As we lost Gabriel Garcia Marquez this year I’m reminded of his speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize in 1982: "Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death.”
He was right. In the last 30 years Latin America and the Caribbean has undergone tremendous transformations. Democracy has consolidated in the vast majority of countries and men, women, children, youth and the elderly have experienced major improvements in health, education and access to economic resources, the dimensions which compose the Human Development Index (HDI), a measure of well-being of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
Latin America and the Caribbean today has the highest HDI compared to other developing regions. And while income inequality has increased in other regions of the world, ours has managed to reduce the gap, mainly due to the expansion of education and public transfers to the poor.
In the last decade, poverty has been reduced in the region by almost half, and the middle class rose from 22 percent of the population in 2000 to 34 percent in 2012, according to new UNDP figures.
Despite these achievements, a worryingly high share of the population is living in constant uncertainty. They are neither classified as living in poverty (living on less than US$4 a day), nor have they gained access to a stable middle class status (with $10-50 a day). They are our region’s vulnerable people: just over a third of the population, 200 million men and women living on $4-10 a day and risking falling into poverty.
Clearly, if countries of the region do not reduce their vulnerabilities and strengthen their resilience to financial crises and natural disasters, we won’t able to guarantee, let alone expand, progress in the social, economic and environmental realms.
The Human Development Report entitled "Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience" shows that not only in Latin America and the Caribbean, but in all regions, the pace of social and economic progress is slower than in the past decades.
More of the same policies will not yield the same results as before. The report emphasizes the need to expand a truly universal social protection scheme, particularly in the most critical phases of life.
Investing in the "resilience" of people and countries to increase their capacity to cope successfully with crises—whether financial or related to natural disasters—is crucial to boost "the persistent advantage of life over death," as Garcia Marquez immortalized in his historic speech.