SEATTLE — Latin America has a population of more than 640 million and a poverty rate of 38 percent, as reported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Many of these nations are still burdened by income disparities, inadequate infrastructure, poor healthcare services and high illiteracy rates. Falling oil prices and rising inflation have exacerbated economic uncertainty.
Venezuela has been embroiled in an economic crisis following the oil price plummet, and many of its citizens have been forced to cross the border into Colombia for food and medicine. Argentina has also faced a major economic setback with crippling price rises, outstanding debts and high unemployment rates.
Despite growth of the middle class in countries like Peru, Argentina and Chile, wage disparities can still reduce real incomes and aggravate pressure on the middle class. To combat this hurdle, many Latin American governments increased minimum wages by 10 percent. This resulted in a one to six percent rise in average wages. Unfortunately, the disproportionate distribution of wealth did not yield many benefits to the poor.
Access to more information and education is essential to minimize the gap between the urban and rural sectors. Indigenous people are especially affected by this, and have a low average school attendance rate. However, several governments have tried to counteract this cycle. Chile and Mexico have made decisive efforts to improve the quality and structure of rural education. Additionally, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) have recently adopted a strategy to bolster the position of poorer communities with support from the public and private sectors.
Within the dominant agricultural sector, parents work on plantations and children are expected to carry on this work when they grow older. This is especially common in Nicaragua’s coffee industry. There, Project Alianza has found a way to reach the children of Nicaraguan coffee workers, but incorporating the curriculum into everyday life and offering classrooms close to the plantations.
EMBARQ is a project that was initiated by Shell Foundation and WRI, and it has played a pivotal role in promoting urban mobility, transport and healthcare in Latin American nations. The solutions to poverty in Latin America can be found through mutual assistance and cooperation between countries.
The Hunger Initiative Campaign in Buenos Aries, ‘Barrios de Pie’, has drawn international attention. It aims to provide meals for the poor while urging the government to expand its ‘Community Kitchen Program’ to cope with demand for food. A World Bank fund of $5.8 billion has been recently secured to activate more than 20 projects to improve sanitation and infrastructure, and a further $45 million has been set aside to invest in innovation.
Alleviating poverty in Latin America is an ongoing endeavor, in line with the United Nations 2030 targets to combat hunger and promote food security. Providing essential services and empowerment through infrastructure is essential to creating a more prosperous future for all of these nations.
– Shivani Ekkanath