Agenda Item 23: Eradication of Poverty
Statement by the Republic of Maldives
United Nations, New York, 17 October 2016
At the outset, let me begin by aligning ourselves with the statement made by the distinguished representative of Thailand on behalf of the G77 and China.
Mr. Chairman, we are in the first year of implementation of the 2030 Agenda –- and we have a long way to go. For my delegation, this agenda item is not a standalone one and cannot possibly be treated as such. Therefore, our discussions and indeed our implementation efforts all need to first and foremost be centered on the fight against poverty and the battle against hunger.
The Maldives is a prime example of an MDG success story and has been frequently hailed as such. The success we have witnessed is a reflection of the Government's priorities and targeted policies in health, education, other key human development sectors and economic growth.
Successive governments of the Maldives have invested considerably in human capital development: investing in free education for all, establishing primary healthcare facilities across the country and providing a steady supply of basic food items at a significantly subsidized cost to the entire population – a feat that is incredibly challenging in a country where the population is so dispersed. These investments have led to the dividend of continuous high levels of human development.
As a country that is also experiencing an unprecedented youth bulge, the government has been working towards harnessing this potential and ensuring adequate investments are made and policies implemented on youth advancement, in skills based learning, vocational training and education as well as for gainful employment. We are a young society with 48% of our population below the age of 25 – this is both an opportunity and a challenge for our government and policy makers. Several initiatives have been launched to expand opportunities for the youth population: including those aimed at creating jobs, improving the capacity and training. More opportunities for higher education have been sought, especially through the expansion, through public and private investments in tertiary education institutions in the country, offering a wide range of vocational, under-graduate and graduate courses. The government has introduced salaries for national athletes and players, provided sports scholarships and youth awards. These are just some examples of the social sector investments that are truly central to eradicating poverty and doing so sustainably.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to emphasize here the role of sustainable growth. Like I said, the Maldives has been hailed as an MDG success story. And while that maybe true, the boost in GDP and the booming economy has been partly a result of reliance on the tourism and fishing industries. However, both these industries are extremely volatile and subject to external factors including fluctuations in markets. Additionally, climate change further increases associated risks because of dwindling fish stocks, coral bleaching, marine debris and coastal erosion. We therefore truly believe that sustainable growth and development will require investments in human development, in diversification of our economies, in building more resilient infrastructure and most importantly to come together as a global community to fight hunger and poverty.
While maintaining support for the traditional economic sectors, there have also been efforts to diversify the economy, as well as expand existing industries into new arenas. For example, in recent years, we have been able to diversify the range of tourist experiences in the Maldives, creating more jobs and generating wealth in local communities. Investments have also been made in investing in "mega-projects" such as the establishment of "special economic zones" which would also concentrate industry and human capital, boosting growth.
While our GDP has definitely grown and we have reduced the percentage of population in extreme poverty, other challenges have emerged – inequality being one of them. This is true of the Maldives, as it is for most parts of the world. And this is why we have repeatedly called for more holistic measures of development, beyond traditional financial ones like GDP. GDP numbers, by nature being a macro measure, might be a window to our development trajectory, but it cannot and does not tell us the economic and environmental risks we face, the negative externalities arising from them, or any other impending systemic risks that might reverse developmental gains. Nor does it show the formidable challenges faced by a small island country ensuring equitable access to development for all its citizens.
To give just one example of how GDP does not capture social welfare or development is demonstrated by how according to some estimations GDP goes up by leaps and bounds immediately following natural disasters. For example, following the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, the recovery and reconstruction efforts resulted in an apparent increase in GDP by 20 percent in 2006, even though there was a 34% decline in tourism industry registered, with rippling effects throughout the society. Similarly, we will find economists arguing that Hurricane Matthew will result in an increase in GDP in affected communities – because the rebuilding exercises will cause an increase in economic activity and thus an increase in GDP. And this simply reflects the gross misconception of what added value or wealth generation means. Yes, there might be an increase in GDP because of heightened economic activity and the injection of reconstruction aid in the wake of a disaster, but it doesn't make us richer. It is merely a compensation for the loss of life and property in the aftermath – and it leaves us poorer while clouding the numbers. The second example I would give is from my own country. In the Maldives, while absolute poverty has sharply declined over the decades, relative poverty rates and inequality have reduced within atolls. However, inequality has increased within the capital as well and the wealth gap has in fact increased within the country. The call for more holistic measures apart from GDP indicators is arguably critical to reduction and elimination of poverty.
Poverty eradication is not just a goal but also a process. Poverty eradication is not centered on the achievement of one particular goal or target but is the culmination of sustained and sustainable policies that are comprehensive, all inclusive and take the essence of the SDGs – which is to combine the social, environmental and economic aspects into its fold.
With this I thank you and wish all of my colleagues a very fruitful discussion.