Slow growth in poorest countries derails SDGs progress, finds UN report

Paulista Avenue, a symbol of the center of economic and political power in São Paulo, Brazil. Photo by: Wilfredorrh / CC BY-NC-ND

The global economy is on track to experience modest growth into 2018, but a “deteriorating” outlook for the world’s least developed countries may place some of the United Nations core development goals out of reach by 2030, according to a new report.  

The news prompted U.N. officials to call for more international agreements to make sure aid and development finance is directed more effectively and at a greater level to the parts of the globe that need it the most.

The world’s poorest countries have experienced an average growth of 4.7 percent in 2017, and are anticipated to have an increased growth of 5.3 percent next year. That falls below the U.N.’s target of least developed countries growing at a rate of 7 percent.

This current growth trajectory means that 35 percent of people in the world’s 48 least developed countries would still live in extreme poverty by 2030, the U.N.’s target year for reaching the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that countries committed to in 2015.

“Increasing development aid, ensuring the financing of sustainable development has a high price tag,” explained Dawn Holland, a U.N. senior economic affairs officer.  “Many reports out of the U.N. have looked at this. We need multilateral, international agreements in order to ensure that finance is directed well towards the areas where it is most needed. And that does mean ensuring additional financing, public finance going to the least developed countries in particular.”

The U.N. Department of Economic and Social affairs released its analysis, “World Economic Situation and prospects as of mid-2017,” six months after it last reported on the global economy. It showed that the world economy is projected to grow 2.7 percent this year and 2.9 percent in 2018 — an increase from the 2.6 percent growth documented in 2016.

Domestic and regional pressures — including high unemployment rates, inflation and high food prices — have impacted the outlook for developing regions, including Africa.

East and South Asia have had the most “dynamic” growth, at 5.8 percent in 2017 and 5.9 for next year. Africa is expected to grow at a slower rate of 2.9 percent this year, and 3.6 percent next year, with East Africa experiencing the fastest progress. In Latin America and the Caribbean, following a period of contraction for South America and Brazil, overall growth will go from 1.1 percent in 2017 to 2.5 percent in 2018.

While SDG 10 aims to reduce inequality by increasing incomes of the lower 40 percent of a country, among other measures, countries have also pledged to eradicate poverty. In practice, that would mean reducing at least half the proportion of people, globally, living in poverty.

The number of people who live on $1.90 a day decreased by about 35 percent from 1990 to 2013. But progress on poverty reduction has been uneven across regions — and income inequality, overall, increased during this timeframe, including in more developed countries.

The U.N. is carefully monitoring the SDGs, aware of some “overlapping” elements and needs in many low-income countries, Holland says. There is a shared need to invest in climate change, for example, she said, emphasizing the “global commitment” of the SDGs.

“Eradicating poverty — everyone signed up to this. We did not sign up to eradicate it [only] in our own countries,” she said. “There is this commitment to support this transition where it is most needed by all countries.”

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.