MDG summit keeps goals on the world agenda but disappoints many

by olesya-dmitracova | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 24 September 2010 10:12 GMT

LONDON (AlertNet) - Big on rhetoric, thin on action. Failed to address root causes of poverty or deliver a big enough boost in aid funds.

These are the common criticisms levelled at a U.N summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which concluded on Wednesday.

But how fair are they?

The three-day meeting of world leaders ended by adopting a declaration agreed earlier this month, which promised intensified efforts by the 192 U.N. member states to achieve the eight goals by 2015.

In one of the few pledges of big money at the summit, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon launched a $40 billion plan aimed at saving the lives of 16 million women and children over the next five years - to speed up progress on MDGs 4 and 5. Some $27 billion of that was new money from governments.

However, many activists were disappointed that more money wasn't pumped into the other goals.

"This is probably as much as we could have hoped for," Danny Sriskandarajah, the director of Britain's charity Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS), said of the meetingÂ?s achievements.

"This is not an environment in which billions of dollars are going to be pledged afresh," Sriskandarajah, a development researcher originally from Sri Lanka, told AlertNet.

While stable financing is important for meeting the MDGs - which include halving the proportions of people living in extreme poverty and suffering from hunger, reducing maternal and child deaths and getting all children into school - simply throwing money at development problems will not solve them, experts, activists and aid groups agree.

What the world needs is a concrete action plan on how to achieve each goal, they say.

Although the MDG declaration does contain such a plan, opinions were split as to whether it is concrete enough.

"With the MDGs it's possible always to find reasons to be hopeful and reasons to be gloomy, and your particular take on it varies enormously with your particular organisational objectives and your frame of mind," said Claire Melamed, who heads the Growth and Equity Programme at London-Based Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

Indeed, while anti-poverty charity CARE said the outlook from the summit was Â?cautiously optimisticÂ? and welcomed the $40 billion health initiative, human rights campaigners Amnesty International lamented what it called world leaders' failure to address human rights abuses, such as forced evictions of slum dwellers, that "prevent the MDGs from benefiting those who need them most".

IGNORING POVERTY'S ROOT CAUSES

Some say several key issues, such as deep inequalities between rich and poor, were not properly discussed at the summit nor in the resolution, while a number of the agreed actions to solve other problems are "plain wrong".

According to anti-poverty campaigners World Development Movement, the summit did not tackle the root causes of poverty - "an unfair trading system, unjust debt burdens and the biggest elephant in the room: climate change".

"If governments continue to dodge these thorny issues, then ultimately, MDG project will be doomed to failure," Director Deborah Doane said in a statement.

In an interview with AlertNet, she criticised the commitments made in the MDG declaration on achieving MDG 8, which relates to aid, trade, debt relief, and access to technology and essential drugs.

One such promise is the elimination in the more than 150 member-states of the World Trade Organisation of all forms of farming export subsidies by the end of 2013 - an old point of contention between rich powers and emerging economies who disagree over the extent to which poorer countries should open up their markets.

"Rich countries should drop some of the subsidies, like cotton farmers in the U.S., but they shouldn't expect developing countries to make the same compromises," Doane said.

In response to the broadly pessimistic reaction to the summit from aid groups and activists, RCSÂ?s Sriskandarajah suggested that perhaps their expectations had been too high.

Â?The MDGs were never supposed to capture everything and anything about development challenges nor will they therefore deliver everything to do with development challenges,Â? he said.

The meetingÂ?s greatest achievement may well be its success in keeping the MDGs high on the agendas of the globeÂ?s most powerful people.

Â?One of the most important contributions of these summits, which sometimes is overlooked, is just in the fact that they are happening at all and the fact that world leaders still think itÂ?s worth giving up several days of their extremely valuable time to sit together and talk about the MDGs and about global poverty,Â? ODIÂ?s Melamed said.

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