811 Million People Facing Hunger, Commission Chair Warns, as Food and Agriculture Organization Says Informal Economy Workers Hardest Hit
With the pandemic worsening the plight of those already experiencing multi‑dimensional poverty, and pushing many more people into food insecurity and immiseration, countries must urgently strengthen social protections to ensure an inclusive recovery, United Nations officials emphasized today, as the Commission for Social Development opened its sixtieth session.
Overcoming the inequalities laid bare by the pandemic calls for vigorous public action combining the intensity of a short-term response with long-term goals, said María del Carmen Squeff (Argentina), Commission Chair. In an impassioned address, which she commenced with a quote from a comic panel featuring the character Mafalda created by the Argentinian cartoonist Quino, she questioned why the world is going from one year to the next, without having resolved any of its problems, including poverty, hunger, and inequality. “Tonight, there are people who have nothing to eat,” she stressed.
The session’s priority theme — “Strengthening multilateralism to deliver well-being and dignity for all by addressing food insecurity and the eradication of poverty, including through the promotion of sustainable food systems” — squarely addresses such concerns, she continued. Citing a figure from a report on food security by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), she said 811 million people do not know what they will eat today, pointing out that pandemic recovery is taking place at “two different paces, with many left behind”. Recalling the Secretary-General’s recent statement about vaccination rates being seven times higher in wealthier countries than in less wealthy nations, she asked: “Are we aware of the catastrophic consequences of such gaps in a post-pandemic world?”
She called for all countries to act with great urgency to bring about an inclusive, resilient and transformative recovery that responds to exacerbated structural inequalities. “If you dream alone, you are alone in your dream; if you dream with others, you make history,” she said.
Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, in a pre‑recorded video message, said that, as the world enters the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with mingled frustration around the omicron variant, and hope that the end is approaching, it is important to consider the lessons learned by the crisis, which can be applied to the post-COVID era. Noting that the pandemic has greatly impacted sustainable development, with 600 million people close to extreme poverty, and 3 billion people unable to afford a healthy diet, he stressed: “These are startling numbers.”
He called for an integration of the Sustainable Development Goals into plans for building back better “to ensure we do not simply recreate the systems and institutions we had before”. This can be accomplished through a greater investment and sharing of technologies, resources and capacities; by prioritizing universal access to basic services and infrastructure, especially around education, nutrition and health care; investing in a “green and blue” recovery, and setting up strong social protections to reach the groups that have been left furthest behind.
Echoing these points, Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council, which oversees the Commission, said the pandemic has severely hampered implementation of Sustainable Development Goals on poverty and hunger. Developing countries, especially in Africa, are being left behind, with slower economic growth and highly unequal access to the vaccines and the financial resources to support their recovery. The annual theme of the Economic and Social Council and the high-level political forum on sustainable development is precisely about “Building back better from the coronavirus disease while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Describing the Commission as the home for pursuing Goal 10 on reducing inequality, he said the subsidiary body can help the Council and the political forum to develop innovative, evidence-based and impactful policy guidance on recovering better from COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a pre-recorded video message, stressed the need for recovery strategies to address inequality, poverty, hunger and food insecurity, among others. Social policies are at the heart of such strategies. The Secretary-General, in his Our Common Agenda report, called for renewing the social contract to ensure equal opportunities, economic security and well-being of all. He has proposed to hold a World Social Summit in 2025, building on the 1995 World Summit for Social Development. The Commission’s deliberations can serve as the springboard to the 2025 Summit that will re-energize efforts to accelerate progress in achieving the Goals.
Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, noted that the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated multiple forms of deprivation. The world is not on track to meet the most fundamental Goal of eradicating extreme poverty, he said, adding: “The prospect of global recovery is darkened by the uneven access to vaccines.” Without decisive action, the number of people living in extreme poverty is expected to reach 600 million, or 7 per cent of the world’s population, by 2030. Highlighting the critical role of social policies amid COVID-19, particularly to protect vulnerable people — including children and older persons, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and people living in rural areas — he stressed the importance of universal access to social protection, to enhance economic and food security during times of crisis. “From December 2020 to May 2021, total spending on social protection rose by almost 270 per cent, reaching $2.9 trillion,” he pointed out.
Maria Fornella-Oehninger and Monica Jahangir-Chowdhury, Co-Chairs of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee on Social Development, pointing out that the pandemic pushed hundreds of millions of individuals and families into poverty and hunger, on top of the 1.3 billion people already living in multidimensional poverty, quoted an activist living in poverty, who said: “Poverty is being treated like cattle; you have no dignity and no identity.” The pandemic has revealed the extent to which the old social contract holding societies together has been broken, they said, outlining recommendations for a renewed social contract from their Civil Society Declaration, drafted by the Committee on Non‑Governmental Organizations, another Council subsidiary body. The recommendations include investment in national social protection floors; the establishment of a Global Fund for Social Protection to provide capacity to least developed countries; ensuring that persons living in poverty are equal before the law; the scaling up of climate resilience across food systems; and promoting early and life-long education.
Lynrose Jane D. Genon, Youth Representative from the Philippines, in a pre‑recorded address, described the pandemic’s impact on her country’s job market and poverty, citing the rise of the unemployment rate to 17.6 per cent in April 2020 from 5 per cent before the crisis. In May 2021, the unemployment rate was 7.7 per cent, and the youth unemployment rate was 14.5 per cent, implying that 1.12 million young Filipinos were unemployed. Underscoring access to education, she noted that one fifth of Filipino elementary and high school students failed to enrol for academic year 2020-2021 and will likely miss enrolment again due to the pandemic. She called for steps to be taken to address the digital divide. Girls are at an ever-greater risk of falling out of school due to increasing care work at home, she said, calling for investment in young people as leaders and in local youth-led initiatives, as well as more inclusive and gender-sensitive social protection systems.
In other business, the Commission elected by acclamation Hellen Chifwaila (Zambia), Guo Jiakun (China) and Iwona Lula (Poland) as Vice-Chairs, with Ms. Chifwaila also serving as Rapporteur. The Commission also adopted its provisional agenda (document E/CN.5/2022/1) and work programme contained in Annex I of the same document.
Daniela Bas, Director, Division for Inclusive Social Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced Secretary-General’s reports titled “Social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development” (document E/CN.5/2022/2); “Inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 for sustainable livelihoods, well-being and dignity for all: eradicating poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions to achieve the 2030 Agenda” (document E/CN.5/2022/3); “Implementation of the objectives of the International Year of the Family and its follow-up processes (document A/77/61-E/2022/4); and “Preliminary assessment of the fourth review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, 2002” (document E/CN.5/2022/4).
A note by the Secretariat on “National policies and measures implemented by Member States to combat hunger and poverty in times of the coronavirus disease pandemic and beyond: challenges to get on track towards the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda” (document E/CN.5/2022/5) was also introduced.
In the afternoon, the Commission held a high-level panel discussion on the session’s priority theme.
The Commission for Social Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 February, to continue its sixtieth session.
In the afternoon, the Commission held, via video-teleconference, a high‑level panel discussion on the priority theme “Inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 for sustainable livelihoods, well-being and dignity for all: eradicating poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions to achieve the 2030 Agenda”.
Moderated by Commission Chair Maria del Carmen Squeff, the discussion featured a keynote speech by Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as well as presentations by: María Juliana Ruíz Sandoval, First Lady of Colombia; Matías Lestani, Vice-Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Argentina; Abdullah Hadda, Director of Programming and Social Development, Ministry of National Solidarity, the Family and the Status of Women of Algeria; Mikiko Otani, Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child; and Maryann Broxton, Co-Director of the Multidimensional Aspects of Poverty Research, ATD Fourth World, United States.
Ms. DEL CARMEN SQUEFF, in opening remarks, stressed the need to learn lessons from the sorrows and suffering of victims of the pandemic and achieve a different world by overcoming poverty and hunger, among other challenges.
Mr. QU said the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the world into a global crisis never seen before. However, many of the drivers of poverty and hunger existed before the pandemic. While each is unique, their interaction creates multiple, compounding effects, especially in low- and middle-income countries, which face the highest levels of food insecurity and malnutrition. In addition, income inequalities, made worse by the pandemic, increase the negative impact of these drivers on food insecurity. Hardest hit are workers in the informal economy, whose income was most affected by public health measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus. Strong international cooperation and solidarity will be essential to ensure an equitable economic recovery. Already, 3 billion people around the world cannot afford a healthy diet. FAO estimates that an additional 1 billion people are at risk of not affording a healthy diet if a further shock were to reduce their incomes by one third. “These risks are unacceptable in a world that produces enough food to feed its entire population”, he emphasized.
Rebuilding from the pandemic will require increased and targeted investments in rural development, he continued. Agrifood systems should be transformed to become more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable. Investing in agriculture — especially in family farming and small-scale food production — allows rural people to benefit from land and labour, which are their two main assets. Investments in the agrifood sectors are therefore key to reducing poverty and achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is critical to implement policy reforms that provide incentives for the private sector to support agrifood system transformation and rural development. Noting that FAO hosts the recently established coordination hub for follow up to the 2021 United Nations Food System Summit, helping countries implement their national pathways towards agrifood system transformation, he said the coming years offer an opportunity to speed implementation of the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31 in 20 priority programme areas.
Ms. SANDOVAL called for collective action and innovative measures to overcome food insecurity in Latin America, emphasizing that two years have already passed since the pandemic grounded the world to a halt. Colombia’s President placed food security at the centre of development programmes, and while the country has achieved significant results, major challenges remain. Food security is not simply a question of hunger; it is a social problem. The national food basket programme has helped 4 million people through the provision of 68 million meals. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, “we did not lose sight of our common cause for fighting hunger”, she said. Colombia also launched a plan to address malnutrition in boys and girls under the age of five and achieved a 39 per cent drop in the number of children who die due to the lack of nutrition. “We cannot just call for action, we have to move from the talk to the walk,” she stressed, noting that such work requires teamwork.
Mr. LESTANI said it is vital to produce more and better food sustainably, while establishing mechanisms that ensure physical, social and economic access to them. The agro-bio industry is part of the solution to food insecurity. It is essential that multilateral negotiations advance steadily, respecting principles widely recognized as “common but differentiated responsibilities”. To build back better, innovations and new technologies should be used to increase the sustainable production of food — in short, “produce more with less”. For several years, Argentina has been working to achieve that goal, based on a robust system of science and technology, and it has gained international recognition in biotechnology, organic production, animal welfare and satellite technology. Argentina is enacting a wide range of policies aimed at the sustainable and inclusive increase of food production, including a draft bill that promotes the agro-bio industry. In addition, the “In Our Hands” programme supports rural development projects for women and indigenous families, while the “Argentina Plan against Hunger”, supported by FAO, aims to ensure food security for all Argentines, especially the most vulnerable.
Mr. HADDA, pointing to Algeria’s development model adopted 60 years ago, said the country is committed to realizing social justice, equality and fundamental freedom for all. Within its social policy, Algeria allocates sizable budgets to support the most vulnerable. Algeria was not spared the grave consequences of COVID-19, but neither has it waned in its efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, he said, noting that its work to eradicate poverty began in 2000 with the help of international organizations. The country opted to provide social security for all in 1983. In 2020, the Government launched specialized programmes to meet acute development needs, including in countryside and mountainous regions, with 5,000 activities financed and 5,500 posts created to support these projects. During the pandemic, the Government provided free COVID‑19 vaccines and medical treatment, as well as financial support to businesses, and it allowed informal sector laborers to receive State benefits, thus integrating them into the formal sector.
Ms. OTANI said the Committee on the Rights of the Child country reviews should be used more actively as opportunities to address developed countries’ obligation to provide international cooperation. The needs of developing countries for international cooperation to ensure children’s rights should be integrated into the assistance provided by United Nations agencies, as well as into the bilateral assistance provided by donor countries. The mainstreaming of children’s rights should be established as a clear policy to support minors as a distinct group, he said, also calling for the integration of child rights perspectives into all areas of United Nations decision-making, policies and programmes, with child participation as a core principle. It is encouraging that the Secretary-General decided to develop a guidance note on child rights mainstreaming, as this will strengthen child rights mainstreaming across the Organization.
Ms. BROXTON examined the meaning of “dignity for all”, stating that dignity means rights for all, with no discrimination, regardless of social or economic status, or legal recognition as a person. Through the lens of dignity, eradicating hunger is more than just ensuring sustenance. A dignity lens sees food as cultural, having religious ties. Dignity recognizes personal choice over the foods people want to eat, not simply those they can access. Stressing that inequities are the direct result of policy, institutional practices and power imbalances, she said the lens of dignity helps to see beyond the macro and focus on the personal, shifting emphasis from monetary measures to multidimensional ones. People directly impacted by poverty are no longer seen only as recipients of charity, but as equals in decision-making. Dignity cannot simply be the latest “buzzword”. It is imperative to work from a more developed concept, including in United Nations documents and resolutions, which starts by following the lead of people on the ground, in the communities most directly impacted by poverty.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates asked questions and highlighted various efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable, with the representative of Brazil noting his country quickly implemented a large income‑transfer programme during the main peak of the pandemic. Emergency aid was delivered in record time, with $50 billion distributed to 69 million people in need.
The representative of Bolivia said that, at the United Nations Food Systems Summit, his country emphasized the importance of family agriculture and stressed that greater cooperation is needed to eradicate poverty and hunger, in particular through South-South cooperation. Developing countries have used their resources to combat the pandemic, but must never slacken in allocating budget to education.
The representative of Portugal asked the panellists to share some of the best practices for strengthening international cooperation in fast, inclusive pandemic recovery efforts.
The representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, asked about the role of children in breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, while the representative of Italy stressed the need to educate youth on public finances, such as social security and pensions, seeking a response from the panelists about ways to create sustainable welfare systems that prevent young people from falling into poverty.
The representative of Morocco said the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals is an opportunity to redouble efforts to meet the 2030 Agenda, but also a moment to reflect on lessons learned from the pandemic. Morocco’s inclusive human development programme was ranked among the world’s top three by the World Bank.
Two young people representing civil society also spoke, posing questions about guaranteeing equitable access to essential services, such as education, the Internet and decent work, and how young people can contribute to preparations for the 2025 Social Summit.
Ms. SANDOVAL responded that the new generation must come forward with innovative solutions, but pointed to a lack of legal structures that allow them to do so. Transparency is important so that people are confident about their giving to social causes, she added.
Ms. BROXTON said everything comes down to participation, regardless of age and social status. Everyone’s view matters, she stressed.
Ms. OTANI replied that children should be identified as important members of society. They are described as vulnerable, but they are indeed agents of change, she said, pointing out that the Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that children must be heard on any matters that affect them. The first step is to invite children into decision-making processes. Participation of youth and children’s groups that do not have accreditation with the Economic and Social Council should be supported technically and financially.
- The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release SOC/4897 of 17 February 2021.