a flat delta, the monsoon season has always brought some level of flooding. However, climate change (more severe storms and cyclones) and trans-boundary water issues have exacerbated the problem, said Boscolo.

“The pressure on the land is huge. To get a sense of the level of population pressure in Bangladesh one can imagine that, if the whole population of the earth (about 7.6 billion) would be put all in the USA, the population density would be less than what is now in Bangladesh,” he declared.

Asked what Bangladesh needs to implement the SDGs, and also battle natural disasters, Boscolo said that with the adoption of SDGs, countries have sanctioned that most development challenges are cross-sectoral in nature.

Addressing the threat of climate change, tackling poverty and food security, addressing environmental degradation are not and cannot be the exclusive mandate of individual ministries and agencies, he pointed out.

“Unfortunately, in Bangladesh (as in many other countries), there is still a strong sectoral divide in terms of both structure, planning and budgeting which deters coordination and learning. Cross sectoral investment frameworks are essential to implement the SDGs.”

He said the Country Investment Plan (CIP) on the environment, forestry and climate change includes about 30 SDG indicators in its results framework.

Meanwhile, facts and figures on the state of the country’s environment are staggering: about 15 million people in Bangladesh alone could be on the move by 2050 because of climate change induced sea level increases and increases in areas under standing flood water.

With the highest population density of any non-city state globally, Bangladesh will have limited ability to absorb the internal movement of people, which will then lead to the external movement of Bangladeshis.

At the same time, saline intrusion (up to 8 km by 2030) resulting from sea level rise will create a significant reduction in agriculture productivity. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/83337/CSA_Profile_Bangladesh.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Temperature increases are already having a negative effect on yield of rice and other vegetable crops. By 2050 pulse yields under climate change are 8.8% lower than the projected value if climate change did not occur.

“This is followed by wheat and oilseed-rapeseed with 6.4% and 6.3%, respectively, as the greatest reductions in yield. By 2050 rice, yields of vegetables (as a group), and other crop11 (including jute) are 5.3%, 5.7%, and 3.3% less than the NoCC value in 2050, respectively.”

Additionally, extreme weather conditions (floods and cyclones) are expected to increase in frequency and intensity in Bangladesh. Losses related to the 2007 and 2009 cyclones were estimated at around two million metric tons of rice, enough to feed 10 million people.

The south, southwest, and southeast coastal regions of Bangladesh are increasingly susceptible to severe tropical cyclones and associated saltwater intrusion. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/83337/CSA_Profile_Bangladesh.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Pollution can account for as many as one in four deaths. Extremely poor air quality, polluted food and water systems and industrial toxins all contribute to this scenario. http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/environment/2017/10/20/pollution-can-account-one-four-deaths-bangladesh/

Asked about the importance of the CIP, Boscolo told IPS the five year CIP, which took two years to develop, responds to a growing need for an investment framework that allows for resources to be more targeted for environmental improvements, better coordination among agencies, and regular monitoring of the impacts of these investments.

He said the CIP had been designed to help the Government realize its policy objectives by guiding investment choices in their Annual Development Programs.

The plan has identified at least 46 agencies that implement 170 projects directly related to the environment, forestry and climate change. While those projects are worth some $5.0 billion, an additional $7.0 billion are needed by 2021 to meet development targets, such as those set in the Government’s seventh Five Year Plan.

Areas such as environmental governance, pollution control, and the management of natural resources were found to be particularly underfinanced, he noted.

“These additional investments are needed to ensure that the country’s economic development, which has progressed at a rate of over six percent per year, will continue and to ensure the health and well-being of the general public while safeguarding the environment,” Boscolo added. http://www.bd.undp.org/content/bangladesh/en/home/library/crisis_prevention_and_recovery/climate-protection-and-development-budget-report-2017-18–.html

Asked what is urgently needed to help implement the SDGs, Boscolo said improved targeting of climate change (CC) and environmental funds to activities that will have the greatest effect in mitigating the effects of CC and improving the environment.

Additionally, there has to be improved coordination and synchronization of CC and environment funding; increases in internal and external CC funds, such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) etc; increased knowledge of the effect of CC and environmental pollution and the potential impact that targeted investments could have and improved governance structures to lead better CC and environmental investment in Bangladesh.

In particular, he said, there is a need for capacity enhancement within relevant organizations (e.g., General Economics Division, Planning Commission, Prime Minister’s Office’s relevant directorate and ministries like agriculture, disaster management, water resources etc.) which might be helpful.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Libya: Up to One Million Enslaved Migrants, Victims of ‘Europe’s Complicity’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/libya-one-million-enslaved-migrants-victims-europes-complicity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=libya-one-million-enslaved-migrants-victims-europes-complicity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/libya-one-million-enslaved-migrants-victims-europes-complicity/#comments Wed, 13 Dec 2017 13:37:53 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153523 “European governments are knowingly complicit in the torture and abuse of tens of thousands of refugees and migrants detained by Libyan immigration authorities in appalling conditions in Libya,” Amnesty International charged in the wake of global outrage over the sale of migrants in Libya. In its new report, ‘Libya’s dark web of collusion’, Amnesty International […]

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In Libya, dozens of migrants sleep alongside one another in a cramped cell in Tripoli's Tariq al-Sikka detention facility. Credit: UNHCR/Iason Foounten

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Dec 13 2017 (IPS)

“European governments are knowingly complicit in the torture and abuse of tens of thousands of refugees and migrants detained by Libyan immigration authorities in appalling conditions in Libya,” Amnesty International charged in the wake of global outrage over the sale of migrants in Libya.

In its new report, ‘Libya’s dark web of collusion’, Amnesty International (AI) details how European governments are actively supporting a sophisticated system of abuse and exploitation of refugees and migrants by the Libyan Coast Guard, detention authorities and smugglers in order to prevent people from crossing the Mediterranean.

The Geneva-based UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that the number of migrants trapped in Libya could amount to up to one million, and it is now rushing to rescue the first 15,000 victims through a massive repatriation emergency plan. A major airlift is underway as IOM starts flying 15,000 more migrants from Libya before year end.“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses... they are complicit in them” -- John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International

“Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants trapped in Libya are at the mercy of Libyan authorities, militias, armed groups and smugglers often working seamlessly together for financial gain. Tens of thousands are kept indefinitely in overcrowded detention centres where they are subjected to systematic abuse,” said John Dalhuisen, AI’s Europe Director, on Dec 12.

“European governments have not just been fully aware of these abuses; by actively supporting the Libyan authorities in stopping sea crossings and containing people in Libya, they are complicit in these abuses,” Dalhuisen affirmed.

“By supporting Libyan authorities in trapping people in Libya, without requiring the Libyan authorities to tackle the endemic abuse of refugees and migrants or to even recognise that refugees exist, said Dalhuisen, European governments have shown where their true priorities lie: namely the closure of the central Mediterranean route, with scant regard to the suffering caused.

Another EU ‘Shame’ Pact

AI’s revelation of such collusion between the European Union and Libya comes amidst a worldwide wave of denunciations against the measure adopted in 2016 by the EU member states –particularly Italy—aiming at closing off the migratory route through Libya and across the central Mediterranean.

These measures have been implemented with little care for the consequences for those trapped within Libya’s lawless borders, AI said, adding that Europe’s cooperation with Libyan actors has taken the following three-pronged approach:

Firstly, they have committed to providing technical support and assistance to the Libyan Department for Combatting Illegal Migration, which runs the detention centres where refugees and migrants are arbitrarily and indefinitely held and routinely exposed to serious human rights violations including torture.

Secondly, they have enabled the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept people at sea, by providing them with training, equipment, including boats, and technical and other assistance.

Thirdly, they have struck deals with Libyan local authorities and the leaders of tribes and armed groups – to encourage them to stop the smuggling of people and to increase border controls in the south of the country.

UNHCR teams in Libya have been responding to the urgent humanitarian needs in and around Sabratha, a city located some 80 kilometres west of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Credit: UNHCR

“Auctioned as Merchandise”

Meanwhile, after shocking images showing an auction of people were captured on video, UN human rights experts have urged the government of Libya to take immediate action to end the country’s trade in enslaved people.

“We were extremely disturbed to see the images which show migrants being auctioned as merchandise, and the evidence of markets in enslaved Africans which has since been gathered,” the UN human rights experts said in a joint statement.

It is now clear that slavery is an “outrageous reality” in Libya, they affirmed, adding that the auctions are reminiscent of “one of the darkest chapters in human history, when millions of Africans were uprooted, enslaved, trafficked and auctioned to the highest bidder.”

Slavery, Trafficking, Extortion, Rape, Torture…

The UN human rights experts also warned that migrants in Libya are “at high risk of multiple grave violations of their human rights, such as slavery, forced labour, trafficking, arbitrary and indefinite detention, exploitation and extortion, rape, torture and even being killed.”

“The enslavement of migrants derives from the situation of extreme vulnerability in which they find themselves. It is paramount that the government of Libya acts now to stop the human rights situation deteriorating further, and to bring about urgent improvements in the protection of migrants.”

The UN member states must “stop ignoring the unimaginable horrors endured by migrants in Libya, must urge countries to suspend any measures,” they urged.

AI, a global movement of more than 7 million people in over 150 countries campaigning to end human rights abuses, has also warned that the criminalisation of irregular entry under Libyan law, coupled with the absence of any legislation or practical infrastructure for the protection of asylum seekers and victims of trafficking, has resulted in “mass, arbitrary and indefinite detention becoming the primary migration management system in the country.”

The UN Migration Agency (IOM) provides lifesaving equipment to Libyan authorities as part of a wider intervention to strengthen the Government’s humanitarian capacity. Credit: UN Migration Agency

“Horrific Treatment”

Refugees and migrants intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard are sent to detention centres where they endure “horrific treatment,” AI warned.

Up to 20,000 people currently remain contained in these overcrowded, unsanitary detention centres. Migrants and refugees interviewed by Amnesty International described abuse they had been subjected to or they had witnessed, including arbitrary detention, torture, forced labour, extortion, and unlawful killings, at the hands of the authorities, traffickers, armed groups and militias alike.

Dozens of migrants and refugees interviewed described the “soul-destroying cycle of exploitation” to which collusion between guards, smugglers and the Libyan Coast Guard consigns them. Guards at the detention centres torture them to extort money, AI informs.

“If they are able to pay they are released. They can also be passed onto smugglers who can secure their departure from Libya in cooperation with the Libyan Coast Guard. Agreements between the Libyan Coast Guard and smugglers are signalled by markings on boats that allow the boats to pass through Libyan waters without interception, and the Coast Guard has also been known to escort boats out to international waters.”

Libyan Coast Guard officials are known to operate in collusion with smuggling networks and have used threats and violence against refugees and migrants on board boats in distress, AI has denounced.

IOM Moves to Relieve Plight of Migrants

Backing an African Union-European Union plan, adopted in the two blocs’ summit (29-30 November 2017 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire), IOM’s director general William Lacy Swing committed his organisation to fully support this initiative to alleviate the plight of thousands of migrants trapped in Libya.

In the wake of “shocking reports about rampant migrant abuse and squalid and overcrowded conditions across multiple detention centers” in Libya, talks at the AU-EU Summit led to a major stepping up of measures to tackle smuggling and mistreatment of migrants on the central Mediterranean migration route, which claimed 2,803 migrant lives to drowning this year alone, IOM on 1 December informed.

IOM is now rapidly scaling up its voluntary humanitarian return programme, which has brought more than 14,007 migrants back to their home countries so far in 2017.

A large-scale airlift is already underway in which IOM expects to take a further 15,000 migrants home from detention in Libya by end of the year. The establishment of a planned joint task force with all concerned parties is aimed at ensuring that the migration crisis in Libya is dealt with in a coordinated way.

“Scaling up our return programme may not serve to fully address the plight of migrants in Libya, but it is our duty to take migrants out of detention centers as a matter of absolute priority,” IOM director general Swing said.

He added that IOM intends to work with all UN partners and ensure proper coordination and prompt referral of any persons for whom return may not be suitable. These initiatives come following the IOM director general’s discussions with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, as well as with EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Federica Mogherini and UN Secretary General.


Addressing the UN Security Council, Secretary-General António Guterres highlights the need for global solidarity to tackle the security challenges in the Mediterranean.

Up to One Million Migrants Trapped in Libya

To date IOM has registered more than 400,000 migrants in Libya, and it estimates their number to be more than 700,000 to 1 million. The scaling up of the assistance will also include migrants wishing to go back home but who are not in detention centers.

“Large numbers of migrants are held in overcrowded detention centers, in conditions that fall far short of basic and humane standards. A large number of those migrants have expressed a wish to return to their countries of origin and IOM is now scaling up its air operations out of Libya to assist those men, women and children who may wish to return home.”

IOM’s initial effort will focus on 15,000 migrants, which it aims to help return and reintegrate in countries of origin before the end of the year. “This is a choice people make voluntarily, hoping for a new start at home,” said Othman Belbeisi, IOM’s chief of Mission in Libya.

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Civil Society Summit Calls for International Action on Climate Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/civil-society-summit-calls-international-action-climate-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-summit-calls-international-action-climate-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/civil-society-summit-calls-international-action-climate-migration/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 14:37:46 +0000 Megan Darby http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153489 Campaign groups meeting in Suva, Fiji, urged recognition of climate change in the global compact for migration due to be negotiated in 2018

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The riverfront in Suva, Fiji. Credit: Flickr/Michael Coghlan

By Megan Darby
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

Civil society leaders from more than 100 countries called for action on climate-induced displacement at a summit in Suva, Fiji last week.

Their declaration urges the international community to uphold the human rights of people compelled to move as a result of global warming impacts.

Climate change should be recognised as a driver of migration in the global compact due to be negotiated by countries in 2018, say the campaign groups, which include Oxfam Pacific, 350.org and Act Alliance.

Danny Sriskandarajah, head of Civicus, the network convening the meeting, talked to Climate Home News by Skype from Suva. Climate-related displacement is “marginal both to the climate change negotiations and to the human rights negotiations,” he said.

“We think there is a real gap here. We know already there are people being displaced as a result of climate change and it is only going to get worse.”

The declaration follows the Trump administration’s decision to pull the US out of the developing global compact on migration. Sriskandarajah described that as a “hugely disappointing” development, adding that he hoped it would not discourage other countries.

In the Pacific, sea level rise is already making some island communities unviable. In 2014, Vunidogoloa in Fiji moved 2 kilometres inland, the first of 30 villages earmarked for relocation. Around 1,000 residents of Taro, in the Solomon Islands, are preparing to move.

Brianna Fruean, climate campaigner from Samoa, told Climate Home News even moving short distances was a wrench for islanders. “In the western world, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing – you are moving from one neighbourhood to another – but in a Pacific context it can be heartbreaking, because we are very tied to our land, to where our ancestors are buried,” she said.

That is partly why island campaigners have pushed strongly for a global warming limit of 1.5C: beyond that, low-lying coral atolls are set to be swallowed by rising seas.

Despite the adoption of 1.5C as an aspirational target in the Paris climate agreement, islanders are reluctantly preparing for the possibility of leaving their countries altogether.

“Climate change has been working faster than our talking,” said Fruean. “It is the sad reality.”

In other parts of the world, desertification, flooding and intensifying tropical storms can be triggers for people to leave their homes either temporarily or permanently. On the whole, they do not identify as “climate refugees” or “climate migrants” and may have multiple reasons for moving.

While international law has established rules about giving asylum to victims of political persecution, there is no special status for people displaced by climate change.

New Zealand, which has longstanding relationships with a number of Pacific island states, is planning to create the world’s first humanitarian visas geared towards climate-displaced people.

Sriskandarajah welcomed the initiative, but added: “We cannot rely on ad hoc responses by certain governments; we need multilateral action that is based on rights and responsibilities.”

The “global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration” was conceived in September 2016 in a New York declaration that mentions climate change five times. The end result is expected to establish voluntary guidelines for a more humane treatment of migrants.

Dina Ionesco heads a team at the International Organization for Migration focused on the links between environmental change and migration.

While she is optimistic the global pact will acknowledge the issue, Ionesco does not see much appetite among nations to create a system for designating people as “climate migrants”. “This is extremely sensitive,” she told Climate Home News.

As in the climate negotiations, some vulnerable countries are keen to discuss the subject but most have other priorities – in this context, border management, labour and human rights.

“We are focusing on supporting states so that they can have the necessary evidence and arguments to advocate for the recognition of climatic and environmental factors as drivers of migration,” said Ionesco.


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

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Campaign groups meeting in Suva, Fiji, urged recognition of climate change in the global compact for migration due to be negotiated in 2018

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The Protracted Refugee and Migrant Crisis: A Challenge to Multilateralismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/protracted-refugee-migrant-crisis-challenge-multilateralism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protracted-refugee-migrant-crisis-challenge-multilateralism http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/protracted-refugee-migrant-crisis-challenge-multilateralism/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 10:52:47 +0000 Idriss Jazairy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153482 Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, is Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, is Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Idriss Jazairy
GENEVA, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

It is an incontrovertible fact that more people are on the move owing to globalization. Fifteen percent of the world’s population are on the move worldwide. In other words, of the world population of 7 billion, one billion are on the move. Seven hundred and forty million people are referred to as internal or as domestic migrants within their countries of origin. The number of internally displaced persons reaches about 60 million. On top of this, the world has more than 244 million international migrants who cross borders often into the unknown. Lastly, there are 22.5 million refugees – encompassing the 5.3 million Palestinian refugees – registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who have been forced to flee their home societies as a result of violence and armed conflict. The first two decades of the 21st century will go down in history as the era in which the world has witnessed the most complex and massive movement of people since the end of the Second World War.

Idriss Jazairy

Although we can conclude that global human mobility is an integral part of the Earth’s DNA, the unprecedented cohorts of people on the move has resulted in the emergence of new challenges that call for urgent attention and action. The inflow of displaced people to Europe has been exploited by a populist tidal-wave to fuel xenophobia and in particular Islamophobia. Walls and fences are being built in the North in flawed attempts to prevent displaced people from reaching their destination countries and to criminalize migrants and refugees. Although the arrival of displaced people to Europe only add up to 0.2% of Europe’s population, human solidarity and justice are being frayed by the fear of the Other.

On the eastern and southern side of the Mediterranean Sea, millions of people have sought refuge and protection. They have found shelter in countries of the Arab region as the right to free movement further to the North has been “postponed” and denied to displaced people. Lebanon – a country of approximately 4 million people – is providing protection and refuge to approximately 1 million displaced people. Jordan – neighbouring both Iraq and Syria – has accommodated around 1.2 million refugees. Although Iraq and Egypt face internal turmoil, Bagdad and Cairo are hosting about 240,000 and 120,000 people respectively. Turkey has likewise given refuge to roughly 3 million refugees, primarily Syrians. In summary, the majority of the burden in hosting and in providing assistance and protection to, displaced people is being taken up by countries in the less developed parts of the world despite the fact that they often lack adequate resources to respond to the influx of displaced people.

While rich countries in the North bicker about burden-sharing between them of inflows of migrants representing 0.2% of their global population, MENA countries provide access without blinking to inflows that may add up to 25% of their own nationals!

How can the world move forward to respond in unison to address the resulting rise of populism and the lack of social justice that prevails in our modern societies in relation to human mobility?

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land,” said the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire in response to the growing number of people who perish on a daily basis in their perilous and hazardous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea. According to IOM, the 2017 migrant death tolls in the Mediterranean has exceeded 2,950 casualties. Despite that, migrants risk their lives to seek protection. Populist and right wing extremist forces continue – in a flawed and misleading attempt to promote policies of exclusion – to depict migrants and refugees as the source of instability, although the adverse impact of globalization is mainly to blame. The campaign of fear waged against migrants and refugees is bringing back the spectre of nationalism and chauvinism that threatens international cooperation and peace over the long run.

How can this threat be overcome? We need to return to a climate in which diversity is embraced and celebrated. I often refer to the example of the United States as a shining example of a country that became one of the world’s most successful owing to the fact that it embraced and celebrated diversity in earlier times, if not currently. If contemporary nations want to repeat the successes of the United States and of other countries with strong traditions in upholding and harnessing the power of diversity, they must resort to the promotion of equal and inclusive citizenship rights for all peoples regardless of religious, cultural, ethnic, and/or national backgrounds. Societies that demonstrate respect for human dignity are the ones most likely to be winners in the long run.

Governments in the Middle East and in the West should address jointly the protracted refugee and migrant crisis in a multicultural context. The UN Global Compact for Refugees to be convened in 2018 will offer an opportunity to proceed along these lines. Enhancing international cooperation among countries in Europe and in the Arab region is indeed key to identifying a more equitable burden – and responsibility-sharing system in response to the current situation in which displaced people are restricted in the exercise of their right to seek refuge and protection.

This goal can be achieved through inter alia the allocation of resources, development aid as well as through internationally funded capacity-building programmes to raise the preparedness level for hosting large numbers of displaced people. In the words of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration Mr. Peter Sutherland – in his 2015 report:

“States must agree on how to address large crisis-related movements, not only to save people on the move from death or suffering, but also to avoid the corrosive effect that ad hoc responses have on our political institutions and the public’s trust in them.”

Identifying new approaches to promote equitable burden – and responsibility-sharing mechanisms would enable countries in Europe and in the Arab region to speak with one voice and to build coalitions on a variety of issues related to the safe and orderly movement of people in accordance with international law. The international community needs to commit to sharing responsibility for hosting displaced people more fairly and proportionately, being guided by the principles of international solidarity and justice. This is an occasion for all to recommit themselves to the lofty aims of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Global problems require global solutions. Attempts to regionalize such issues – as witnessed in many societies – are doomed to failure.

Over the long term the international community must act to eradicate the underlying causes leading to an excessive flow of destitute migrants. That means phasing out foreign military interventions, respecting sovereignty, supporting democracy and human rights through peaceful means only and joining forces to address impoverishment of the Global South as a result of climate change.

The post The Protracted Refugee and Migrant Crisis: A Challenge to Multilateralism appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, is Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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For Freedom from Poverty, Universal Health Coverage Is a Musthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/freedom-poverty-universal-health-coverage-must/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=freedom-poverty-universal-health-coverage-must http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/freedom-poverty-universal-health-coverage-must/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 07:29:14 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee and Githinji Gitahi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153471 Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya. Dr Githinji Gitahi is the Global CEO of Amref Health Africa.

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Nearly one million Kenyans are pushed below the poverty line and remain poor as a result of healthcare expenses. Credit: Paul Nevin

By Siddharth Chatterjee and Dr Githinji Gitahi
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

Today is 12 December 2017 is an auspicious day, as it marks Kenya’s independence from colonial rule in 1963. Today is also Universal Health Coverage Day. It is the anniversary of the first unanimous United Nations resolution calling for countries to provide affordable, quality health care to every person, everywhere.

In Kenya illness can mean financial ruin.

Every day families are forced to sell their assets, rely on community support or see their modest life savings wiped out by medical bills.

Ill-health is a substantial burden not only on Kenyan families, but also on the country’s economic growth. Every year, nearly one million Kenyans are pushed below the poverty line and remain poor as a result of healthcare expenses.

Out-of-pocket expenses at point of treatment in Kenya make up a third of the country’s total health expenditure, far above the World Health Organization’s suggested 15 or 20%.

Universal health coverage should be [viewed] as a rights issue,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO). “Many families are getting into poverty because they are spending their savings for health care services.”

Across the globe there is a strong correlation between high rates of out-of-pocket expenses and catastrophic and impoverishing health expenditure. It is a powerful factor in inequality of access to healthcare, often forcing the poor to forgo medical treatment. It also increases costs, because when poor people finally seek treatment it’s either too late or else complications caused by delay have worsened their condition.

Approximately four out of every five Kenyans have no access to medical insurance, so the cruel reality is that most are just an accident or illness away from destitution. Among the poorest quintile a mere 3% have health insurance, this provided by the government’s National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF). This rises to 42% of the wealthiest fifth where private cover is also more common. Additionally, there are stark disparities between rural and urban populations, where rates of coverage are an average of 12% and 27% respectively.

“Over the next 5 years, my Administration will target 100% Universal Healthcare coverage for all households”. Credit: State House

To its credit, the Kenyan government is taking steps towards reducing these inequalities. Payments for primary and maternal health services in public facilities have been abolished, resulting in increased utilization and improved outcomes, particularly among the poorest. President Uhuru Kenyatta at his inaugural speech emphasized, “Over the next 5 years, my Administration will target 100% Universal Healthcare coverage for all households”.

Devolution of health care provision to county governments should also ensure more efficient resource distribution, accountable health services and improvements in equity that will eventually help decongest the overstretched Referral Hospitals.

Recent initiatives by the NHIF–such as inclusion of outpatient care and introduction of health insurance subsidies for the poor–are helping to expand coverage beyond those in formal employment. As a result, roughly 88.4% of households with health insurance are covered through the NHIF.

But as long as 33.6% of Kenyans survive on less than US$1.90 per day, there are still millions who cannot access quality healthcare.

Affordability is not the only barrier. Lack of public awareness, high loss ratios due to fraud, and reluctance among insurers to underwrite cover for the poor are also important.

Health insurance contributes only about 13% to national health expenditure, with the balance made up of out-of-pocket expenses at point of treatment, government and tax revenues, and donor funding. Such statistics undermine Kenya’s ability to achieve universal health coverage, enshrined in Kenya’s Vision 2030 and Sustainable Development Goal 3.

There is a clear need to develop low-cost, innovative solutions for expanding insurance coverage and technology must form part of such solutions. Technology-backed automation can improve efficiency and enhance transparency, both key requirements.

Mobile money can perform faster, more transparent and targeted health payments through health e-vouchers. Technology can process claims and enable healthcare consumers and providers to interact more efficiently, while offering more customized products to people of all incomes.

Efficient storage and sharing of patient data could reduce the cost of care by, for instance, tracing false claims, preventing repeat tests, or avoiding misdiagnosis.

Technology can also offer substantial savings in administration costs, which currently swallow a staggering 40% of the NHIF’s revenue, far in excess of the industry norm of 3-4%. Effective IT systems would help to reduce this astonishing disparity, as would improved governance and transparency. A lack of analytical capacity hobbles the NHIF’s ability to forecast and respond to increasing costs, hindering strategic planning and development. Better technology can address this.

However, such innovation must be accompanied by increased efficiency in health spending, through partnerships with institutions working to improving access to healthcare for the poor, and through policy dialogue between government and other stakeholders.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta holds a new born baby when she visited Makueni County Referral Hospital during the handing over of the 30th Beyond Zero mobile clinic. Credit: State House

Ultimately, sustainability demands increased investment in preventive care and primary health. Diverting cash away from the 60% of the health budget that currently goes to curative care will pay dividends. Better primary care reduces ill-health and catches disease at an earlier stage, when treatment is cheaper and more effective. It also frees up resources to expand insurance coverage for the poor.

Launching the country’s SDG Platform with the United Nations in New York during the UN General Assembly in 2017, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Dr. Amina Mohamed remarked, “As a government we have clearly prioritized the Universal Health Coverage agenda because it is one of the ways to protect our people from the consequences of out-of-pocket health expenditure which in Kenya forms about a fifth of family spending”.

This Independence Day, let us join hands to free every Kenyan from the tyranny of poverty by achieving universal health coverage. It is the foundation for economic development and prosperity.

The post For Freedom from Poverty, Universal Health Coverage Is a Must appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya. Dr Githinji Gitahi is the Global CEO of Amref Health Africa.

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South-South Cooperation Key to a New Multilateralismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/south-south-cooperation-key-new-multilateralism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-south-cooperation-key-new-multilateralism http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/south-south-cooperation-key-new-multilateralism/#respond Mon, 04 Dec 2017 14:36:16 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153298 “There are new challenges to all states: among them, the real threat to multilateralism… South-South and triangular cooperation can contribute to a new multilateralism and drive the revitalisation of the global partnership for sustainable development.” This is how Liu Zhenmin, the UN under-secretary general for Economic and Social Affairs, underscored the importance of South-South Cooperation […]

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Mongolian farmers harvest carrots as part of an FAO South-South Cooperation Programme between China and Mongolia. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Dec 4 2017 (IPS)

“There are new challenges to all states: among them, the real threat to multilateralism… South-South and triangular cooperation can contribute to a new multilateralism and drive the revitalisation of the global partnership for sustainable development.”

This is how Liu Zhenmin, the UN under-secretary general for Economic and Social Affairs, underscored the importance of South-South Cooperation at an event marking the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation on 12 September, just few weeks ahead of the Global South-South Development Expo 2017 in Antalya, Turkey (27 to 30 November).

The statement came a few weeks ahead of US President Donald Trump’s announcement that his country was revoking its commitment to the September 2016 UN-promoted global pact that aims at guaranteeing the human rights of migrants and refugees worldwide, in what is widely considered as his third blow to multilateralism in less than one year since he took office after US withdrawal from both the Paris Climate Agreement and UNESCO.

Solutions and strategies created in the South are delivering lasting results around the world, said Amina Mohammed, the UN deputy secretary-general, on the occasion of the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation.

“Nearly every country in the global South is engaged in South-South cooperation,” she added, citing China’s Belt and Road Initiative, India’s concessional line of credit to Africa, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Strategic Association Agreement by Mexico and Chile as few examples.

The deputy UN chief, however, also cautioned that progress has been uneven and extreme poverty, deep inequality, unemployment, malnutrition and vulnerability to climate and weather-related shocks persist, and underscored the potential of South-South cooperation to tackle these challenges.

Not a Substitute for North-South Cooperation

Significantly, Amina Mohammed highlighted that the support of the North is crucial to advance sustainable development.

“South-South cooperation should not be seen as a substitute for North-South cooperation but as complementary, and we invite all countries and organizations to engage in supporting triangular cooperation initiatives,” she said, urging all developed nations to fulfil their Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitments.

A Kenya delegation discuss with Indonesia goverment official about food security in their country. Credit: FAO

She also urged strengthened collaboration to support the increasing momentum of South-South cooperation as the world implements the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Further, noting the importance of the upcoming high-level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation to be hosted by Argentina on 20-22 March 2019, she said, “It will enable us to coordinate our South-South efforts, build bridges, cement partnerships, and establish sustainable strategies for scaling up impact together.”

The UN General Assembly decided to observe this Day on 12 September annually, commemorating the adoption in 1978 of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action for Promoting and Implementing Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries.

Key to Overcoming Inequalities

At the opening of the Global South-South Development Expo 2017 in Antalya, Turkey, Fekitamoeloa Katoa Utoikamanu, the UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), on 27 November said that as the most vulnerable countries continue to face serious development challenges, South-South cooperation offers “enormous opportunities and potential” to effectively support them in accelerating progress on implementing globally agreed goals.

“These are all countries faced with complex and unique development challenges which lend themselves to exploring how and where we can maximize South-South cooperation and leverage global partnerships to support countries’ efforts toward sustainable and inclusive futures,” said Utoikamanu.

The 2017 Global Expo gathered 800 participants from 120 countries, senior UN officials, government ministers, national development agency directors, and civil society representatives, to share innovative local solutions and push for scaling up concrete initiatives from the global South to achieve the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The central promise of the 2030 Agenda is to ‘leave no-one behind,’ and thus is about addressing poverty, reducing inequality and building a sustainable future of shared prosperity,” she explained. “But it is already clear that these noble Goals will be elusive if the 91 countries my Office is a voice for remain at the bottom of the development ladder.”

As such, she added, South-South collaboration has led to increasing trade between and with emerging economies, investors, providers of development cooperation and sources of technological innovations and know-how. “This trend is confirmed by trade preferences for [least developed country products], enhanced trade finance opportunities, but also innovative infrastructure finance emerging.”

“The complex and pressing challenges the vulnerable countries experience demand that we further strengthen and leverage South-South cooperation,” said Utoikamanu, adding that South-South cooperation is “not an ‘either-or’ – it is a strategic and complementary means of action for the transfer and dissemination of technologies and innovations. It complements North-South cooperation.”

Science, Technology, Innovation

The Antalya week-long Global South-South Development Expo 2017 focused on a number of key issues, including how to transfer science, technology and innovation among developing countries and, in general, on solutions ‘for the South, by the South.’

The future will be determined by the abilities to leverage science, technology and innovation for sustainable growth, structural transformation and inclusive human and social development, said Utoikamanu. “It is proven that innovative technologies developed in the South often respond in more sustainable ways to the contextual needs of developing countries. Last, but not least, this is a question of cost.”

In all this, the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries has a major role to play in boosting science, technology and innovation capacity. “It must facilitate technology transfer and promote the integration of [least developed countries] into the global knowledge-based economy.”

Hosted by the Government of Turkey and coordinated by the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), the Antalya Global South-South Development Expo 2017’ was wrapped up on 30 November under the theme “South-South Cooperation in the Era of Economic, Social and Environmental Transformation: The Road to the 40th Anniversary of the Adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action.”

Jorge Chediek, the Director of UNOSSC, said: “Many of the achievements of the expo are not reflected in these very impressive numbers themselves, they are reflected in the partnerships that are being established, in institutional friendships and agreements that are been developed and that will certainly generate results.”


UN Day for South South Cooperation. Credit: United Nations

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Who Are Kenya’s Financially Excluded?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/kenyas-financially-excluded/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-financially-excluded http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/kenyas-financially-excluded/#respond Mon, 20 Nov 2017 17:17:23 +0000 William Cook http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153103 William Cook, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), World Bank

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Credit: Francis Minien, 2013 CGAP Photo Contest

By William Cook
WASHINGTON DC, Nov 20 2017 (IPS)

The recent 2017 Finscope Tanzania report shows that while mobile money use in Tanzania continues to grow, the percentage of financially excluded adults has risen in parallel — from 27 percent in 2013 to 28 percent in 2017.

After a decade of significant declines in financial exclusion, these new numbers raise the question of whether the strongest mobile money markets, such as those in East Africa, might be reaching a plateau in financial access.

Perhaps the best bellwether is Kenya, where over 70 percent of adults have mobile money accounts. With a majority of people connected to mobile money, Kenya’s financial services and development organizations have increasingly refocused their efforts away from financial access and toward improving account use.

This move is perhaps not without good reason. As more people gain access to mobile money, the question of how it can be used to improve the lives of the poor becomes more critical.

The development of products like digital investment, credit and savings are essential for moving low-income customers from basic transaction accounts to services that meet financial inclusion’s broader promise of lifting people out of poverty.

But what about those people who are still outside the bounds of financial services today?

Based on the 2016 FinAccess survey, 17 percent of Kenyan adults remain fully excluded — meaning they do not have a bank account, use another formal product like mobile money, or even use an informal mechanism like a savings collective.

In a country where over 90 percent of the financially excluded population is aware of mobile money, where 67 percent live within walking distance of an access point, and where trust, financial literacy and comfort with technology do not rate as barriers to obtaining an account, why do these people remain outside the financial system?

FinAccess data provide some basic demographic answers to this question. Compared to the included population, Kenya’s financially excluded are more likely to be:

• Rural (80 percent)
• Older (38 percent are over the age of 45)
• Female (55 percent)
• Poor (42 percent are in the lowest wealth quintile)
• Informally employed or dependent (81 percent)
• Lacking formal education (37 percent have no formal education at all)
• Living in a female-headed household (twice as likely as financially included people)

Already with these data points, a picture begins to form of a population segment that may not have enough money to make financial services worthwhile. Other parts of the survey bolster this hypothesis.

Ninety-four percent of financially excluded FinAccess survey respondents cite lack of funds as a primary reason for not having an account, and 67 percent say they live easily without formal services. A Kenyan in the bottom wealth quintile is seven times more likely to be excluded than a top earner. Ultimately, wealth is a better predictor of financial exclusion than location, gender, marital status or age.

And yet there is one characteristic that easily beats out wealth: education.

A Kenyan with no formal education is 26 times more likely to be financially excluded than someone at the top of the education ladder. Education in this sense does not refer to technological know-how or financial training, but formal primary, secondary and university education.

It may seem surprising that education would weigh more heavily than any other factor in determining the use of financial services, but perhaps it should not. Education often defines livelihood, livelihood defines wealth and wealth, in many cases, defines the need for today’s digital financial services.

These findings imply that expanding access to the last remaining excluded users in countries like Kenya and Tanzania will not be as easy as erecting more cell towers or designing a smoother user experience.

Today’s exclusion might not be easily fixed by companies scaling their current financial products in response to customer demand. As best as we can tell, if you aren’t using mobile money in Kenya today, there is a good chance it is because you have little money to manage and believe the product does not dramatically improve your life.

So when it comes to expanding financial access, what can the financial inclusion community do right now alongside long-term efforts to improve access to quality education and boost incomes? The excluded population represents millions of people in these markets, and it is difficult to generalize about their financial needs. But given the insights above, a few more nuanced questions can be asked to better focus our efforts:

• Are there excluded people near a tipping point, who need only slightly better incentives to start using today’s financial services? How can we make today’s products more attractive for them? CGAP research on topics like merchant payments is attempting to answer this question.

• What portion of the excluded population might be covered by government-to-person (G2P) programs, and will these programs provide access to comprehensive financial services? G2P programs may offer a way to connect people who do not have the means to make more traditional services worthwhile to the financial system. However, the channels governments use to deliver many of today’s support payments are viewed by recipients as cash disbursement mechanisms more than financial products. Graduating the products offered through these channels to more comprehensive financial services solutions should also be a part of the conversation.

• For people who neither receive government payments nor have the resources to make today’s financial services worthwhile, what services are necessary to make financial inclusion more appealing? This is the group that David Ferrand of FSD Kenya refers to as the “missing middle” for financial access. How can markets innovate to not just bring existing products closer to the excluded, but adapt those products to make them more relevant for the excluded?

Mobile money has provided an essential on-ramp to financial services for portions of the developing world, especially those in East Africa. We must continue building on these platforms to help lift people out of poverty.

But as we do this, it is important to realize that today’s products will not work for everyone. Achieving financial inclusion in the years ahead will require not only applying and building on existing products, but also continuing to innovate to better meet the needs of the excluded.

The post Who Are Kenya’s Financially Excluded? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

William Cook, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), World Bank

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Beyond Piketty: on income inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/beyond-piketty-income-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-piketty-income-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/beyond-piketty-income-inequality/#comments Mon, 20 Nov 2017 08:58:28 +0000 Varsha Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153092 Varsha S. Kulkarni is Research Affiliate of the Harvard Institute of Quantitative Social Science, Cambridge, MA, U.S. and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, England.

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Varsha S. Kulkarni is Research Affiliate of the Harvard Institute of Quantitative Social Science, Cambridge, MA, U.S. and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, England.

By Varsha S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
New Delhi, Nov 20 2017 (IPS)

Have demonetisation and the GST aggravated income inequality?

With the Gujarat State elections barely a few weeks away, the debate on the Indian economy has become increasingly polarised. While the official view of demonetisation unleashed in November 2016 elevates it to a moral and ethical imperative, the chaos caused by the goods and services tax (GST) launched on July 1, 2017, is dismissed as a short-run transitional hiccup. Both policies, it is asserted, are guaranteed to yield long-term benefits, unmindful of large-scale hardships, loss of livelihoods, closure of small and medium enterprises and slowdown of agriculture. Critics of course reject these claims lock, stock and barrel. Lack of robust evidence is as much a problem for the official proponents of these policies as it is for the critics. Hence the debate continues unabated with frequent hostile overtones.

Varsha S. Kulkarni

Tracking income inequality

Beneath the debate are deep questions of inequality and its association with poverty. Thomas Piketty produced a monumental treatise, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, demonstrating that rising income inequality is a by-product of growth in the developed world. More recently, Lucas Chancel and Piketty (2017), in ‘Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?’, offer a rich and unique description of evolution of income inequality in terms of income shares and incomes in the bottom 50%, the middle 40% and top 10% (as well as top 1%, 0.1%, and 0.001%), combining household survey data, tax returns and other specialised surveys.

Some of the principal findings are: one, the share of national income accruing to the top 1% income earners is now at its highest level since the launch of the Indian Income Tax Act in 1922. The top 1% of earners captured less than 21% of total income in the late 1930s, before dropping to 6% in the early 1980s and rising to 22% today. Two, over the 1951-1980 period, the bottom 50% captured 28% of total growth and incomes of this group grew faster than the average, while the top 0.1% incomes decreased. Three, over the 1980-2014 period, the situation was reversed; the top 0.1% of earners captured a higher share of total growth than the bottom 50% (12% v. 11%), while the top 1% received a higher share of total growth than the middle 40% (29% v. 23%).

Raghav Gaiha

True to its modest objective, it offers a rich and insightful description of how income distribution, especially in the upper tail, and inequality have evolved.

Sharp reduction in the top marginal tax rate, and transition to a more pro-business environment had a positive impact on top incomes, in line with rent-seeking behaviour.

India’s wealth gain

According to Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 2017, the number of millionaires in India is expected to reach 3,72,000 while the total household income is likely to grow by 7.5% annually to touch $7.1 trillion by 2022. Since 2000, wealth in India has grown at 9.2% per annum, faster than the global average of 6% even after taking into account population growth of 2.2% annually. However, not everyone has shared the rapid growth of wealth.

Our research, based on the India Human Development Survey 2005-12, focusses on a detailed disaggregation of income inequality, along the lines of Chancel and Piketty, recognising that incomes in the upper tail are under-reported; and examines the links between poverty and income inequality, especially in the upper tail, state affluence, and prices of cereals.

Our analysis points to a rise in income inequality. A high Gini coefficient of per capita income distribution, a widely used measure of income inequality, in 2005 became higher in 2012. The share of the bottom 50% fell while those of the top 5% and top 1% rose. The gap between the share of the top 1% and the bottom 50% narrowed considerably.

More glaring is the disparity in ratios of per capita income of the top 1% and bottom 50%. The ratio shot up from 27 in 2005 to 39 in 2012. Far more glaring is the disparity in the highest incomes in these percentiles. The ratio of highest income in the top 1% to that of the bottom 50% nearly doubled, from a high of 175 to 346.

All poverty indices including the head-count ratio fell but slightly.

Poverty and inequality

Higher incomes reduced poverty substantially. Inequality measured in terms of share of income of the top 10% increased poverty sharply but only in the more affluent States. Somewhat surprisingly, higher cereal prices did not have a significant positive effect on poverty. Similar results are obtained if the share of the top 10% is replaced with the Gini coefficient as a measure of inequality.

It is plausible that poverty reduction slowed in 2016-17 because of deceleration of income growth; and huge shocks of demonetisation and the GST to the informal sector have aggravated income inequality. Indeed, depending on the magnitudes of these shocks, poverty could have risen during this period.

In sum, regardless of the longer-term outlook and presumed but dubious benefits of the policy shocks, the immiseration of large segments of the Indian population was avoidable.

This opinion editorial was first published in The Hindu

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Excerpt:

Varsha S. Kulkarni is Research Affiliate of the Harvard Institute of Quantitative Social Science, Cambridge, MA, U.S. and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, England.

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Rejoicing in the Other and Celebrating Diversity Are Needed More than Ever to Address the Root-Causes of Intolerancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/rejoicing-celebrating-diversity-needed-ever-address-root-causes-intolerance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rejoicing-celebrating-diversity-needed-ever-address-root-causes-intolerance http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/rejoicing-celebrating-diversity-needed-ever-address-root-causes-intolerance/#respond Thu, 16 Nov 2017 17:39:19 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153069 The Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim deplored the rise of xenophobia, bigotry and marginalization – targeting refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons – that is taking effect in many regions of the world. In his statement issued in relation to […]

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By Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim
GENEVA, Nov 16 2017 (IPS)

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim deplored the rise of xenophobia, bigotry and marginalization – targeting refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons – that is taking effect in many regions of the world.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

In his statement issued in relation to the observation of the 2017 International Day for Tolerance, the Geneva Centre’s Chairman remarked that people in conflict zones or in areas affected by climate change are left with no other option than to flee their home societies owing to the rise of violent extremism and the adverse impact of armed conflict. Dr. Al Qassim said:

“Meanwhile, populist movements and right-wing parties seek to legitimize their political ideologies through hate rhetoric, bigotry and stereotyping of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.

“Exclusion and marginalization of displaced people – as witnessed in several countries – exacerbate xenophobia, bigotry and racism. Differences related to cultures and to religions are presented as obstacles and as being damaging to modern societies. This explains the rise of social exclusion which leaves the impression that cultural diversity is a threat, and not a source of richness,” stated the Chairman of the Geneva Centre.

Dr. Al Qassim called upon societies both in the Arab region and in the West to stand united in addressing simultaneously the rise of violent extremism and of populism. He also appealed to global decision-makers to step up their efforts to create a climate that is conducive to respecting the dignity of all communities and to the achievement of peace and stability in regions affected by conflict and violence.

“Changing people’s narratives and managing diversity is key to facilitating a successful integration process of displaced people in host societies and to overcome the worrying trend of a toxic discourse against the ‘Other’ that is gaining ground in many societies around the world.

“We need to intensify dialogue between and within societies, civilizations and cultures. We need to learn more about one another and to break down the walls of ignorance and prejudice that have insulated societies,”
highlighted Dr. Al. Qassim.

Against this background, he added the Geneva Centre is in the process of arranging a World Conference entitled “Religions, Creeds and/or Other Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights.” This event – Dr. Al Qassim noted – will be convened at the United Nations Office in Geneva in June 2018 and will bring together leaders from the world’s main religions whether spiritual or lay.

“The ambition of this conference is to chart a more inclusive understanding and forward-looking discussion in addressing religious intolerance and in the pursuit of equal citizenship rights. This will obviate the need for diverse segments of a native population to fall back on sub-identities heretofore referred to as ‘minorities’.

“The World Conference will become an opportunity to harness the collective energy of religious and lay leaders to capitalize on the convergence between religious faiths, beliefs and value systems to respond with a unified voice to the sweeping rise of intolerance affecting the world.

“In moments where the fear of the stranger has become the norm in many societies, rejoicing in the Other and celebrating diversity are needed more than ever to address the root-causes of intolerance worldwide,” concluded Dr. Al Qassim.

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Emerging Markets at Risk Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/emerging-markets-risk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-markets-risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/emerging-markets-risk/#respond Wed, 08 Nov 2017 06:59:41 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152932 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Very rarely are the root causes of economic crises and vulnerability addressed. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 8 2017 (IPS)

Emerging market governments often draw lessons from previous financial crises – or at least claim to do so – to prevent their recurrence. However, such preventive measures are typically designed to address the causes of the last crisis, not the next one. Hence, some measures adopted may inadvertently become new sources of instability and crisis.

Very rarely are the root causes of crises and vulnerability addressed. In their efforts to prove themselves as worthy emerging markets, they tend to be pro-active in joining the financial globalization bandwagon. But premature financial liberalization – with hasty integration into the international financial system, typically without adequate prudential multilateral mechanisms for speedy and orderly resolution of external liquidity and debt crises – can be very dangerous and costly.

Future currency crises different
Many governments claim to have learnt from the 1997-1998 Asian financial crises and the 2007-2009 global financial crisis. But while measures implemented may be effective in preventing recurrence, they may be inappropriate, inadequate or worse, even counterproductive with changing, deepening financial integration.

After mid-1997, Southeast Asian governments abandoned their informal currency pegs after incurring high costs trying to defend them. Moving to flexible exchange rates ended ‘one-way (sure-win) bets’ for some speculators, while entailing disruptive currency devaluations.

Since the crises, banking regulation and supervision have undoubtedly improved, e.g., reducing currency and maturity mismatches in bank balance sheets. However, in this day and age, stable exchange rates can no longer be ensured with unregulated capital mobility.

In fact, currency crises can occur with either fixed or flexible exchange rates. With flexible rates, inflows cause currency appreciations, encouraging even more inflows, which will inevitably be reversed, often quite abruptly.

Capital inflows into securities markets are far more important today than banks intermediating cross-border capital flows in the 1990s. Corporate bond issues have also grown much faster than international bank lending, whether directly or through local intermediaries. Yet, such measures have not prevented credit and asset price bubbles.

Emerging markets have further liberalized foreign direct investment (FDI) regimes and encouraged foreign participation in equity markets, presuming that equity liabilities are less risky than external debt. Hence, foreign shares of market capitalization have reached unprecedented levels, much higher than in the US. With emerging markets more susceptible, a little foreign investment can ‘make (emerging) markets’, causing large price swings.

Currency mismatches
East Asian authorities have also reduced currency mismatches in their own balance sheets and exchange rate risk exposure by opening domestic bond markets to foreigners and borrowing in their own currencies. Consequently, sovereign debt is now much more exposed to foreign creditors than in reserve currency countries.

Much higher shares of most emerging market sovereign bonds are held by foreigners, usually privately, rather than by central banks. In contrast, most of Japan’s very high sovereign debt is held by Japanese creditors while around a third of US Treasury bonds are held by non-residents.

Encouraging foreign participation in sovereign bond markets has helped pass currency risk to creditors, but also reduced autonomy over long-term rates and increased exposure to interest rate shocks from abroad, e.g., when the US Fed raises interest rates again.

Greater capital account liberalization besides encouraging domestic corporations to borrow from and invest abroad have resulted in massive debt accumulation in low interest rate reserve currencies, especially with recent ‘unconventional’ monetary policies. Thus, reducing sovereign debt currency mismatches has been offset by increased private corporate fragility due to greater exchange rate risks.

Regulatory constraints on resident individuals and institutional investors purchasing foreign securities and real estate have also been relaxed. Capital account liberalization has enabled resident capital outflows claiming these will ‘balance’ foreign inflows. But such private accumulation of foreign assets will not be available to national authorities in case of panicky capital flight.

Hence, national currencies are especially vulnerable when the capital account is open and foreign control of domestic financial assets is significant. As experience has shown, macro-financial volatility may suddenly precipitate massive outflows.

Self-insurance delusion
Since the turn of the century, emerging markets have been seeking ‘self-insurance’ in managing external balances by accumulating ‘adequate’ international reserves from trade surpluses and capital inflows. Hence, foreign reserves in most East Asian countries are often enough to meet conventional external liabilities, but not enough to cope with massive reversals of foreign portfolio investments and capital flight by residents.

Despite the crises of the last two decades, emerging markets’ capital accounts are much freer now than then. Asset markets and currencies of all East Asian emerging markets with ‘enough’ foreign reserves have nevertheless been shaken several times in the past decade.

But such short-lived instability episodes did not cause severe damage as they only involved temporary shifts in market sentiments. Nevertheless, they hint at likely threats when ‘quantitative easing’ in the North could be reversed soon.

As ‘self-insurance’ is probably insufficient to cope with massive capital flight, the usual option is to ‘seek help’ from the IMF and reserve-currency countries. Another involves ‘bailing in’ international creditors and investors using foreign exchange controls, temporary ‘debt standstills’ and other measures to protect jobs and the economy.

But such unilateral measures may be difficult and costly due to resistance from creditor country governments, acting at the behest of the powerful financial interests involved.

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Excerpt:

Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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