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Extreme poverty: “Zambia's poor deserve a larger share of the national budget,” reports UN expert

GENEVA (4 June 2010) – “Resources are scarce, but the Zambian Government can and must do more,” UN Independent Expert Magdalena Sepúlveda said Friday at the UN Human Rights Council, during the presentation of her report* on the question of human rights and extreme poverty in Zambia.

“The authorities have recognized social protection as a key tool to tackle the high levels of poverty and vulnerability, but commitments to support social protection must be translated into adequate budgetary allocations,” noted Ms. Sepúlveda, who in August 2009 became the first ever Human Rights Council envoy to visit the country.

In her report, the Independent Expert draws attention to a number of initiatives already in place in Zambia: “The positive experience with pilot social cash transfers schemes which benefit households unable to undertake any income generating activity must be recognized and strongly supported by the authorities.”

“Even a small cash transfers can make a significant difference to the lives of people living in poverty,” she says. “Without cash transfers, many older people, women and children would be virtually abandoned to their fate.” In this sense, Ms. Sepúlveda urges the Zambian authorities to ensure the sustainable expansion of these initiatives.

The expert’s reports also highlights that the current Constitution review in the country offers a unique opportunity to consolidate human rights. “The Government must seize the chance to improve the Zambian Bill of Rights by placing economic, social and cultural rights on an equal basis with civil and political rights,” she said.

“However, laws are not sufficient if there is no firm commitment to secure public investment in social policies,” the UN Independent Expert warns in her study. “More resources need to be allocated for strategic sectors such as social protection.

Ms. Sepúlveda urged the Zambian Government to take the lead and ensure a more coordinated strategy of social protection in the country, highlighting the need for external support: “Donors agencies should enhance and improve coordination of international support to these initiatives.”

“The prevalence of corruption is another important obstacle in the fight against poverty in Zambia,” stressed the Independent Expert. “The Government must strengthen the Anti-Corruption Commission and other important mechanisms that ensure transparency and accountability.”

“An independent and active civil society is another indispensable component for the daily fight against corruption and to ensure that public policies are reaching the extremely poor,” added Ms. Sepúlveda, noting that “any regulatory framework for NGOs must actively preserve the independence of the sector and avoid unwarranted controls and restrictions to the freedom of association.”

(*) Check Ms. Sepúlveda’s report to the UN Human Rights Council: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/14session/A.HRC.14.31.Add.1_AEV.pdf