ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMISSION FOR ASIA AND THE PACIFIC
EMERGING ISSUES AND DEVELOPMENTS AT THE REGIONAL LEVEL:
SOCIO-ECONOMIC MEASURES TO ALLEVIATE POVERTY IN RURAL AND URBAN AREAS
(Item 7 (c) of the provisional agenda)
REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON SOCIO-ECONOMIC MEASURES TO ALLEVIATE POVERTY IN RURAL AND URBAN AREAS ON ITS SECOND SESSION
1. The Committee expressed appreciation of the quality of the documentation for the agenda item and endorsed its recommendations.
2. The Committee recommended that a comprehensive assessment of the impact of social safety net programmes should be immediately undertaken in the countries of the ESCAP region affected by the recent economic crisis and trend towards economic globalization, with a view to generating factual and analytical bases for improving the performance of current social safety net programmes and guiding the formulation of such programmes in the future.
3. The Committee, after noting that improvements had been made in social safety net programmes in many countries in the region, recommended that in the formulation of future programmes governments should (a) further strengthen the organization and functioning of agencies and programmes implementing social safety nets; (b) further refine targeting to ensure that all disadvantaged and vulnerable groups are included; and (c) further streamline and simplify the delivery procedures of social services to ensure that services reach their intended beneficiaries on time.
4. Recognizing the vastness and complexity of the long-term poverty problem and the severity of the adverse impacts of short-term crises, the Committee recommended redoubling government efforts to mobilize people's participation, including the participation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector, in decision-making and policy formulation for social safety net programmes.
5. The Committee recommended that, in formulating social safety net programmes, a greater role should be given to public works and related employment-oriented schemes and measures, especially in rural areas, in order to enhance social and physical infrastructure and productivity while achieving welfare objectives.
6. Emphasizing the importance of self-help and capacity-building for sustained poverty alleviation, particularly for participation in the implementation of social safety net programmes at the grass-roots level, the Committee recommended the adoption of a human resources development (HRD) focus in all social safety net programmes to further improve the productive capabilities and quality of life of the poor, especially the weak and vulnerable.
7. The Committee recommended that population, health and education programmes should be integral parts of social development programmes intended to alleviate poverty.
8. The Committee reaffirmed the recommendation that the pace of decentralization of public administration in all countries in the region should be accelerated, not only to bring governments and people closer, but also to ensure that social safety net programmes would meet the needs and preferences of their prospective beneficiaries.
9. Stressing the practical impossibility of implementing any meaningful social safety net programme without appropriate financial support, the Committee recommended the substantial expansion of the resource base for social safety net programmes in order to ensure that all adversely affected groups are given adequate assistance and support in times of crisis.
10. The Committee expressed support for the ESCAP initiatives in evaluating various programmes in the region aimed at improving the livelihood and welfare conditions of various disadvantaged and vulnerable social groups in the region affected by the economic crisis. It also recommended that ESCAP, in collaboration with other United Nations bodies and agencies, other international organizations, NGOs and the private sector, should continue to assist governments in their efforts to alleviate poverty and to implement national social safety net programmes, including in the implementation of the recommendations listed in the present document.
11. The Committee recommended that social safety nets should be the foundation of long-term poverty alleviation.
12. The Committee recommended that ESCAP should continue to promote social safety nets by intensifying coordination between central governments, local governments, international organizations and civil society.
13. The Committee stressed that, in order to succeed, social safety net programmes should use partnerships as their delivery mechanism. The minimum set of partners should include the household, the community, local government and funding organizations.
14. The Committee recognized that there was a need to reform the institutional framework in order to increase efficiency in the management of welfare funds.
15.The Committee recommended that the descriptions of the implementation of projects contained in secretariat documents should be transparent and presented with clarity.
16. The Committee recommended that evaluation should be an integral part of all projects and that the evaluation practices of the secretariat should be strengthened.
17. The Committee urged the secretariat to cooperate more closely with the Asian Development Bank to formulate and implement activities in the area of poverty alleviation.
18. The Committee requested that the secretariat should undertake regular reviews of the usefulness of regional advisory services and should report back on the outcome of such reviews to the Committee.
19. The Committee reiterated the request of the Commission concerning the review of publications and requested that the secretariat should continuously review publications in order that more resources could be transferred to operational activities, such as group training.
20. The Committee requested that, in future, documents on the major accomplishments of the subprogrammes on poverty alleviation should be more analytical, focusing on the degree of usefulness to all stakeholders of outputs of ESCAP projects.
21. The Committee endorsed the proposed draft medium-term plan for the period 2002-2005 as contained in document E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/5, with changes.
22. The Committee had before it documents E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/1 and E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/2, entitled "Social safety nets in the ESCAP region: progress and problems" and "Safety nets at the community level" respectively. It noted that although there had been signs of economic recovery in many countries of the region, the social effects of the crisis still needed to be addressed and that social safety nets were an important tool for that purpose. It noted that the primary issues involved in the concept of social safety nets were coverage, support services, benefits provided and time frame. It observed that each country might provide its own definition of social safety net to reflect its specific national circumstances and that the term might encompass poverty alleviation programmes in addition to short-term adjustment measures, and that support services, benefits provided and time frames might vary accordingly.
23. The Committee heard individual reports of the experiences of countries in the formulation and implementation of national poverty eradication programmes, including improvements in the status of their poor people brought about by social safety net programmes. In view of the differences among countries in levels of socio-economic development, the Committee noted that countries were at different stages in the installation and execution of social safety net programmes, with most already far along the stage of execution, but a few still at the initial stages of installation.
24. The Committee stressed that social safety nets should be part of long-term poverty alleviation efforts and should be seen as a social investment. However, that might require changes to the institutional framework, in particular to those institutions responsible for social support and welfare.
25. The Committee noted the innovative approaches of some social safety net programmes in individual countries (Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, and Thailand). Those approaches included the clear identification of target, such as the destitute, women (particularly widows), orphans, schoolchildren, older persons and other marginalized groups, and the unambiguous description of the channels through which assistance had been given, for example, the schools for children, NGOs working with the poor, directly to the rural poor, and through the initiative of the poor themselves. That approach decisively improved the targeting and delivery of social services. Another innovative approach had been the design of ingenious ways to engender a sense of urgency among those implementing programmes in order to circumvent bureaucratic red tape and cut through the myriad interests that tended to paralyse government instrumentalities at different sectoral and administrative levels. That particular innovation had dramatically enhanced the delivery system.
26. The Committee acknowledged that the countries of the region had indeed succeeded in substantially eradicating poverty among their people, not only through various anti-poverty programmes, including social safety net programmes, but more importantly through the initiatives and actions of people themselves. It noted, however, that even in the most successful of the countries much work remained to be done.
27. The Committee emphasized that different situations might require different types of social safety net. In particular, it was recognized that short- and long-term safety nets served different, complementary objectives. However, it was also recognized that social safety net programmes should generally be linked to income-generating activities.
28. The Committee appreciated the quantitative information that had been provided by some individual countries on the results of the operation of their social safety net programmes, including the effects of those programmes on specific target groups. The Committee noted that the data helped fill a gap in the information available to it and should contribute to the accumulation of factual information that was indispensable to policy-making for the improvement of social safety net programmes in the future.
29. The Committee noted that in many countries population and reproductive health programmes had been incorporated in social development programmes aimed at reducing the incidence of poverty. Such programmes had contributed to poverty alleviation by reducing population growth rates in poor areas, reducing infant and maternal mortality rates and increasing life expectation.
30. The Committee particularly acknowledged the multisectoral approach that many countries had adopted in their poverty eradication work, mobilizing NGOs, governments, and international organizations. It noted that the synergy of resources had produced results that could not have been achieved through isolated individual work. It expressed the hope that that close collaboration would continue in the future.
31. The Committee noted the important contribution that international organizations, local governments, NGOs, the private sector and other sectors of civil society, including communities, community-based organizations and individual households, could make in the planning and implementation of anti-crisis programmes. Projects conceived with the joint participation of government and non-governmental agencies known for their ability to get the job done were considered to have a better chance of being implemented than those planned without external participation. The Committee agreed that the implementation of such projects was also faster when support for them was broad-based.
32. The Committee emphasized the importance of capacity-building through human resources development, particularly in the context of social safety net programmes to alleviate poverty. Human resources development services, including employment creation and job placement, education and health services, were identified as core elements of developmental approaches to social safety net programmes. The Committee held the view that such human resources development services would contribute to strengthening the self-help capabilities of the poor, especially at the community level, thus leading to the empowerment of communities as well as the promotion of participatory development at the grass-roots level. It was stressed that the adoption of an HRD focus in social safety net programmes would promote the participation of a greater number of citizens in productive activities, which in turn would lead to a reduction in poverty.
33. Representatives of some countries noted the importance of the use of science and technology to improve both agricultural and industrial productivity in rural areas. Increased productivity was a key to generating employment and enhancing the standard of living in rural areas. Rural enterprises, particularly micro- and medium-scale enterprises, were an important means of poverty alleviation.
34. The Committee emphasized the importance of efficient administration and effective management of all anti-poverty programmes, including social safety net programmes. It observed that, in the implementation of social safety net programmes, decentralization brought service agencies closer to their target groups and made the planning and delivery of services more consistent with the needs and preferences of the communities served. It therefore urged that decentralization should be initiated in places where ways of enhancing governance were being explored, and accelerated in countries where it was ongoing.
35. As we entered the new millennium, the Committee felt that greater emphasis needed to be placed on the use of science and technology, including space technology, in evolving social safety nets, particularly in the fields of disaster mitigation, distance learning and sustained empowerment of people through increased and easier access to information, education and communication.
36. The Committee agreed that every effort should be made to ensure that adequate financial resources were mobilized for funding social safety net programmes. Noting that adequate financial resources were required to ensure that meaningful social safety net programmes could be carried out, it concluded that there was a need to increase government social safety net budgets. The Committee noted that there were three ways of increasing the allocation of money for social safety net programmes: (a) divert budgetary expenditure away from less pressing concerns (national defense, for example) to social services; (b) enhance the efficiency of the tax collection machinery; and (c) mobilize support from the international community in the form of either increased official development assistance or new "soft" social safety net loans.
37. The Committee reviewed the implementation of the programme of work, 1998-1999, as contained in documents E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/3 and E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/4, and noted that the secretariat had not proposed any changes to the approved programme of work, 2000-2001, as contained in document E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/4. It discussed at length the proposed draft medium-term plan for the period 2002-2005 as contained in document E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/5. The Committee endorsed the proposed draft medium-term plan, with changes, but offered several comments on it, noted below in paragraph 53.
38. The Committee commended the secretariat for the reports on the implementation of its programme of work but emphasized a number of ways in which the secretariat could increase the understanding of member states through improved reporting. It requested that, in future, documents on the major accomplishments of the subprogrammes on poverty alleviation should be more analytical, focusing on how useful the outputs of ESCAP projects would be to all stakeholders.
39. The Committee stressed that the descriptions of the implementation of projects contained in the documents should have been more transparent and presented with greater clarity. It requested that, in future, the secretariat should prepare more transparent reports indicating which countries had participated in projects and what the outputs and the impact on the intended beneficiaries had been.
40. The Committee also emphasized that evaluation should be an integral part of all projects and that the evaluation practices of the secretariat should be strengthened. Programmes of work should be based in future on the needs of member countries and evaluations of the effectiveness and impact of past activities.
41. The Committee also stressed that feedback from interested member states, particularly from members benefiting from specific ESCAP activities, was important for improving the review of work implementation.
42. The Committee stated that document E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/4 containing the proposed changes to the programme of work, 2000-2001, should have indicated how the objectives and activities of that biennium would differ from those of the current biennium. If a reduction in the number of publications to be prepared was planned, that information should have been presented. It would have been useful if the countries and subregions intended as participants in group training activities had been indicated. The secretariat was requested to furnish that information on countries and subregions, after consultation with members of ESCAP, in the form of an information document to be submitted to the Commission at its fifty-sixth session, to be held in 2000. It requested the secretariat to lift the current page restriction on reports for that purpose.
43. The Committee observed that the causes of poverty and the approaches to alleviating poverty were becoming more complex. There was therefore a need to put in place appropriate social safety nets, which needed to be judged keeping that complexity in view. It urged the secretariat to formulate and implement new, unique and innovative projects and initiatives to alleviate poverty and design effective social safety nets. It also urged the secretariat to explore new methods and sources of funding.
44. The Committee noted that extrabudgetary resources for executing ESCAP activities had been declining. In that regard, it welcomed the recent announcement by the Asian Development Bank that it would focus its future activities on achieving the objective of poverty alleviation. The Committee urged the secretariat to cooperate more closely with the Asian Development Bank to formulate and implement activities in the area of poverty alleviation.
45. The Committee requested the secretariat to ensure full coordination among those divisions working on interrelated issues in the development of the programme of work and the medium-term plan. Such coordination would prevent duplication of work in the ESCAP secretariat.
46. The Committee requested the secretariat to give more details of the scope and purpose of the regional advisory services in the programme of work. In addition, the names of specific countries that would be recipients of such advisory services should be indicated. The Committee further requested the secretariat to undertake regular reviews of the usefulness of the advisory services and to report the outcome of such reviews to the Committee on Socio-economic Measures to Alleviate Poverty in Rural and Urban Areas.
47. The Committee reiterated the request of the Commission concerning the review of publications and requested the secretariat to undertake a continuous review of publications for the purpose of transferring more resources to operational activities, such as group training.
48. The Committee welcomed the initiatives of the secretariat to mobilize extrabudgetary resources from multilateral and bilateral sources for a meeting of experts and representatives of civil society to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the impact of social safety net programmes in the countries of the ESCAP region affected by the recent economic crisis. It agreed that such an initiative was likely to generate very useful factual and analytical bases for improving the performance of current social safety net programmes and to provide guidelines for the formulation of such programmes in the future.
49. The Committee requested the secretariat to focus on the delivery of the training modules developed for the ESCAP HRD Series on Training for Development through the conduct of training courses. The secretariat confirmed that human resources development training courses were already being implemented at the regional, subregional and national levels. It further indicated that the training of national personnel for capacity-building purposes would continue to be a priority area under the human resources development work programme.
50. The representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized that the fruits of economic growth should be equitably distributed. He believed that that could be best be done by ploughing the surpluses generated by growth into improving the health of the poor. He also urged that health should be included as one of the sectors in the coming bienniums, as the determinants of health and poverty were practically the same. ESCAP should conduct health studies on weak and vulnerable groups in the context of social safety nets.
51. The secretariat informed the Committee that intersectoral health concerns were being addressed under the social development and human resources development programmes. More specifically, a regional programme on promoting the human resources development of young people through integrated approaches to youth health, focusing on reproductive health, substance abuse and HIV/AIDS prevention, had been included in the programme of work for 2000-2001, as well as the medium-term plan for the period 2002-2005, as mandated by the Second Asia-Pacific Intergovernmental Meeting on Human Resources Development for Youth, held at Bangkok in June 1998. One representative requested information on the extent of cooperation between ESCAP and WHO on health-related activities. The secretariat informed the Committee that ESCAP had cooperated with WHO, as well as with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in the development of a project profile for the above-mentioned regional human resources development programme to promote integrated approaches to youth health.
52. The Committee requested the secretariat to review the high-level meeting proposed as a follow-up to the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) with a view to determining whether there was still a need for such a meeting.
53. In the document E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/5 containing the proposed draft medium-term plan for the period 2002-2005, the Committee recommended that paragraph 12(e) should be moved to follow immediately paragraph 12(b). It further recommended that paragraph 12(f) be revised to read: "To improve the processing, management, communication and dissemination of population and rural and urban development data and information, with a view to promoting advocacy and affirmative action within civil society and formulating effective poverty alleviation policies;".
54. No other matters were proposed by the Committee under this agenda item.
55. The Committee adopted the report on 3 December 1999.
A. Opening, duration and organization of the session
56. The Committee on Socio-economic Measures to Alleviate Poverty in Rural and Urban Areas held its second session at Bangkok from 1 to 3 December 1999. The session was opened by the Executive Secretary of ESCAP, who noted that the main topic of the session, the establishment and operation of effective social safety nets, was important and timely. The Commission needed the forum to exchange views and experiences as well as to forge a regional consensus on the measures it should carry out to ameliorate the social impacts of economic crises should they occur in the future. It was valuable for the Committee to consider what governments and communities could do to ensure that social safety nets would exist to protect people, especially the poor, in times of crisis. An interregional project in which ESCAP was participating was expected to produce a detailed comparative evaluation of social safety net programmes.
57. His Excellency Mr Bhichai Rattakul, Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of Thailand, presented the opening address. He stated that the Government of Thailand had taken many measures aimed at mitigating the effects of the economic crisis, including employment generation through temporary, labour-intensive civil works programmes; expansion of training programmes for the unemployed and new entrants to the labour force; an increase in severance pay requirements; and an extension of social security benefits for the unemployed. The government had established a social investment fund, which provided grants to community-based organizations to undertake programmes designed and implemented by the community, with emphasis on capacity-building and social welfare assistance.
58. The Deputy Prime Minister noted that the many positive signs of economic recovery in the region were heartening, but that the crisis had exposed many weaknesses in social development. It was necessary to continue to put into place programmes that would ensure that people could withstand temporary setbacks, and that the benefits of economic growth would be deep-rooted and widely shared.
59. The secretariat had prepared the following background documents to guide the Committee in its deliberations: "Social safety nets in the ESCAP region: progress and problems" (E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/1); "Social safety nets: safety nets at the community level" (E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/2); "Programme planning and implementation: review of major accomplishments under the subprogrammes on poverty alleviation" (E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/3); "Programme planning and implementation: review of the implementation of the programme of work, 1998-1999; proposed programme changes, 2000-2001" (E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/4); and "Programme planning and implementation: proposed draft medium-term plan for the period 2002-2005" (E/ESCAP/PRUD/SOCEM(2)/5).
60. The second session of the Committee was attended by representatives of the following 19 members and associate members of ESCAP: Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Fiji, France, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Japan, Macau, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Thailand, and Turkey.
61. In addition, eight United Nations bodies and specialized agencies attended: United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat), United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme, United Nations Population Fund, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Universal Postal Union and World Health Organization.
62. Five intergovernmental organizations were represented: Asian and Pacific Development Centre, European Commission, Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific, International Organization for Migration and Mekong River Commission.
63. The following non-governmental organizations in general consultative status were represented: Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, International Planned Parenthood Federation, and World Veterans Federation.
64. The following non-governmental organizations in special consultative status were represented: Associated Country Women of the World, International Council of Women, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, National Council of Women of Thailand, Pan-Pacific and South-East Asia Women's Association, Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements and World Association for Small and Medium Enterprises.
C. Election of officers
65. The Committee elected Mr Abdul Hamid Chowdhury (Bangladesh) Chairperson, HE Mr Ly Thuch (Cambodia) Vice-Chairperson and Mr Chan-Hyoung Park (Republic of Korea) Rapporteur.
66. The Committee adopted the following agenda:
LIST OF DOCUMENTS