Eradicating poverty and hunger are at the forefront of the global challenges facing the world today and constitute an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, particularly for developing countries.
Concerted and concrete measures are therefore required at all levels to enable developing countries to achieve their poverty eradication objectives. In this path, however, new and emerging challenges, such as Climate Change, Desertification and Health, threaten to undo years of development efforts directed at eradicating poverty and hunger.
Climate change is often pointed out as one of the major threats to the accomplishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In fact, the recent (4th) Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that while all regions will experience either declines in net benefits or increases in net costs for increases in temperature, developing countries are expected to experience larger percentage losses.
One simple conclusion may easily be drawn from here: given the higher dependence on natural resources and limited capacity to deal with and adapt to some of Climate Change predictable consequences1, the poor and most vulnerable will be the most affected.
In the context of this round-table, our attention is immediately captured by two areas where the impacts of climate change are likely to be particularly severe amongst poor and developing populations. We are talking about human health and agriculture.
Regarding human health, researchers consider that the health status of millions of people will be affected by global warming, particularly in regions with low adaptive capacity. In fact, an increase in the number of victims of extreme weather events is also to be expected, as well as the ones related to floods, fires and droughts.
It is also easy to imagine the consequences of rising global temperatures in the incidence of temperature-related illness or in the geographic range of vector borne diseases such as Malaria or Dengue fever. Cardio-respiratory diseases are also expected to increase due to higher concentrations of ground level ozone.
As for Agriculture, land represents the most important sector for most developing countries. It is also the most exposed sector to the climate elements which is why a changing climate and the profusion of climate extremes will bring an additional pressure to agricultural resources where they are most needed, i.e., in the developing world.
In temperate regions, increases in local mean temperature of up to 1.5 to 3.5ºC above pre-industrial levels can have small beneficial impacts on crop yields, which subside in some regions if the temperature increase is greater. At lower latitudes, even moderate temperature increases are projected to have negative impacts on crop productivity and increased droughts and floods will compromise agriculture especially in subsistence sectors. In these regions, malnutrition will increase, leading to negative impacts on the growth and development of children.
Climate change will also further reduce access to safe drinking water. Glacier melt water currently supplies water to over a billion people; once it disappears, populations will be under pressure and are likely to migrate to other regions of the world, causing local or even global upheaval and insecurity. Drought-affected areas are likely to increase.
The growing pressures of climate change will require all of us to put in place measures to adapt to climate change. In view of their larger vulnerability and their lack of capacity to adapt, we will however in particular need to step up our activities to support the poorest among us. We need to fully integrate climate change and adaptation into strategies for poverty reduction, as well as development planning and budgeting.
But stepping up adaptation efforts alone will not be enough. Severe climate change impacts can only be prevented by early, deep cuts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The EUs objective is to keep the global average temperature increase below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. Beyond 2°C change, the risk of dangerous and unpredictable climate change increases significantly and costs of adaptation escalate.
Meeting this objective requires swift global action to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. This is why EU Heads of State and Government in March this year unanimously agreed to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% by 2020 and, as part of a global and comprehensive agreement, by 30% by 2020. This is also why the EU has called for a global reduction of up to 50 % by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. The EU is keen to start at the end of this year negotiations on a global and comprehensive agreement that will allow us to achieve these reductions.
Climate change is also a factor that deeply relates to desertification. Crescent desertification, associated with decreasing crop yields, increasingly degraded soils, the occurrence of extreme draught and hazardous human practices, all threaten the livelihoods of people, especially those that live in rural areas.
In this respect, desertification constitutes one of the main causes for the systematically dismal levels of poverty still registered in the world. Through the misuse of local resources, especially arable land, desertification hinders the efforts made by indigenous peoples to attain the levels of development needed in order to prosper.
Not adequately equipped with the necessary tools for dealing with these problems and being highly sensitive to the effects of these conditions (agriculture is the primary basis for subsistence in most developing countries), developing countries are especially susceptible to suffer due to causes related with desertification.
This susceptibility is further enhanced by increasing population growth in many developing countries, condition that leads to an over utilization of the existing resources. This situation normally inhibits development and leads to higher numbers of poor people.
The EU has been a firm supporter of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, in the belief that it is the most adequate vehicle to manage the combat against desertification. As a proof of this commitment the EU has provided, between 2001 and 2005, an estimate 338.3 million to some 128 projects that address issues covered by UNCCD2.
It is an EU conviction that desertification and the misuse of land are potentially the most threatening causes of extreme poverty throughout the world. The EUs commitment to this cause is well signalled in its 2005 Development Policy where it recognizes that ensuring sustainable management of natural resources, combating climate change, deforestation and desertification and halting biodiversity loss are essential steps for achieving the MDGs.
Although currently the biggest provider of development assistance and the largest trading partner of developing countries, the EU is of the opinion that more efforts are needed in the combat against desertification and its associated phenomena in order to allow for a more effective effort to alleviate poverty.
In what regards human health, desertification is an enormous threat given the increased risk of contamination of available resources, especially water. The consumption of contaminated resources can bring about contaminated crops and may generate a whole sort of health related problems, whose danger is accentuated by such phenomena as migrations that tend to occur in regions that are running out of usable resources.
Health issues together with poverty form one of the main causes for misery throughout the world today which is why inequalities in health related issues linked with social determinants are one of the central matters that must be given attention to, especially in what regards regions and countries with more unfavourable development levels.
In fact, the actual geographic pattern of poverty and hunger has been steadily aggravating and, combined with climate change and associated, new problems may come about. That is the rational for engaging in more vigorous, efficient and innovative adaptation efforts in what regards the various health services of the different regions.
Throughout the last years there has been a growing perception that fight against poverty must follow a think global, act local logic. It is now commonly understood that only through this paradigm can concrete and adequate measures be put into place given the specificities of each region and the subsequent regional and global interactions.
In this sense, a basic tool for any given health policy must be the correct identification of the more vulnerable groups in each different health related problem and in the access to capable health care. Thats why locally based health services, following national guidelines, constitute the most appropriate mechanism to attend to the different specific health necessities namely in what concerns the equal access to primary health care.
The main health problem that our world is faced with nowadays is the continuous spread of contagious endemic diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. This situation, although not exclusively, has a deeper and more worrying impact in developing countries, especially in Africa and in Asia. It is in fact one major cause for the continuous underdevelopment of those particular regions.
It is therefore increasingly important to supply the most affected countries with effective means to fight this catastrophe. Enshrined as a priority in the MDGs, the fight against diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis has increasingly become a priority for the international community.
Nevertheless, it is widely understood that global efforts will not be effective without adequate coordination with regional, national and communal structures.
Conscious of the transversal character of this problem, integrated efforts must continue to be put into place. The fight against endemic diseases cannot be dissociated from structural determinants that underpin the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is now commonly understood that without an integrated fight against poverty, disrespect for human rights, gender inequality, and gender based violence, stigma and discrimination, the efforts towards the eradication of epidemic diseases and other health problems will not be successful.
The EU has been deeply committed to these integrated efforts aimed at tackling the AIDS pandemic in a comprehensive and integrated way, including prevention, treatment, care and research, and in particular to address the HIV prevention gap, which left unchecked will undermine the whole AIDS response.
Accordingly, the EU will continue working in the area of HIV/AIDS through a wide array of financing instruments both at country and global level including through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria which receives most of its funding from the European Union.
As stressed in the conclusions of the last European Council meeting of July 21-22, and in spite of these promising indicators, HIV/AIDS remains a matter of serious concern. The EU reiterates the belief that action to tackle the global HIV/AIDS pandemic should include broad based prevention programmes, training of health care personnel, awareness raising in all groups of society and tackling the cost of treatment.
It is our belief that the pharmaceutical industry should facilitate access to affordable medicines and cooperate in securing distribution channels for drugs against HIV/AIDS together with government institutions and NGOs.
Finally, just to mention that the EU plans to hold a Meeting on Migrations and Health in Lisbon, on the 12 and 13 of October 2007. To this meeting we are inviting National AIDS Programs Coordinators of the WHO Europe and Central Asia Region Countries, plus Neighbouring Countries to discuss and share HIV and AIDS specific issues and responses
1 e.g., the profusion of extreme weather events, water scarcity, drought or sea level rise
2 The projects were in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Projects in Africa are not considered in this sum.