The briefing on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was given by Mr Donald Lee, Chief of the Poverty Eradication and Employment Section at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. It was an interesting moment to present an update on the achievements of the MDGs, as the G20 meeting had just taken place in April 2009 and Mr Lee let us know that a communiqué had been released amounting to US$ 1.3 trillion for the financial crisis and US$ 50 billion for developing countries. However, a few times in his presentation Mr Lee also pointed out that money on its own is not sufficient to address international problems. The MDGs were formed to reach the people all over the world and can be divided into two main pillars: economic development and social development. However, it must be said that those two complement each other and one cannot be achieved without addressing the other.
The MDGs contain seven economic and social indicators and one social and global indicator. According to those, the living standards have improved, i.e. the proportion of the developing world’s population living in extreme economic poverty has fallen from 52 per cent in 1981 to 26 per cent in 2005. Infant mortality rates in low- and middle-income countries have fallen from 87 per 1,000 live births in 1980 to 54 in 2006. There are eight MDGs which address the major development challenges of our time. Each Goal contains specific time-bound Targets which countries have made a commitment to achieve by 2015.
An often asked question is what exactly the UN had been doing before the year 2000 in the field that the MDGs address. Well, it had specified deadlines and then in the year 2000 there was a huge conference in New York where the UN agreed on that the MDGs had to be achieved by 2015. The tool to accomplish these Goals was, on the one hand, to draw the governments’ attention on these Goals, but on the other to also apply peer pressure. An example where this tactic has proven to be efficient is in the General Assembly: Countries have to present their progress on the MDGs and it can be very embarrassing for countries to admit that they have not made sufficient progress in the achievement of the MDGs in front of those countries they receive huge amounts of donor money from.
The first Goal is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, but the actual Target is to halve poverty by 2015. Poverty is a global problem, the measurement of how much the poorest have per day has just been raised from US$ 1 to US$ 1.25 by the World Bank.
Mr Lee said, ‘Because poor people, in particular the poorest, need to possess the capabilities and assets to capture and exploit opportunities to escape the clutches of poverty. The poorest need to be empowered, and empowerment means increasing the capacity of individuals and groups to make choices and to transform those choices into actions and outcomes.’ Goal 1 addresses poverty and hunger. The problem the UN often faces is where to target its efforts, which country does need what kind of help? East Asia has achieved a tremendous reduction of poverty, especially in China. On the other hand, India and Africa remain very poor. In South Asia and Africa (many so-called least developed countries) there are still the most people living in poverty.
The second Goal is to achieve universal primary education, with the Target to ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.
The third Goal is to promote gender equality and empower women; the Target is to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015. One indicator is the number of schools for children; however, children are often the only capital to improve the standard of living of their parents, a major problem is child exploitation, especially as girls often have to take care of their siblings. Girls should however not stay at home. There needs to be an equal chance for girls to achieve their full potential. In this context, Mr Lee called upon men to do more in the household, as the world is changing.
The fourth Goal is to reduce child mortality. As health is endangered, the Target is to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015.
Goal 5 is to improve maternal health with the first Target being to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters and the second to achieve universal access to reproductive health. Birth control is of course one of the controversial issues where there were many disparities. Yet, the UN does not have a religious point of view in this matter, but is rather apprehensive with the rate of reproduction under the aspect of empowerment of women.
Goal 6 is to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Target 1 is to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS; Target 2 is to achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS and Target 3 to reverse the emergence of malaria and other major diseases. Mr Lee stressed that HIV is hardest to deal with but that malaria is actually easy to handle, e.g. through the use of mosquito nets, which nonetheless have to be provided. The HIV/AIDS pandemic decimates the family structure, parents die and there are many orphans, raised by grandparents, which often leads to child poverty, a destroyed community and leads to child labour.
The seventh Goal is to ensure environmental sustainability, Target 1 is to integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources and Target 2 is to reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss, Target 3 is to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation and Target 4 is to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. This Goal has its roots in the 1992 Rio conference where the UN first looked at the effects of climate change. However, this Goal goes beyond climate change, it encompasses renewable resources but also ways of production and consumption especially in developing countries. Such causal connections as the effects of deforestation which lead to desertification which is encroaching more and more to the cities have to be controlled and further examined. Otherwise farmers have to grow crops in the dust.
Goals 1 to 7 reflect objectives that need to be accomplished in close co-operation with governments; Goal 8 on the other hand is related to the action we can take as a group.
Goal 8 deals with the international and regional level, formulates partnerships and not only between donor and recipient countries but beyond that. Each country has a responsibility. It is of the utmost importance to assist other countries, but governments need to abstain from corruption and especially developing countries must have the opportunity to participate in global trade in a fair manner. As Mr Lee stated: ‘In this world, governments cannot isolate themselves from the world […] Size does not matter, rather the willingness to dialogue’. Goal 8 is formulating the need for a creation of a global partnership for development. Target 1 addresses the special needs of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states, Target 2 calls to develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system; Target 3 deals comprehensively with developing countries’ debt; Target 4 addresses co-operation with pharmaceutical companies and Target 5 attends the co-operation with the private sector, calls the private sector to make available benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications. The most recent data on the actual progress towards achieving the MDGs shows that many countries – especially the poorest countries in Africa – are unlikely to meet many of the Targets. In fact, in some countries the social and economic indicators are worsening. The achievement of these Goals will require concerted and integrated action at all levels – the national, regional and international. Such action must be built on the recognition that people matter and that they must be given the rights and means to actively participate in determining theirs social and economic development.
‘Goal setting is better than not having a goal.’