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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Poverty Eradication a Distant Goal, Warns U.N. Chief

DEVELOPMENT: IPS News: "by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 9 (IPS) - If current economic and social trends continue, many of the world's poorest countries will not be able to meet many-- or perhaps any-- of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned Thursday.

The eight goals, approved at a summit meeting of 189 world leaders in September 2000, are aimed primarily at fighting extreme poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease. The targeted deadline is 2015.

Projecting mostly a pessimistic picture of the state of the U.N.'s much-touted goals -- which also include a reduction in child mortality and improvement in maternal health -- Annan told reporters he hopes to see a breakthrough at the upcoming U.N. summit meeting in mid-September in New York.

”We expect the summit to be the largest gathering ever of world leaders,” he said. ”That is why 2005 and the summit are a make-or-break moment for the MDGs -- and for the world's poor.”

Instead of just setting targets, world leaders ”must now decide on concrete steps to achieve them”.

”They must decide on a plan to reach the MDGs,” he said, pointing out that ”failure would be a tragically missed opportunity.”

Launching a 43-page report billed as ”the most comprehensive and up-to-date statistics” on all eight MDGs, Annan described the achievements so far as ”a mixed score card.”

”There has been a massive, unprecedented reduction in poverty worldwide since 1990, led by Asia. But at the same time, the very poorest are getting poorer in sub-Saharan Africa,” he noted.

Worse still, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) says that about five million African children will die in 2015 ”if donor countries continue with a business-as-usual approach to development in the region.”

Currently, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for one in three people living in absolute poverty. By 2015, the share will have increased to almost 50 percent, according to UNDP figures released here.

”Africa cannot afford to see the world's richest countries sleepwalk their way to a heavily signposted -- and easily avoidable -- human development disaster,” UNDP's Kevin Watkins told a high-level forum in Berlin Thursday.

The U.N. study, titled the ”Millennium Development Goals Report 2005”, was prepared by 25 U.N. agencies and international organisations -- ranging from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the UNDP and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) -- all of which are involved in helping implement the MDGs.

The eight MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the promotion of gender equality; environmental sustainability; reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and a global partnership for development between the rich and poor.

The implementation of most of these goals has depended primarily on increased development aid by Western donors. The upcoming summit meeting will review the progress made so far and set the world's development agenda for the next decade.

But development experts complain that rich nations have failed to meet the eighth goal, which includes tariff and quota-free access for exports from least developed countries; enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance (ODA) for countries committed to poverty reduction.

”On current trends, according to the World Bank, there is not the remotest chance of the poorest countries meeting the MDGs, not until 2169, on a business-as-usual scenario,” says Saradha Iyer of the Penang-based Third World Network (TWN).

She said that one quarter of the world's countries lack the capacity needed to make the transition to sustainable domestic economic growth rates needed to bring down poverty.

”Hefty trade barriers, adverse terms of trade, heavy indebtedness, bad governance, poor policy advice -- all of which means countries lack the means to generate their own sources for development,” Iyer told IPS.

Furthermore, she pointed out, shunning of the poorest nations by private investors and drying up of official aid flows means capital is not arriving from abroad either.

Iyer also said that goal number eight is the only goal which has no targeted deadline. The rich countries have no ”specific time frames” to meet their pledges but the poor do, she added.

”In failing to tackle systematically goal eight issues, neglecting to nurture this partnership, and forgetting to honour commitments, the global community risks relegating the MDGs to the boulevard of broken promises, and turning the laudable MDGs into laughable gimmicks,” she said.

She said that 2005 will mark the 35th year since the U.N. General Assembly first affirmed the target of 0.7 of gross national product (GNP) as overseas development aid (ODA). But so far, only five countries have met or surpassed the target: Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

In the past two years, six other countries have committed themselves to specific timetables to achieving the target before 2015: Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Annan, however, welcomed the recent decision by the 25-member European Union (EU) to reach the 0.7 percent target by 2015, and that 50 percent of such aid to be earmarked for Africa, boosting efforts to reach the MDGs by the deadline year.

”Despite some progress over the last five years, today's report clearly shows that we must do far more to reduce poverty and save lives around the world,” says UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid.

She said that a world in which a woman risks death each minute in order to bring new life must be transformed.

”We must create a better, more caring world by doing all we can to prevent millions of our less fortunate sisters from losing their lives to pregnancy and childbirth, especially when we know how to avoid these tragic deaths,” she added.

The U.N. report says that giving birth should be a time for joy. ”But for more than half a million women each year, pregnancy and childbirth end in death.”

”A leading message of the report should have been outrage that so little progress has been made to secure women's health and rights,” says Adrienne Germain, president of the New York-based International Women's Health Coalition (IWHC).

Expressing disappointment, she said the report does not document the feminisation of poverty worldwide, or widespread sexual abuse of girls and women. ”It does not say that, when resources are scarce, in too many places girls are fed least and last -- if they are fed at all.”

She also said that the underlying forces of the HIV/AIDS epidemic include violence against women, marriage of young girls to older men, and discrimination of all kinds against girls and women.

”Clearly, our approaches to HIV prevention are not working for girls and women. We need to take a close look at what is really driving the pandemic, and change our approach.” (END/2005)"

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