Launch of the 2003 Human Development Report
FOCUSING ON THE MILLENIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS TO REVERSE A DEVELOPMENT CRISIS
Will the Millennium Development Goals be achieved? That is often the first question that people ask about these goals – but this is the wrong question. We should be asking ‘what does it take to achieve the goals?” – what is needed to cut poverty and hunger rates by half; achieve universal primary education and gender equity in all educational levels; cut under-five mortality by two thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters; halt and begin to reverse the spread of major diseases, including HIV/AIDS; halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water; reverse the loss of environmental resources; and significantly improve the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.
More than 150 heads of state and world leaders at the historic Millennium Assembly of the UN in September 2000 promised to do their utmost to end poverty once and for all. The Millennium Declaration has been followed by a new spirit of partnership between poor and rich countries, marked by the 2001 Doha Declaration that committed the work of multilateral trade negotiations to making the interests of the poorest countries central to its work; the Monterrey Consensus of March 2002 that framed the mutual obligations of poor countries (to pursue good policies, tackle corruption, and raise domestic resources) and of the rich countries (to support countries that demonstrate good policies). At the Johannesburg Summit in August 2002, the MDGs were reaffirmed and again most recently by the G-8 at the June 2003 Summit in Evian. Promises made, action expected.
The analysis of global poverty trends in this year’s Human Development Report 2003 shows a development crisis looming. At the present rate of progress, Sub-Saharan Africa will reach the hunger goal in 2165, one and a half century after the MDG deadline. For all the controversies that rage over the impact of globalization, one thing is clear about the trends of the last decade. While many countries such as China have made rapid gains economically and socially, many countries are also falling behind, and in some cases, backwards.
The 1990s was a decade of development reversals for many countries in which:
These are shaming statistics. What needs to be done to change this course? There is no single silver bullet and each country has its own unique set of issues. Clearly, each country needs to define its own strategy.
But from the global perspective, there are some critical priorities.
First, focus international help on those lagging behind and with the steepest mountains to climb – the worst off countries and people. Many countries, especially those in the middle human development category such as Brazil or Malaysia, as well as fast developing countries such as China are well on their way to achieving the goals. Although these countries have huge pockets of poverty, the countries themselves can do much to tackle the challenge. But it is Mali or Papua New Guinea or Honduras that are unlikely to be able to reach the goals without help – especially aid and debt relief – from the international community. HDR2003 identifies 59 countries that are most in need, which we refer to as ‘priority countries’.
Second, tackle the root causes of poverty. Three issues have dominated development debates over the last decade – macroeconomic policy and structural adjustment, governance especially to fight corruption, and popular participation. These are all important but they do not address the root causes of poverty, that is, poverty itself. Many of the 59 countries that are doing badly in progressing to MDGs are caught in a poverty trap, of poor health and education and low productivity, of inadequate infrastructure, endemic diseases, dependence on exporting primary commodities whose prices are declining, and the latter coupled with heavy debts. They also face other structural constraints due to their geography such as small population size, distance to markets with large segments of the population living far from trading routes or coastal areas. Of the 59 priority countries, 31 are HIPCs, 31 are classified as ‘low human development’, 13 have experienced serious conflict in the 1990s. These structural obstacles cannot be tackled by getting the prices right and by the market alone. They require public intervention to set the conditions for markets to do their job of driving a dynamic economy.
HDR 2003 presents a new “Millennium Development Compact” that identifies six public policy clusters as key to addressing these structural obstacles:
Third, mobilize civil society. Even if political leaders are committed to a pro-poor agenda, of schools and clinics in rural villages, clean water in urban slums – they can be undermined by elites, unless the civil society plays a watch dog role. Well-managed decentralisation also helps make public policies more responsive to ordinary peoples needs. Every town hall, every village center should post a scorecard on the MDGs.
Fourth, change the policies and approaches of rich countries and multi-lateral institutions – in concert with the aspirations of Goal 8, a global partnership for development. Along with the synergistic effects of investments in women’s education and health embodied in Goal 3, Goal 8 may be the most critical for success of all the goals. Achieving MDGs is beyond the reach of the “priority countries” on their efforts alone. What is missing is a faster pace of implementation – action to live up to the pledges made. The Monterrey consensus is founded on the notion of a mutual partnership and accountability but there is little that can hold the rich countries accountable.
HDR2003 calls on the rich countries to make Goal 8 more concrete, as concrete as Goals 1-7 with deadlines and quantitative targets to measure progress, namely:
Much of this has been promised but not delivered.
There is nothing inevitable about poverty. History shows what can be achieved, even in very poor countries.
Ghana and Peru are successfully tackling hunger and Bangladesh and Bolivia are reducing child mortality.
Progress such as this risks reversal without sufficient support to achieve all the goals. The goals are interrelated much as the links on a chain--- the durability of the chain is only as secure as the weakest link. Attainment of all the MDGS will help countries avoid a negative chain reaction, the vicious cycle that characterizes chronic poverty.
At the start of the 21st Century the world has the technology, the know-how, the resources to end poverty. It is a matter of choice. The MDGs are a powerful political tool that can be used by all stakeholders – poor country governments, rich country governments, donor and multilateral institutions, as well as UN agencies. They set a common agenda and clear measures of success. Most of all, they can be used by people themselves, in rich and poor countries, to hold their representatives and leaders to account for fulfilling the promises of the Millennium Declaration.
“We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.”
Are we doing enough to achieve the goals? And if not, why not?
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