The head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says Latin America and the Caribbean region remains the most socially unequal place in the world, highlighting the measures required to tackle the problem in a region which has made significant strides in reducing poverty.
"Ten out of the 15 most unequal countries in the world are in Latin America and the Caribbean," said Helen Clark, the UNDP administrator, as she addressed the opening session of the Fourth Ministerial Forum on Development in Latin America.
She said that while the region is not the poorest in the world, it is the most unequal.
Clark said reasons for inequality in the region include continuing gaps in the quality of social services and access to them; institutional and regulatory challenges, including insecure property rights and limited access to justice, which affect the poor mostly; and a lack of opportunity for decent work.
She stressed that countries in the region needed to address inequality through specific public policy instruments, rather than treat it as a by-product of successful poverty reduction programmes.
"Those instruments need to reflect the multi-dimensional nature of inequality across the economic, political, and social dimensions, and be designed to reach the poorest and most vulnerable people, including women, indigenous people and Afro-descendants," Clarke said.
The UNDP administrator also said there was need to strengthen the capacity to mobilise domestic resources, pointing out that the tax burden among countries in the region ranges from 10 to 23 percentage points lower than the average in other regions of the world, adding that tax evasion is widespread.
"UNDP can assist with designing effective policy in these areas, drawing on the extensive experience gained and knowledge derived from our work around the world and across the development spectrum," she said.
Speaking on the relevance of development assistance to middle income countries, such as those in the region, Clark emphasized that the income range within that category remained wide.
"Diversity is the key word in describing the group. Therefore, UNDP's response to addressing the needs of middle income countries should be based on a menu of approaches which can respond to country-specific circumstances," she said.