Big Story 10

Conflict, climate change choke efforts to cure poverty, inequality: U.N.

UNITED NATIONS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Climate change and conflict are forcing growing numbers of people to go hungry, flee their homes and lose critical access to water, the United Nations said on Wednesday in a look at progress in its global development goals.

The number of hungry people has risen for the first time in a decade, and violence and conflict are causing food problems in 18 nations, the U.N. said in its assessment.

Member nations of the U.N. adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 in a concerted effort to conquer poverty, inequality and other international woes by a 2030 deadline.

Progress has been hampered by climate change-related extreme weather and by violence and war, said Francesca Perucci, assistant director of the Statistics Division at the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA).

“Countries face mounting challenges - a fast-changing climate, increased numbers of conflicts and inequality and persistent pockets of poverty and hunger,” she said at a U.N. news conference.

“For the first time in a decade, the number of people who are undernourished has increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016, mainly due to conflict, drought and disasters linked to climate change,” she said.

Economic losses in 2017 came to more than $300 billion, among the highest in recent years due to three major hurricanes that hit the United States and countries in the Caribbean, the U.N. assessment said.

“With climate change ... we notice there’s a lot of significant economic losses and (that) probably will increase in coming years,” said Yongyi Min, chief of the SDG monitoring section at UN DESA, at the news conference.

More than 2 billion people are affected by water stress, when demand for water outweighs availability or supplies are of poor quality, she said.

“This number will increase with population growth and the effects of climate change,” Min said.

Increased violence and conflict caused the number of people driven from their homes to rise to a record high of 68.5 million last year, she said.

“With just 12 years left to the 2030 deadline, we must inject a sense of urgency,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a foreword to the assessment report.

Previous assessments by the U.N. of the goals have shown few and uneven advances, with conflict and violence to blame.

Outside assessments have also cited nationalism, protectionism and a need for more funding.

The cost of implementing the SDGs has been estimated at $3 trillion a year.