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Life | The MDGs – Dream or Reality?

“Ours is the very first generation in history that had the possibility and the ability to feed every hungry person on earth,” says Professor Adil Najam: “we had the technology, we had the food – we just didn’t have the will. And that’s where the MDGs (The Millennium Development Goals) come in.” This introductory programme to the Millennium Development Goals looks at the ambition and scope of each of the individual MDGs, and what the obstacles are to achieving each of them. The programme includes film from future programmes (from China, Bangladesh, Jamaica, India, Sri Lanka, Zambia and Ethiopia) as well as comment from key academics and activists. As Eveline Herfkens, director of the Millennium Development Goals campaign explains, “It’s basically very simple – investment. Clean water, preventable diseases, primary education, schooling, public health systems – simple investment. It took us in northern Europe a century, it took Japan half a century, Korea a quarter of a century. What we did we can do on a worldwide scale – if we get our act together.”

At the turn of the new millennium, the world looked forward to an end to absolute poverty, avoidable disease, oppression of women and children without education. The United Nations embodied these hopes in a series of eight targets – the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These Goals were agreed by all 189 UN member states in 2000 – targets for everyone to meet by the year 2015.

These eight goals are the subject of this new series of eight Life programmes. This first programme is a review of the MDGs and an assessment by various leading figures of their value and likely outcome.

Eveline Herfkens, former Dutch Minister, is Director of the Millennium Development Campaign: ‘The Millennium Development Goals provide us for the first time in history with a shared vision among all of us including at the highest political level of what development is about – and who should be doing what to put an end to poverty.’

Both developed and developing countries agreed to play their part in achieving the MDGs. Hilde Frafjord Johnson, Minister for International Development, Norway, explains: ‘The beauty of the Millennium Development Goals actually is that we agreed to do our bit. The rich countries have to improve significantly and so do the poor countries – there’s no way we can achieve this without both doing our job.’

goals1But although the developing countries have their part to play, it is really only money that can make a difference at the end of the day. Poul Nielson, EU Commissioner for Development, spells it out: ‘The trick is that by setting the targets of the MDGs, we are creating an agenda of things to achieve. The raw material of making that possible is basically an input of money. This money is found in one place only, in the pockets of taxpayers in the rich North.’

But – with a few exceptions like the UK – the rich countries have given less and less money to international development in recent years. Eveline Herfkens stresses that it’s in the rich countries’ interest to pay up: ‘Even if people would not care, it is important to realize that indeed globalization means diseases travel, crime travels, drugs travel, terrorism travels, so we are in this all together.’

Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is the first goal, and in some ways the most important. Says Adil Najam, of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Pakistan: ‘I think it can certainly be achieved’¦ It would be just one step, in some ways it’s an easy target and the sad part is even though it is an easy target it is so difficult to achieve.’

The second and third targets are achieving universal primary education and empowering women – goals which are closely linked. Hilde Frafjord Johnson explains: ‘To educate girls and educate women is the best investment in purely economic terms that one can do in any poor country. And the reason basically is – one birth control: educated women and girls get fewer children. Second, taking care of the family’s health and their own health benefits the economy. Thirdly, they actually do send their girls to school – men that are only educated don’t do that – and their kids to school, all of their children. And fourthly they can be participants in the economy to a much larger extent as being educated.’

goals2Targets four and five are to reduce child and maternal mortality. Maternal mortality is the difficult one. Dr Nafis Sadik, former director of UNFPA, says: ‘While a lot has been done on so many fronts – maternal mortality has not budged. The rights of women have not been addressed, they’re not educated, informed about their own health and you know reproductive matters.’ This is partly because the MDGs don’t include the 1994 Cairo Conference targets on reproductive health.

Target 6 is concerned with HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases. Dr Richard Feachem is Director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria: ‘To reduce poverty many other things have to happen first and more importantly health has to improve because better health leads to more wealth and so the big health tragedies like AIDS, TB and malaria, have to be beaten back if poverty is to reduce.’

MDG 7 is to ensure environmental sustainability, halving the number of people without safe water and improve the lives of 100 million slum-dwellers. Jane Weru of the Pamoja Trust, Kenya, believes this is important: ‘In the Millennium Development Goals we have a target that indicates that one of the things we have to do is to change the lives of slum dwellers and I think this is the beginning of a change in the way the world begins to view developing country cities and I think it is a positive thing.’

The final goal calls for a global partnership for development, which means removing obstacles to fair trade. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, points out that only 50 billion dollars is given in overseas development assistance, while more than 350 billion dollars is given in agricultural subsidies in the rich countries. Even more is spent on defence and the ‘war against terror’. ‘If you compare for example the 50 billion dollars which is broadly the figure of development assistance, with a thousand billion dollars which is spent on defence – a thousand billion dollars – it seems to me that that imbalance doesn’t recognise the true basis on which one needs to build a peace, rather than a defence against terror and war.’

Eveline Herfkens sums it up: ‘It’s basically very simple – investment, clean water, preventable diseases, primary education, schooling, public health systems, simple investments’¦ It took us in northern Europe a century, it took Japan half a century, Korea a quarter of a century. What we did, we can do on a worldwide scale, if we get our act together.’

RELATED LINKS:

To find out more about the Millennium Development Goals, visit the Development Goals website.

Read about Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute, and visit EU Commissioner Poul Nielson’s web pages.

Click here to read Norway’s Minister of International Development, Hilde Frafjord Johnson’s, biodata and speeches.

Dr Richard Feachem is head of The Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria: click here to read his biography. UNAIDS is the UN co-ordinating agency in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Many countries risk falling short of health-related Millennium Development Goals, WHO and the World Bank have warned in a joint communique. Read about the WHO Director-General Dr Lee Jong-wook.

Other UN agencies working to achieve the MDGs are Unicef, UN-Habitat, and UNFPA. The World Bank President James Wolfensohn has just called on the international community to recommit to fighting poverty and meeting the Millennium Development Goals in 2004.

Read about the Safe Motherhood Initiative, and about IPPF‘s Charter on Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Jane Meru’s Pamoja Trust is a partner organisation of Homeless International.

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