Our Perspectives

Challenges and opportunities for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2017


Reducing inequality is a priority in Latin America and the Caribbean. The region includes 10 of the world’s 15 most unequal countries. Photo: UNDP Colombia/Freya Morales

Latin America and the Caribbean have made notable progress on development in recent decades. By 2015, the region had met most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a historical feat, especially with regard to poverty reduction, access to safe drinking water and primary education.

From 2002 to 2013, close to 72 million people left poverty and some 94 million rose to the middle class. Even so, inequality continues to be a characteristic of the region. Latin America and the Caribbean are home to 10 of the world’s 15 most unequal countries.

According to our Human Development Report for the region, 220 million people (38 percent, almost two in every five Latin Americans) are economically vulnerable today. Officially they are not poor, but neither have they managed to make it to the middle class. Among these, 25 to 30 million are at risk of falling back into poverty.

It is precisely in this time of economic slowdown that we need a new generation of public policies to strengthen the four factors that prevent setbacks: social protection, care systems, physical and financial assets (such as owning a car, a home, savings or bank accounts that act as ‘cushions’ when crisis hits) and labour skills.

The report calls on us to rethink progress along ‘multidimensional’ lines that go beyond per capita income and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as favoured metrics for measuring development.

We must also guarantee gender parity inside and outside the home, recognize the multicultural and pluri-national rights of peoples and communities, protect the environment, ensure access to renewable energy and strengthen resilience to disasters and crises.

The effects of climate change are increasingly visible and with very negative consequences, in particular in developing countries. Investing in people’s ‘resilience’—or in their ability to absorb shocks without significant social and economic setbacks—is more important than ever.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation are indispensable in our region. One crucial area is water resources management, ensuring its availability, high quality and accessibility. Agriculture and its potential impact on food security is another dimension that affects many countries.

Safe and informed development, including disaster risk reduction in development plans, is crucial to protecting communities and their livelihoods. Early warning systems, planned evacuation routes and stronger infrastructure are some of the coordinated actions we are carrying out in the region.

Cities must be at the centre of the solutions. This is of particular importance for Latin America and the Caribbean, the most urbanized developing region on the planet (UN Habitat). This poses a number of different challenges regarding energy, particularly with regard to transportation and public services.

Other challenges include the high levels of violence and citizen insecurity. The average homicide rate in Latin America is 3.5 times greater than the global rate. Security should be seen not only as a reduction in crime rates but also the result of policies that promote a better quality of life for the people, community crime prevention actions and justice systems that are accessible, expeditious and effective.

In our region, women still suffer violence and are discriminated against in the workplace and in decision-making. On average, 12 women are killed in the region each day (ECLAC) and more than one in four (27.3 percent) experience physical violence. 

Empowering women, youth, people with disabilities, LGBTI, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendent communities, migrants and refugees is an important part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda. The Agenda calls for eradicating poverty in all its dimensions, leaving no one behind without jeopardizing future generations. As countries begin to implement the SDGs, we invite them to work together toward a new view of progress.

Blog post Jessica Faieta Latin America & the Caribbean Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Sustainable development Poverty reduction and inequality Human development report

UNDP Around the world