United Nations, 9 October 2003
And Distinguished Delegates
First of all, let me commend the Department of Economic and Social Affairs for the comprehensive report of the Secretary-General, document 58/179, on “Implementation of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006)” and the Programme of Action for the International Year of Microcredit, 2005.
The first part of the report has addressed a number of issues that are fundamental for effective poverty reduction and has also highlighted the divergence in the level of development in various parts of the world. The second part of the report has stressed the relevance and importance of microcredit in enhancing the ability of people living in poverty to increase incomes and eventually improve their quality of life. Most significantly, the report incorporated a well worked out draft programme of action for the observance of the International Year of Microcredit in 2005.
Poverty is the main scourge facing the humanity. It is more so for the world’s most vulnerable countries, the Least Developed. The Brussels Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010 (BPoA) has reaffirmed the collective responsibility of the international community to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity while making substantial progress towards poverty eradication as the overarching issue. The poverty trend in the least developed countries could be reversed, if the commitments made by the LDCs and its development partners are fully and effectively implemented.
The Brussels Programme is closely linked to the values, principles and objectives of the Millennium Declaration. The global campaign that was launched by the Secretary-General to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has incorporated addressing the needs of LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS as key targets. The Millennium Declaration’s goals for development and poverty eradication will not make much headway toward their achievement, if the LDCs are not supported to perform better. Here, I would particularly underscore the need for the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) to take into account the essential elements of social development that are crucial for effective and sustainable eradication of poverty.
The Brussels Programme rightly recognizes the pivotal role of rural development for the LDCs since 70 percent of their population of 700 million lives in rural areas. These rural dwellers are mostly small farmers who produce on the brink of survival, or landless people trying to sell their labour. Microcredit programmes effectively mobilize savings and delivers financial services to the poor, including small holders and self employed, particularly women. Accordingly, the Brussels Programme identifies microcredit as a relevant and powerful engine for employment creation, poverty eradication and reduction of gender inequality. Commitment 7, in particular, of the Programme specifically points out the effectiveness and importance of this financial mechanism as a tool for poverty eradication.
It is an indisputable fact that a gender equality perspective will facilitate attaining the poverty goal of reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 from 29 percent to 14.5 percent.
The nine year global campaign launched by the Microcredit Summit in Washington D.C. in 1997 through the Plan of Action is to reach 100 million of the world’s poorest families, especially women, with credit for self-employment and other financial and business services by the year 2005. I would like to mention that the recent UNDP Human Development Report of 2003 has pointed out that “the number of people with access to microcredit schemes has risen from 7.6 million in 1997 to 26.8 million in 2001 – 21 million of them are women, enabling them to control assets, make economic decisions and assume control of their lives.” A shining example of women’s empowerment through microcredit is that of the programmes of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, 95 per cent of whose beneficiaries are women. Today, more than one thousand rural branches serve more than half of the villages in that country. Besides providing credit to those who lack physical collateral, the Bank's programmes are designed to achieve social goals such as raising living standards and improving women's status in society.
The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) programme in the least developed countries needs to be commended particularly in poverty eradication through microcredit development. In the last few years, there is an increasing demand from the least developed countries seeking to enhance support from the UNCDF for microcredit development in their countries. In this regard, increasing donor support is crucial to promote UNCDF microcredit programmes in the LDCs.
I would also strongly support adequate resources for the just-established World Solidarity Fund whose focus would also be the least developed countries.
According to the recent UN estimates of the 41 LDCs for which data are available, 15 recorded a fall in per capita GDP in 2002. In the same year, in 2002, only seven LDCs, five less than in 2001, achieved growth in their per capita GDP exceeding 3 per cent or more. While their share in world exports and imports stood at only 0.42 per cent of total world trade in 2000, the official financial flows have declined. These figures show the enormous challenge ahead for the LDCs.
The UN Millennium Development Goals indicators, which find reflection in the Brussels Programme, will be a daunting challenge for the LDCs to meet, specifically that of reducing poverty by half by 2015 unless relevant efforts are enhanced both from within these countries as well as from the entire international community.
More than 700 million people live in the 49 – 50 with Timor-Leste joining end of this year - least developed countries. The Office of the High Representative stands fully behind the microcredit campaign and we are looking forward to see the campaign making headway in the LDCs. The Office will be working with the relevant entities of the United Nations, civil society organizations and the private sector to make the International Year of Microcredit in 2005 a success. The Asia-Pacific Regional Microcredit Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh next February will be an important first step in that direction, along with other elements proposed in the report of the Secretary-General.
It has been rightly stated “Microcredit is foreign aid that works”. Investment in microcredit programmes must be expanded and the international community must make sure that these resources are used to reach the very poor. Without a concerted effort by the international community to reach the poorest of the poor, they will remain locked in the downward spiral of poverty.
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