Fri, Sep 17, 2010 - Page 9 News List

Can the Millennium Development Goals be saved?

By Shashi Tharoor

The target date for fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals is 2015 and the world knows it is not on course to meet those goals. So world leaders are set to gather at the UN to undertake a comprehensive review, with the aim of agreeing on a roadmap and a plan of action to get to the MDG finishing line on schedule.

I was at the UN in September 2000, when world leaders met at the Millennium Summit and pledged to work together to free humanity from the “abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty,” and to “make the right to development a reality for everyone.”

These pledges include commitments to improve access to education, health care and clean water for the world’s poorest people; abolish slums; reverse environmental degradation; conquer gender inequality and cure HIV/AIDS.

It’s an ambitious list, but its capstone is Goal Eight, which calls for a “global partnership for development.” This includes four specific targets: “an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system;” special attention to the needs of least-developed countries; help for landlocked developing countries and small island states; and national and international measures to deal with developing countries’ debt problems.

Basically, it all boiled down to a grand bargain: While developing countries would obviously have primary responsibility for achieving the goals, developed countries would be obliged to finance and support their efforts for development.

This hasn’t really happened. At the G8 summit at Gleneagles and the UN World Summit in 2005, donors ­committed to increasing their aid by US$50 billion at 2004 prices, and to double their aid to Africa from 2004 levels by this year. However, official development assistance (ODA) last year amounted to US$119.6 billion, or just 0.31 percent of the developed countries’ GDP — not even half of the UN’s target of 0.7 percent of GDP. In current US dollars, ODA actually fell by more than 2 percent in 2008.

The UN admits that progress has been uneven and that many of the goals are likely to be missed in most regions. An estimated 1.4 billion people were still living in extreme poverty in 2005 and the number is likely to be higher today, owing to the global economic crisis. The number of undernourished people has continued to grow, while progress in reducing the prevalence of hunger stalled — or even reversed — in some regions between 2000-2002 and 2005-2007.

About one in four children under the age of five are underweight, mainly because of a lack of quality food, inadequate water, sanitation and health services, as well as poor care and feeding practices. Gender equality and women’s empowerment, which are essential to overcoming poverty and disease, have made at best fitful progress, with insufficient improvement in girls’ schooling opportunities or in women’s access to political authority.

Progress on trade has been similarly disappointing. Developed country tariffs on imports of agricultural products, textiles and clothing — the principal exports of most developing countries — remained between 5 percent and 8 percent in 2008, just 2 to 3 percentage points lower than in 1998.

The time has come to reinforce Goal Eight in two fundamental ways. Developed countries must make ­commitments to increase both the quantity and effectiveness of aid to developing countries. Aid must help developing countries improve the welfare of their poorest populations according to their own development priorities. However, donors all too often feel obliged to make their contributions “visible” to their constituencies and stakeholders, rather than prioritizing local perspectives and participation.

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