Inequality is truly a global challenge. I emphasize "global" because inequality matters in all countries--both in the developing and the developed world.
In developed and developing countries alike (although the trend is more noteworthy in rich countries) the poorest half of the population often controls less than 10 per cent of wealth. Equally worrying are the differences among countries. For example, African countries' average per capita income in 2015 was equal to just 12 per cent of the per capita income in developed countries--a figure that has remained largely unchanged since 1990.
Inequality is an issue with multiple dimensions that encompasses more than gaps in income and wealth. The fact that 1.2 billion people continue to live on under US$1.25 a day in many countries is further compounded by vast inequalities in access and opportunity. There are 57 million children who cannot attend primary school, while 400 million people lack access to essential health services. Unequal access to such basic human needs in turn create vicious circles of inequality and poverty. These vulnerabilities are particularly acute in countries emerging from conflict or humanitarian crises.
Some have argued that technological progress will naturally enlarge the entire share of wealth (the pie) and benefit everyone (with even the smallest piece of the pie getting larger) thereby contributing to reducing inequality. However, while we have enjoyed the most spectacular advances in science and technology in human history for the last few decades, numbers have shown that the gaps have been consistently widening in wealth and income. Such inequality is morally indefensible and bad for growth and development. It could also give rise to political and social instability.
Consensus is therefore growing for collective action to address inequality. Given its universal nature, the United Nations would be the most suitable forum to discuss this challenge. The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which I currently chair, will convene a Special Meeting on Inequality on 30 March in New York, inviting thought leaders, policymakers and civil society representatives to make recommendations on reducing inequalities within and between countries.
The Meeting is also aimed at contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by UN Member States in September 2015, which comprise a universal set of economic, social and environmental goals to improve the state of the world between now and 2030. Simultaneously a stand-alone and cross cutting issue, addressing inequalities is instrumental for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
In order to leave no one behind in this new development initiative, we should work with urgency to address inequalities. Standing on the frontline to reverse inequality trends, ECOSOC is committed to improving the well-being of those hardest to reach--and most disadvantaged--in our own communities.