The first briefing of our study tour at the UN Headquarter was on the core objectives that the UN aims to achieve by the year 2015: the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They seek to reduce extreme poverty, child mortality and the spread of HIV, Malaria and other diseases, as well as to promote school education, the empowerment of women and ecological sustainability. Of course we were very keen to learn more about the strategies the UN applies to implement these ambitious goals. Ms. Pragati Pascale from the United Nations Department of Public Information had been spokesperson of former GA President Jan Eliasson and gave us very interesting insights into the development plans of the UN and the efforts made to increase public awareness for development issues especially in industrialized countries.
|At the beginning of our briefing on the MDGs she asked who had ever traveled to a developing country and what impressions about the living conditions we had gained. In case we had not been there so far, she encouraged us to travel to such countries and see for ourselves. Ms. Pascale emphasized the fact that billions of people had no access to clean water and sanitation which was an unimaginable burden to leading a normal life and an extreme hindrance to the development of a country or region. Several campaigns have been launched by the Department of Public Information in order to increase public awareness, and, in this context, to mobilize donor countries and hold them accountable. As a success she named the ‘Make Poverty History’ Campaign which pressured the G8 states into making commitments.||
Concerning the achievement of the MDGs, Ms. Pascale told us that much progress had been made in the field of primary school education and also in the field of fighting HIV/AIDS and poverty. Still, it has to be considered that the situation in some regions of the world is improving faster than in others, for example the economic growth in China and India pulling millions of people out of poverty. Nevertheless, international inequality persists due to the fact that the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia has actually worsened. Still, Ms. Pascale was optimistic and said that the MDGs were likely to be met on a worldwide basis, although on a regional level the situation was different with most of Africa being left behind in the global development process.
The measurement of progress remains a highly complicated process, since it is sometimes very hard to receive relevant data and to use representative indicators. In order to facilitate the process, countries submit a strategy paper in which they establish a plan to allocate and use their resources efficiently. This dates back to a proposal by Jeffrey Sachs and has proved to be a useful tool. To measure development, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) uses the Human Development Index (HDI), which relates not only to economic growth but to human development as well.
After giving us this interesting overview, Ms. Pascale kindly answered all our questions. We had a lively discussion about the sustainability of the MDGs and whether the impact of climatic change is likely to disproportionally affect poor countries. Ms. Pascale assured us that the UN was very engaged in getting this problem into the minds of governments and also answered our questions about what the UN does to pressure governments concerning this matter.
At the end of our briefing, Ms. Pascale emphasized that the MDGs were definitely achievable, which had been validated by many experts throughout the world. This should be done by attacking the grass roots of development problems rather than by simply stimulating economic growth. By raising public awareness governments can be pressured to commit themselves to improve the situation in developing countries. If the political will exists, we might be the first generation to achieve the eradication of extreme poverty throughout the world. However, Ms. Pascale said that the UN had never stated that it was going to reach the MDGs, but it was rather a plan to bring donor and receiving countries together and to encourage cooperation.