3 February 2006

Background Release

Commission for Social Development to Focus on Poverty Eradication in Session at Headquarters, 8 - 17 February

NEW YORK, 2 February (UN Headquarters) -- The Commission for Social Development will review the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty at its forty-fourth session, to be held at Headquarters from 8 to 17 February.

In December 1995, the General Assembly proclaimed the First United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006), whose theme is "Eradicating poverty is an ethical, social, political and economic imperative of humankind."

Poverty eradication is a cornerstone of the Organization's comprehensive development agenda that emerged from the major United Nations conferences and summits since the 1990s, Secretary-General Kofi Annan recalls in his December 2005 report to the Commission. He notes that despite good progress in some regions that strongly suggests that the target of halving poverty will be achieved by 2015, progress is weak and falling short of what is needed, especially in the poorest countries.

Against that backdrop, the Commission will focus on key developments during the Decade, continuing obstacles and challenges, as well as consider recommendations for the way forward. During its eight-day session, which will include several panel discussions, it will also review relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups, particularly older and disabled persons.

On 8 February, the Commission will hear a keynote address by Clare Short, former Secretary of State for International Development of the United Kingdom.

A new feature this year will be a presentation on a project undertaken by the United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development entitled "Tackling Poverty Together: The Role of Young People in Poverty Reduction", the objective of which is to engage and support young people in efforts to eradicate poverty, with a regional focus on Africa.


The report of the Secretary-General on the review of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006) (document E/CN.5/2006/3) focuses on key developments during the Decade, including the strengthened commitment to poverty eradication at the national and international levels, the evolution of strategies for poverty eradication, the enhanced coordination within the United Nations system to support the efforts of Member States and the obstacles and challenges that still face development partners in their fight against poverty around the world. It concludes with a set of recommendations for consideration by the Commission.

During the Decade, there has been a progressive broadening of the definition and measurement of poverty, from using income as a yardstick, to a definition that encompasses other dimensions of poverty, such as access to health services and education. More recently, that definition has been further expanded to embrace concerns about risk and vulnerability, social exclusion, powerlessness and lack of voice or representation.  Another major development during the Decade has been the strenuous efforts to ensure better coordination of action at the intergovernmental level and within the United Nations system.

Progress in poverty eradication over the Decade has been mixed, states the report. At the global level, the proportion of poor people living on less than one dollar a day in developing countries declined from 27.9 to 21.3 per cent between 1990 and 2001, a transition of roughly 118 million persons out of extreme poverty. If current trends are maintained, the goal is likely to be achieved at the global level in 2015, and the number of people living in extreme poverty would just fall below 735 million by 2015, from about 1.22 billion in 1990.

However, this global picture masks important disparities at the regional level, continues the report.  Global poverty reduction has been driven by the success of East Asia and the Pacific and South Asia, who are on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal target of halving extreme poverty at the national level by 2015. China, in fact, has already achieved the poverty reduction target: the number of people living in extreme poverty there fell from 377 million to 212 million between 1990 and 2001, or from 33 per cent to 16.6 per cent of the population.  All other regions have experienced setbacks since 1990.

Some countries are at severe risk of falling short of the goal.  Sub-Saharan Africa is the least likely to achieve the income poverty target, having made no progress in reducing the incidence of poverty in the 1990s. In sub-Saharan Africa, if current trends continue unchanged, only eight countries are projected to halve extreme poverty by 2015. The incidence of poverty is much lower in Latin America and the Caribbean, but progress in further reducing poverty has been slow. In Europe and Central Asia, poverty rates rose in the 1990s.

The mixed results in achieving poverty reduction demonstrate the fact that many countries continue to face deep-rooted obstacles and challenges in that regard. Sustained pro-poor economic growth is a necessary condition for accelerated poverty reduction and sustained human development, but the average per capita income growth in developing countries in the 1990s was 1.5 per cent per annum. The rate of progress in poverty reduction depends also on the distribution of income and the share of the poor in economic growth at any level. The higher the level of income inequality, the less impact economic growth has in reducing poverty at any given rate of growth.  There is evidence there has been rising inequality within countries over the past two decades. This implies that the share of national income going to the poorest has fallen over the period.

Gender inequality is also a major barrier to reducing income poverty, according to the report.  Women have less access to paid employment than men in most of the developing world. Women in Southern Asia, Western Asia and Northern Africa still hold only about 20 per cent of paying jobs in sectors outside of agriculture. There is still a deep division between rural and urban communities. Poverty rates are higher and there is less access to services in rural communities. Successful poverty reduction demands attention to promoting and supporting rural development.

HIV/AIDS, adds the report, is another major factor affecting poverty and has had a particularly devastating impact on sub-Saharan Africa, where average life expectancy declined from 50 years in 1990 to 46 years in 2002. Also, armed conflicts tend to reinforce poverty and need to be addressed and resolved before there can be any hope of eradicating absolute poverty.  Although recent years witnessed a marked reduction in the number of conflicts, from 51 in 1991 to 29 in 2003, the duration of current conflicts is longer, and the impact of these longer periods of conflict on human development is severe.

The Commission, recommends the report, may wish to urge all countries with extreme poverty to make every effort to adopt by 2006, and begin to implement, a national development strategy to halve extreme poverty by 2015, as well as ensure that policies and programmes designed to achieve poverty eradication include specific measures to foster social integration, including by providing marginalized socio-economic sectors and groups with equal access to opportunities.

It may also wish to urge countries to adopt full, productive and decent employment as a central objective of national and international macroeconomic policies; fully integrate this objective into poverty reduction strategies, including, where they exist, Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers; and encourage countries to set time-bound goals and targets for expanding employment and reducing unemployment, including national action plans for youth employment.


The Secretary-General's report on modalities for the review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (document E/CN.5/2006/2) suggests possible arrangements for the first cycle of the review and appraisal at the national, regional and international levels. In the Madrid Plan, adopted by the Second World Assembly on Ageing in 2002, delegations noted that systematic review of its implementation by Member States is essential for achieving success in improving the quality of life of older persons, and requested that the modalities of review and appraisal should be decided as soon as possible.

The bottom-up approach and the participation and flexibility it affords are the principal characteristics of the review and appraisal of the Plan, which were elaborated by the Commission. Some of the major advantages of the participatory approach include gathering information directly from older persons -- the primary stakeholders in the implementation of the Madrid Plan of Action, discovering emerging issues quickly and giving regular feedback to stakeholders as a basis for making necessary adjustments to existing policies and programmes.

The limitations of participatory assessment include the complexity of the process, the difficulties in assuring the continuing availability of core stakeholders originating from the same community, and the availability of sufficient expertise to analyse and process information. At the same time, it is the approach that directly responds to the participatory thrust of the Madrid Plan of Action, which promotes participation of older persons in decision-making processes at all levels.

The report states that it is necessary to have an established national mechanism on ageing, which would have overall responsibility for the implementation, monitoring and appraisal of national action on ageing. The Commission may wish to request those Member States that have not done so to establish their national mechanisms for the implementation of the Plan at the national level and inform the United Nations Secretariat accordingly to facilitate international cooperation and the exchange of information and good practices.

The bottom-up approach envisages that the findings of national reviews and appraisals will be consolidated at the regional level through the United Nations regional commissions. This exercise will be undertaken in connection with the review and appraisal of regional implementation strategies for the Madrid Plan of Action.

The participatory review and appraisal should be viewed as an ongoing process that will occasionally report to regional and global levels.  While the review and appraisal exercise is not time-bound, it is important to set the target year for consolidating the findings at the global level.  The target year of 2007 is important, as it marks five years since the Second World Assembly on Ageing was convened and, since there has not been a regional or a global review on ageing since 1997, it would also close a 10-year gap in assessing the situation of the world's older persons and international action on ageing.

At the same time, however, a great deal of preparatory work remains to be done, at all levels, to make the bottom-up participatory review and appraisal meaningful. Therefore, a series of activities is proposed, highlighted by a global review of the world ageing situation during the Commission's forty-fifth session in 2007 and a global review and appraisal of the implementation of the Plan during its forty-sixth session in 2008.

The Commission may wish to endorse the proposed calendar for the first cycle of review and appraisal of the Madrid Plan of Action. It may also wish to invite Governments to undertake an initial identification of actions they have taken since the Second World Assembly on Ageing, with the aim of presenting this information to the Commission at its forty-fifth session in 2007. Also, it may wish to request the Secretary-General to submit to its forty-fifth session, a report on major developments in the area of ageing since the Second World Assembly, which could include short contributions by the regional commissions.

In addition, the Commission may wish to recommend that the format of the concluding event include, along with a plenary debate, a series of panel discussions and parallel events related to the theme of the first review and appraisal cycle. Therefore, it is suggested that the Commission consider the following theme for the first review and appraisal cycle of the implementation of the Madrid Plan of Action:  "Adjusting to an ageing world".

Disabled Persons

Also before the Commission is a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the third report of the Commission's Special Rapporteur on Disability, Sheikha Hessa Al-Thani (Qatar), on monitoring of the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (document E/CN.5/2006/4). The first part of the report deals with the results of the first comprehensive global survey to assess Governments' moral and political commitment to the implementation of the Standard Rules since their unanimous adoption by the General Assembly in 1993. The survey differs from previous ones by targeting all Member States and two disabled persons' organizations in each country, and by addressing each of the Standard Rules separately.

The second part of the report deals with the activities and achievements of the past year.  All of the achievements to date, states the report, constitute only a small dent in the huge task that needs to be accomplished. Making true progress towards an enabling world requires efforts at every level -- international, regional, national, communal and familial. Despite the commitment shown by Member States to the promotion and protection of the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities and to the equalization of opportunities for full participation, most have not matched their political commitment with a financial one. All Member States are encouraged to make contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Disability in order to continue the valuable work of promoting and advancing the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Work of Commission

In addition, delegations have before them a note by the Secretariat on future organization and methods of work of the Commission (document E/CN.5/2006/5), which presents some background on the review of the methods of work of the Commission, an overview of the modalities of the review and policy sessions, and a proposal for the 2007-2008 substantive theme. In 2005, the Economic and Social Council decided that the Commission, beginning with its forty-fifth session in 2007, would be organized in a series of two-year action-oriented implementation cycles that would include a review segment and a policy segment, following the work cycle of the Commission for Sustainable Development.

The Council also decided that the theme for the high-level segment of its 2006 substantive session would be "Creating an environment at the national and international levels conducive to generating full and productive employment and decent work for all, and its impact on sustainable development". As it is felt that the Commission would have an excellent opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the Council on the subject of employment, it is proposed that "Promoting full employment" be considered as the theme for the 2007-2008 cycle.

Overview of Commission

Established in 1946, the Commission is a functional body of the Economic and Social Council. Its 46 members are elected for terms of office of four years on the following basis: 12 from African States; 10 from Asian States; five from Eastern European States; nine from Latin American and Caribbean States; and 10 from Western European and Other States. As a result of the World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen, 1995), the mandate of the Commission was reviewed and its membership expanded from 31 to 46 members in 1996.

The Commission has been the key United Nations body in charge of the follow-up and implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action. Each year since 1995, the Commission has taken up key social development themes as part of its follow-up.  Past themes have been: review of the Social Summit; social services for all; social integration and participation of all; productive employment and sustainable livelihoods; eradicating poverty and enhancing social protection; reducing vulnerability in a globalizing world; integrating social and economic policy; national and international cooperation for social development; and improving public sector effectiveness.

Commission Membership

The current members of the Commission with their terms of expiry are:  Angola (2009), Argentina (2007), Bangladesh (2009), Bolivia (2009), Central African Republic (2007), Chile (2008), China (2009), Côte d'Ivoire (2008), Czech Republic (2009), Democratic People's Republic of Korea (2009), Dominican Republic (2007), Democratic Republic of the Congo (2009), Ethiopia (2008), Finland (2009), France (2008), Germany (2008), Haiti (2008), India (2007), Indonesia (2008), Iran (2007), Italy (2009), Japan (2008), Libya (2007), Mali (2008), Malta (2007), Monaco (2009), Myanmar (2009), Netherlands (2009), Pakistan (2007), Paraguay (2009), Peru (2008), Republic of Korea (2008), Republic of Moldova (2008), Romania (2007), Russian Federation (2008), Spain (2007), Senegal (2007), South Africa (2009), Suriname (2007), Tunisia (2008), Turkey (2007), Ukraine (2009), United Republic of Tanzania (2009), United States (2008), Venezuela (2009) and Zambia (2007).

Additional information on the session is available at: .

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