While Latin America has made great strides in reducing poverty in recent years, paradoxically, the continent has witnessed a sharp widening of the income gap between the rich and the poor.
According to a study by the United Nations Agency for Human Settlements (UN-Habitat), on average, the wealthiest 20 percent of Latin Americans earn 20 times more than the 20 percent at the bottom.
At present, the widest wealth gap is found in Guatemala, while Venezuela boasts the most equitable income distribution in the region.
The report cited Colombia, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Argentina and Guatemala as exhibiting the largest increases in income inequality over the past two decades.
Moreover, rapid urbanization, the UN warned, will only continue to widen the gulf between the haves and have-nots. The report noted that Latin America is already the most urbanized part of the world – eight out of ten people live in large cities; by 2050, that figure could climb to 90 percent.
The UN suggests that South American leaders take advantage of the current economic stability to upgrade the quality of life for the urban poor by improving infrastructure, among other measures.
"The main challenge is how to combat such huge disparities in the cities," Erik Vittrup of UN-Habitat said in a statement.
“Income inequality is extremely high. There is a considerable job deficit and a large labor informality affecting mainly the young and women.”
However, Vittrup sees some hope for the future.
"We're at the end of an era of urban explosion, with few exceptions,” he said.
"We're seeing a reduction in poverty, indigence in urban areas; unemployment is going down.”
According to Agence France Presse, 124 million people in Latin America and Caribbean cities live in poverty –- half of those reside in Brazil and Mexico, the region’s two biggest and most dynamic economies.
Consider Brazil -- the United Nations’ Unesco office recently wrote: “Although it has a large number of poor people Brazil is not a poor country, but still has to overcome social injustice and inequality. The social injustices are reflected in a medium rank in the Human Development Index, which means that difficulties are still to be overcome in education, health, income distribution and employment conditions.”
Brazil’s former president, President Lula da Silva, one of the most popular leaders Latin America has ever had, has been credited with lifting 30 million of his countrymen out of poverty.
But poverty remains widespread in Brazilian cities and in the deprived Northeastern region.
UNICEF commented that Brazil is populated by the “outrageously wealthy” and the “devastatingly poor.”
With a population of almost 200 million people, 60 million are children under the age of 18 – of whom, almost 40 percent live in poverty.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.