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The High-level Event on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), held in New York on 25 September, brought together senior government leaders, UN agencies, chief executive officers, foundations, religious figures, development experts and civil society representatives to renew energy and bolster efforts at advancing progress in reaching the eight MDGs. The event ended with a number of new commitments on such issues as education, malaria prevention and reforestation. It also saw strong support for the UN Secretary-General’s proposal to host an MDG review summit in 2010.
Convened jointly by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, the High-level Event, held alongside the General Assembly’s annual general debate, featured three roundtable discussions on Poverty and Hunger; Education and Health; and Environmental Sustainability. They were co-chaired by Heads of State and Government from around the world. The day also included a wide range of side events
In his opening address, Mr. Ban noted that inroads had been made towards some of the Goals but these efforts were not enough. He stressed that the current financial crisis threatens the wellbeing of billions of people, particularly the poorest of the poor. “Poor people around the world look to their governments and to the United Nations for help and solidarity. We are accountable to them. Here in this house, everyone counts. So let us live up to our responsibility. I ask you to be bold in your commitments. I ask you to be generous.... I hope that we will be able look back on 2008 as the year when the Millennium Development Goals were put on track,” he said.
In his remarks, the GA President stressed the need for a significant increase in international assistance for the world’s poorest people, maintaining that present aid amounted to only one tenth of international military budgets. The cost of the war in Iraq alone could have paid for the primary schooling of all those children in the world now deprived of it.
“Faced with today’s world food crisis, we must speak out on behalf of our brothers and sisters and say ‘This is not right.’ It is not just to keep in place agricultural and energy policies that give rise to these kinds of distortions. Now is the time to help the poorest countries to boost their food production capacity.”
Unfortunately, food production had been monopolized by a handful of multinational corporations, and hedge funds controlled 60% of the supply of wheat and other basic grains, he stressed. Neoliberal economic policies had affected access to all of life’s basic necessities, including food, water and fuel. The current credit crisis presented another threat, and must not be used as a pretext for failing to honour the commitments undertaken at the International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey in 2002 and elsewhere, he warned.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Qatar, said the MDGs could not be achieved in full unless social development was considered an integral part of economic development. He said the follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus, to be hosted by his country in Doha, would provide a critical opportunity to adopt the required plans of action, not only to get back on track for attainment of the 2015 targets, but also to overcome the deep inequalities that divided nations.
Winston Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China (G77/China), pointed out the special status of the eighth MDG because it was the “enabling one.” The high-level review should focus on action to implement already-made commitments under that Millennium Goal, and set in motion a process to develop specific benchmarks and targets to measure properly the implementation of the requisite partnerships. He emphasized that the target for most of the MDGs was not to eradicate or eliminate particular ills, but rather to reduce the extent of suffering and deprivation.
Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) of India, said the desire to cut poverty in half by 2015 had met with marginal success because the poor were still not a priority. Today’s economic environment was out of balance because it did not address simple human needs and fundamental human rights like food, water and shelter for all. It assumed technology would solve all problems. “We are proud of our modern cities, our high-tech hospitals, our shining universities and the bright minds who go on to earn millions, but we are not ashamed of our dying villages and urban slums, where populations go hungry, illiteracy is rampant and curable diseases weaken the people.”
She proposed placing the MDGs squarely in the centre of national budgets, guaranteeing a living income, providing social protection, ensuring decent work, and building communities. Donors should contribute to the building of local capacity and the local economy, and support the efforts of the poor to build their own organizations so they could manage their own destinies, she stressed.
The High-level Event featured three roundtable discussions, co-chaired by Heads of State and Government from around the world.
Roundtable 1: Poverty and Hunger
Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain and President Bingu Wa Mutharika of Malawi co-chaired the morning session of Roundtable 1. Lead discussants in the morning were Nancy Birdsall of the Center for Global Development (US); and Papa Abdoulaye Seck, Director-General of the Africa Rice Centre (Senegal). In the afternoon, President Boni Yayi of Benin took the chair. Lead discussants were Mandivamba Rukini, Regional Director of Africa Programmes at W. K. Kellogg Foundation Africa (South Africa); and Xuan Vo Tong, Rector Emeritus of An Giang University (Viet Nam).
Opening the morning session of Roundtable 1, the President of Spain asked participants to consider ways to increase food security around the world and to help farmers counter the forces arising from the rising demand for biofuel. The President of Benin, who opened the afternoon session, stressed the importance of preserving human dignity and asked participants to consider ways to elevate the status of women in society, in a way that would advance the development process. He also asked participants to consider the elements needed for a world partnership for development that would help the donor community and recipient nations to apply development assistance in the most effective way possible.
Ms. Birdsall said the war on poverty could only be won by “the leaders and citizens of developing countries themselves.” However, in an increasingly interconnected world, the actions of rich countries and their leaders - on trade, migration, greenhouse gas emissions and financial policies in particular - all had an impact on the wider global community. As such, rich countries should be held to account for their actions or inaction and their efforts as part of the global fight against poverty. To date, such accountability had not existed.
The eighth MDG was the only Goal that addressed the responsibilities of rich countries, she added. It was also the “least discussed” Goal and its text was a “hodge-podge of elements” that reflected the reluctance of some countries to delve into the specifics of their commitments. She urged those gathered at the roundtable to use their power and influence “to put teeth” into MDG 8.
Mr. Seck said Africa had the potential to be one of the greatest agricultural producers in the world: it had sufficient land, tremendous ecological diversity and the human resources. However, its resources were not being used to their full potential, due to a dearth in technology. A successful agricultural economy involved the use of well-adapted technology, high quality infrastructure, and a conducive economic environment with an emphasis on environmental preservation. He suggested that Africa could become a net exporter of rice, provided that it increased the size of arable land by 15% and began growing different varieties of rice. Already, a number of Asian rice-growing countries were seeking to move production to Africa, driven by lack of land and water on their continent. He also noted that only an average of 4% of State budgets were devoted to agriculture and very little was being spent on research.
Xuan Vo Tong noted that poverty levels in the Asia Pacific were the highest in the world, where 600 million people were living on US$1 per day and 1.7 billion people on US$2 per day. Around 60% of their income went towards food. Rapid population growth in that region meant that the number of poor would only become higher. Poverty resulted from inequity, and current poverty programmes simply encouraged more inequality, which was most stark between urban and rural inhabitants. Improved procedures for aid-giving were very much needed.
In the ensuing discussions, which took place over two meetings, many world leaders expressed support for increased production to help countries deal with the current food security crisis. The President of Madagascar, Marc Ravalomanana, said over half of the arable land in his country was currently unexploited and the low levels of national agricultural productivity resulted in his country suffering more severely from the current food crisis. Madagascar was currently off-target on meeting the majority of the MDGs and the food crisis threatened to push them even further off-track. Others pointed out that, even in countries that were on target, the situation was difficult. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Fakhruddin Ahmed, suggested the creation of a global food bank as a possible long-term solution to hunger and a necessary step towards eradicating poverty. The Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Gambia said that tackling hunger through limited charitable donations, such as donations of food, would only treat the symptoms of poverty and not the root causes. National economic growth was a pre-requisite to poverty reduction, he said, as was the development of social sector policies that enhanced employment opportunities for the poor and ensured minimum safety nets.
Henrietta Fore, United States Agency for International Development, said that private sector economic growth went hand-in-hand with foreign assistance and stressed the importance of including private sector partners in the development dialogue.
Ndiogou Fall, President of the Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organisations of West Africa, said that smallholder farmers and family-based businesses had not seen any benefits of the liberalized global trading and financial system. It was now even harder for small producers to access credit facilities or sell products on the market.
Speakers also addressed other issues related to poverty eradication, such as gender equality, climate change and peace and security.
Roundtable 2: Education and Health
Co-chairing the morning session of Roundtable 2 were President Danilo Türk of Slovenia and Prime Minister Ahmad Al-Sabah of Kuwait. The lead discussants were Prince Willem-Alexander of Orange (Netherlands) and Chair of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, and Jeffrey Sachs, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the MDGs. Co-chairing the afternoon discussion were Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway and President Michelle Bachelet of Chile. The lead discussants were Raymond Chambers, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Malaria, and Princess Firyal of Jordan.
Opening the roundtable, President Türk said that the discussion must focus on significant issues, such as how to develop a sustainable health and education system; how to improve the emerging global partnership on health to provide, among other things, essential drugs to the poor; and how to comprehensively address education and health beyond just primary education, so that the whole development pyramid was perceived as a long-term process.
Co-chairing the afternoon discussion, Mr. Stoltenberg urged Member States to step up progress towards meeting the education goals so that, for example, the 75 million children presently out of school could receive primary education by 2015. Special attention was needed for children in conflict States, and nothing was more conducive to development than investing in the education of girls.
Ms. Bachelet, who also co-chaired the session, said, in light of the global economic crisis, new steps to achieve the MDGs were all the more urgent. Contributions made today should be oriented towards the most vulnerable issues in terms of education, sustainable health systems and ensuring that gender equality was an integral part of all efforts to achieve the millennium targets.
Several other high-level speakers participating in the discussion stressed that education and health, which were critical for poverty reduction and sustainable economic development, should be at the core of all development agendas. Many participants from African countries gave progress reports on their efforts to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates, and increase school enrolment. All agreed that increased funding and the political will of donor countries to make good on their pledge to contribute at least 0.7% of gross domestic product (GDP) for development aid were sorely needed.
Speakers said that, in addition to scaling up support for national sustainable and inclusive health and education systems, quality strategies, action plans and international community assistance were necessary to meet the millennium targets on health and education, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
Roundtable 3: Environmental Sustainability
In the morning, Roundtable 3 was co-chaired by Han Seung-Soo, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, and David Thompson, Prime Minister of Barbados. The lead discussants were Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of Delhi, and Christopher Flavin, President and CEO of the Worldwatch Institute (US). In the afternoon, the roundtable was co-chaired by Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan, and Tarja Halonen, President of Finland. The lead discussants were Rolph Payet, Special Adviser to the President of the Seychelles, and Bekele Geleta, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Mr. Han said the world community was deep in an ecological deficit, causing more damage than the Earth could regenerate. In the past, the need to protect the environment had often been seen not just as a burden, but as a cost for economic growth. Even today, the first MDG, which addresses poverty reduction, continued to undermine Goal 7, which aimed at ensuring environmental sustainability. To resolve that incompatibility, environmental sustainability should be fully integrated into policy planning, he stressed. A paradigm shift that maximized synergies and minimized trade-offs and engaged the public and private sectors more effectively was needed.
Ms. Dikshit stressed that the MDGs required close cooperation and detailed policy coordination to improve the lives of the disadvantaged in a growth-oriented yet sustainable manner. In contrast to its past image as a city choking on its own pollution, Delhi had become one of the greenest capital cities in the world due to a host of deliberate policy decisions. While this transformation was by no means complete, it served as an example of what could be done.
Mr. Flavin stressed that the environment was the foundation on which the entire global economy rested. The global community had accumulated massive ecological debts that were now beginning to come due, and increasing levels of consumption meant that a new economic model was required. New sustainable, low-carbon economies were needed on a local, national and global level, he said. Indigenous, renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, bioenergy and geothermal power, presented one of the biggest set of new economic opportunities and could become the largest engine of job creation in the world.
Mr. Payet said the world today ran on incentives which all too often promoted accumulation over sharing of wealth. Due to the lack of proper incentives, only moderate progress had been made towards sustainable development. Globalization had brought many benefits, but 90% of the profits from products like fish, diamonds, wood, metal ores, sugar and palm oil were realized outside the source country. That was a recipe for degradation of the environment and perpetual poverty, he stressed. Clear incentives were needed to sustainably use resources, while also ensuring the livelihood of future generations.
Mr. Geleta noted that climate change was today’s defining human development issue, and its impact could effectively cancel the development progress of recent decades. Climate change, which disproportionately affected the world’s poorest, should be tackled not only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but by integrating adaptation policies with poverty reduction efforts, he stressed. A more positive political climate that encouraged social motivation must also be generated.
Throughout the ensuing discussion, which took place during morning and afternoon sessions, many speakers described the specific and alarming ways climate change was already impacting their countries. In light of such widespread changes, collective, urgent action was needed, many speakers said. A number of speakers highlighted the particularly dire situation facing small island developing States (SIDS) and called for a comprehensive rights-based approach to sustainable and just development. Also, the link between those displaced due to environmental changes and poverty should not be underestimated.
At the end of the High-level Event, the Secretary-General presented a summary of the day and welcomed the new initiatives and commitments. He noted that the day had been a sobering reminder that the “culture of indifference” could not continue. Concerns had been heard about the global financial crisis. “Faced with this and other ongoing crises, we have to work together in the spirit of solidarity and partnership,” he stressed. Mr. Ban said he was heartened by the encouraging response to his call for a formal summit in 2010 to review implementation of the MDGs. The call for effective monitoring of the commitments made in Millennium Goal 8, in particular, should be honoured. The UN would intensify its own efforts in advocacy, support for national strategies, forging and strengthening partnerships, mobilizing global action, and increasing accountability.
In addition, almost US$1.6 billion had been pledged to foster food security, US$3 billion to launch the Malaria Action Plan, and almost half a billion dollars in new pledges had been made to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. A further US$2 billion had been committed for the Millennium Goals relating to child mortality and maternal health, and pledges had also been made to support national health plans, access to clean water and sanitation, and education. Overall, new contributions and commitments could amount to around US$16 billion or more.
Mr. Ban warned that “additional efforts are required to fill the remaining gaps.” Examples of these gaps included an increase in official development assistance (ODA) and progress towards a “pro-poor” trade deal in the Doha Round of international trade negotiations.
In his closing statement, Mr. d’Escoto strongly supported the Secretary-General’s proposal to hold an MDG review summit in 2010, and announced the start of a consultation process to develop a resolution on the objectives and modalities of that meeting so the Assembly could act on it as soon as possible.
He said that, as President of the Assembly, he was deeply committed to strengthening the development role of the United Nations and sought the full cooperation of today’s participants in that global effort. He and the Secretary-General would jointly convene an informal thematic debate at the end of 2008 or in early 2009, on “Strengthening Global Health: the Health MDGs and Beyond,” in addition to other efforts aimed at advancing progress in the global health arena.
Great strides had been made over the course of the day, he said, concluding: “We must go forward in partnership, for what we can achieve together is far greater than what any country or organization can accomplish alone. This is the very essence of the United Nations and global solidarity.”
Additional reporting on the Event can be found at:Archive of this section