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Needs of Middle Income Countries: The Case of Latin American and Caribbean Countries

United Nations | New York

With only one year to go to reach the Millennium Development Goals, many will remain unmet. Now, with the world poised to set a new roadmap, we have the chance to change the course of development and ensure a just and sustainable world. Robust investments in four key areas are needed to ensure that we meet the goals and go far beyond.

First, middle-income countries cannot be left out of the picture.

Over the last two decades, there has been significant, but inequitable, economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean, with many countries graduating to middle-income status. Despite this growth, many in the region are caught in what’s known as a “middle-income trap,” where national and regional statistics mask glaring inequalities: in income gender, access to health services, education, employment, and participation in decision making, among others. As a result, many donors have withdrawn critical funding from the region with the assumption that governments will pick up the slack. This is a dangerous assumption: just last week, ECLAC released a report that found that levels of poverty in the region are remaining stable and that approximately 28% of the population in live in poverty, with more than 11% in extreme poverty.

Today, seventy percent of the world’s poor live in countries classified as middle-income. Families living below the poverty line today are the same ones who were poor before countries graduated to middle-income status.

If we do not pay attention to middle-income countries, we risk losing the hard-won gains we have worked so hard to achieve—and miss the opportunity to shift development to a more human-centered approach.

A second priority area for investment is another group that has long suffered from an unspoken inequality, and that is young people, especially young women and girls.

Today’s generation of youth is the largest the world has known, a generation that is facing new and staggering challenges such as high rates of unemployment, violence and other threats to their health and human rights.

In Latin America, 40% of women become pregnant before their 20th birthdays. Ensuring the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and women is not only important in and of itself; UNFPA’s recent report State of the World Population showed that when a girl is able to delay a pregnancy, she may be empowered to stay in school, secure more lucrative employment, and claim her human rights, which in turn transforms her family, her community and her country. World Bank data show the huge loss in productivity and GDP caused by adolescent motherhood.

The good news is that we know what to do. We must give high priority to comprehensive sexuality education that teach young people about their bodies, gender equality and human rights, and help them develop the self-esteem and skills to realize their dreams. These programs must be coupled with access to non-judgmental, confidential sexual and reproductive health services. Last year, thousands of young people from across the world set concrete priorities for the post-2015 agenda and created the Bali Declaration—now we need to make that declaration a reality.

Third, resources and strong accountability mechanisms.

To ensure that sustainable development is achieved in Middle Income Countries, countries must implement structural changes to their financial systems and use the maximum available resources for greater investments in equitable health, education, social protection, and economic systems to reverse the current trend towards rapidly accelerating inequalities. These changes must be accompanied by mechanisms that hold governments accountable to their commitments.

Strong accountability systems and clear monitoring and evaluation mechanisms at the national, regional and international levels should be established, involving a range of actors and stakeholders including national governments and parliamentarians, donors, the UN System, and with the active participation of civil society, women’s, youth and marginalized groups.

The fourth and final priority area must be investments in local civil society organizations. International development efforts will not succeed until we stop looking at people as the beneficiaries of development and start treating them as agents of their lives and destinies. Civil society organizations must have an active role in creating development programs and policies that are rooted in principles of human rights, gender equality and sustainable development. Their knowledge of the realities faced by local communities—and knowledge of what programs and policies work—can no longer simply be paid lip service; civil society must have an active role in the creation of the sustainable development goals, especially women-led and youth-led organizations.

These four areas of investment cannot be ignored as we set out to create the next global development agenda. Economic growth in MICs has not been inclusive. The majority of the world’s poor live in these countries. SDGs should focus on structural and institutional transformation, which include: the equitable redistribution of resources, and tackling discrimination based on gender, age and race. For this, regulation is needed from governments: on financial markets, on labor markets and social protection systems, including care and sexual and reproductive health services.

Given his recent passing, I am reminded of the words of the ever wise and visionary Nelson Mandela “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

We have the chance to make a difference and the opportunity to change the lives of millions—now is the time to act.

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