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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Wed May 24 18:44:47 2000
Date: Sat, 8 Apr 2000 23:25:41 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: DEVELOPMENT-LATAM: Social Exclusion Grows Despite Reduced Poverty
Article: 93258
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Social Exclusion Grows Despite Reduced Poverty

By Gustavo Gonzalez, IPS, 7 April 2000

SANTIAGO, Apr 7 (IPS) - Latin America is experiencing a rise in social and economic disparities even in the countries that have reduced poverty, warned the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank in the Chilean capital Friday.

Experts from both organisations presented the book Social Exclusion and Poverty in Latin America at the UNDP Santiago headquarters. The work is the result of research in several countries co-ordinated by the Latin American School of Social Sciences (FLACSO) based in Costa Rica.

This is perhaps the first systematic study of social exclusion to be performed in the region, a concept that goes beyond exclusively economic criteria in measuring poverty because it incorporates social, political and cultural dimensions in a quantitative as well as qualitative viewpoint.

The book is part of an effort to build a rigorous conceptual framework about social exclusion and methods for reducing the problem, while providing elements for formulating policies in the area, indicated Estanislao Gacitla, a World Bank researcher.

Gacitla, a Chilean expert, edited the book with Costa Rican Carlos Sojo, who emphasised that Latin America is suffering from social stagnation while possibilities for the poorest sectors to improve their situation are disappearing.

The researchers gathered information on various manifestations of this process in several countries and in specific sectors, according to the texts presented by Myrna Alexander, World Bank director for Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, and Thierry Lemarsquier, the UNDP representative in Chile.

The book covers, in general terms, economic, political and legal- institutional factors that contribute to and intensify social differences in Latin America, and offers case studies of the principal categories of exclusion.

Sojo explained that there are three clearly established social exclusion levels: gender (related to the situation of women), ethnic-racial (primarily affecting indigenous peoples and blacks in Latin America), and age (especially young people).

Norman Hicks, a poverty specialist at the World Bank, said statistics for Argentina and Colombia in recent years show a continuous increase in salaries for professionals but a constant declines in salaries for unskilled workers.

Hicks pointed out that, according to 1998 data, there are 175 million Latin Americans living below the poverty line - the equivalent of 36 percent of the region's total population. Fifteen percent live in extreme poverty.

He added that 53 percent of the rural population is poor and that 59 percent of all people living in extreme poverty are found in rural areas. Poverty afflicts 80 percent of the 30 million indigenous peoples of Latin American.

Latin America's black population has an illiteracy rate of 14 percent, in contrast to the five percent rate among whites. Poverty among black families is twice the general average.

The inequality index, which measures the disparity between the richest and poorest sectors of the population, is 49.3 percent in the region, one of the highest in the world, according to the World Bank expert.

Latin America currently has the highest violence rates in the world, with exponential growth in homicides since the 1980s, Hicks said.

The number-one problem for the poor is unemployment, and there is an evident link between the lack of work, violence, drug use and alcoholism, according to a World Bank study of 26 countries, five of them in Latin America.

The poor in general do not trust politicians, believe governments are corrupt, and see the Roman Catholic Church as the most effective institution in dealing with their problems, says the report.

The poor population wants expanded services in water, electricity, transportation, irrigation, roads and especially health, as illness implies deeper problems because it leads to unemployment and loss of income.

The UNDP/World Bank book proposes that to reduce social exclusion Latin America must create employment, improve basic services, reduce health risks, fight corruption and, above all, ensure that the solutions reach the most vulnerable groups.

Also present at the book's presentation was Chile's assistant Interior minister, Carolina Toh, who in 1999 participated in the research on the social exclusion of young people.