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Peggy Antrobus

The Human Development Report (HDR) 1996, of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), concludes that globalisation benefits only a few, makes many worse off, and generates tremendous inequities. It also contradicts the conventional wisdom that economic growth has been benefiting most of the world's people. Instead, over the past three decades, only 15 countries have enjoyed high growth whilst 89 countries are worse off economically than they were ten or more years ago. In 70 developing countries, today's income levels are less than in the 1960s and 1970s. And in 19 of them (including Ghana, Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan), per capita income is less than in 1960 or before.

"Economic gains have benefited greatly a few countries, at the expense of many," says the report. The cliche that the poor get poorer and the rich richer, is well backed up with facts. In the past three decades, 1.6 billion people were left behind or became poorer. "And the very rich are getting richer." The assets of the world's 368 billionaires exceed the combined annual incomes of countries accounting for nearly half (45%) of the world's people.

Using data from Forbes magazine's annual survey of the world's richest people, Keegan shows that Microsoft owner Bill Gates tops the list with personal wealth of US$18 billion, "enough to purchase half a dozen poor countries". Others on the list are US businessman Warren Buffet (US$15 billion), Roche company owner Paul Sacher, Asian businessmen Lee Shau Kee, Tsai Wan Lin and Li Ka Shing, and Microsoft co-owner Paul Allen.

As the HDR 1996 reveals, the world's total economic income is US$23 trillion, of which only $5 trillion (or 22%) goes to developing countries, although they house almost 80% of the world's population.

And the North-South gap is worsening. Between 1960 and 1991, the richest 20% of the world's people increased their share of total global income from 70% to 85%. The poorest 20% had their share fall from 2.3% to a minuscule 1.4%.

In 1991, more than 85% of the world's population received only 15% of global income.

UNDP chief, Gus Speth, concludes that the world has become more economically polarised, and "if present trends continue, disparities between industrial and developing nations will move from inequitable to inhuman."

The following conclusions emerge from the report:

  • There is high inequality between and within nations, and it is growing fast;
  • There is not necessarily a trade-off between equity and growth. Both can and should go together;
  • Governments can do much more to promote growth with equity, and equity with growth;
  • To do so, there should be higher government expenditure on social services, as well as better quality in this expenditure;
  • However there are disturbing signs at the national level that there is lower social expenditure in many countries due to debt and structural adjustment.
  • Even in better-off countries, the moves towards privatisation and increased health and education fees (to "recover costs") could reduce people's access to social services.

The workshop also concluded that at international level, globalisation is accompanied by polarisation between rich and poor, as well as marginalisation of the poor.

These trends are likely to get worse with the future workings of the world trade system under the World Trade Organisation, as strong countries are able to take advantage of liberalisation whilst the weaker countries may be threatened by cheaper imports and by more efficient foreign companies.

According to the 1997 Human Development Report, nearly a quarter of the world's population still live in severe poverty, including 1.3 billion who survive on less than a dollar a day.

The report denounces the state of affairs as "a scandal". South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa were the worst, with about 40 percent of the population considered poor, it says.

"The report blames the situation on "shameful inequalities and inexcusable failures of national and international policy". But it offers some hope, backed by charts, statistics and case histories, "that poverty is no longer inevitable".

The organisation designed its 1997 Human Development Report as a reminder to world leaders of their responsibilities and their promise made at the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen to work toward the goal of eradicating poverty.

"This is not wooly idealism but a practical and achievable goal," the report says. "Figures giving a regional breakdown at the end of this century show South Asia as the area most affected by poverty. The regions of South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific alone have 950 million of the world's 1.3 billion poor people. This compares with 220 million people in - and the fastest growth in - human poverty".

The report predicts that by the year 2000, 50 per cent of all people in sub-Sahara will live in poverty. Latin America and the Caribbean have 110 million affected by poverty, while Eastern Europe and the old Soviet States "have seen the greatest deterioration in the past decade".

The industrial world, despite its wealth, still has about 100 million people living below the poverty levels including 37 million jobless.

The reports of the FAO relating to the 1996 World Food Summit used a figure of 800 million for the numbers of people estimated to be starving. The 1997 figures of 1.3 billion show that numbers are 6.25 per cent higher.

Human Development Report 1996, of the United Nations Development Programme

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