9 September 2004
No Time to Lose in Ending Extreme Poverty, Putting World on More Just Path, Says Secretary-General, as Annual DPI/NGO Conference Opens
Theme of Three-Day Headquarters Meeting: Millennium Development Goals: Civil Society Takes Action
NEW YORK, 8 September (UN Headquarters) -- There was no time to lose in ending extreme poverty and putting the world on a more humane and just path, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today, upon the opening of the fifty-seventh Annual Conference of NGOs, this year aimed at mobilizing broader public support for the global anti-poverty goals, agreed at the 2000 Millennium Summit.
Webcast live around the world on an interactive United Nations web site (http://www.undpingoconference.org), the three-day Conference, entitled Millennium Development Goals: Civil Society Takes Action, has brought together at Headquarters some 2,700 representatives from more than 700 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide. Speakers will assess the Goals status and address impediments to implementation, including through the participation of experts on the front lines, where the urgent need for implementation is most clearly felt.
People everywhere wanted a fair chance for themselves and their children, the Secretary-General said, adding that, if the Goals were not met, we all will be poorer. The Goals were different from other bold, yet unmet, pledges - the Goals were measurable, had garnered unprecedented political support, and were achievable. For their part, NGOs could be proud of their contributions. They had put pressure on governments to deliver on their commitments and had brought real change into peoples lives.
Asserting that without civil society there would have been no Millennium Development Goals in the first place, the Secretary-Generals Executive Coordinator for the Millennium Development Goals Campaign, Eveline Herfkens, said that civil society had insisted on a rights-based approach, demanding government action and claiming participation. The Goals had transformed the face of global development cooperation. In country after country, it had been civil society spurring action. After all, it was not at the United Nations that the Goals would be achieved, but in each country through the efforts of the governments and the people.
Chairing the opening session this morning, the Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor, told participants to have no doubt about their positive impact on the work of the United Nations. Although there was still some way to go before the real problems the Goals were designed to address had been resolved, there had been genuine improvements, including in
reducing extreme poverty and extending access to primary education in many regions of the world. If the Goals were to be more than a mere possibility, however, greater resources were needed from both domestic and external sources, and governments, the private sector and civil society would have to maintain their focus and increase their efforts.
Agreeing that much work remained to right our balance sheet and meet the targets, General Assembly President Julian R. Hunte (Saint Lucia) said it was time to take up the hard issues and ask the difficult questions, even when there were no easy answers. The NGOs extended the global reach of the United Nations and helped raise public awareness of the issues before it. They brought particular expertise and experience to bear on policy setting and the implementation of the agreed courses of actions. They also positively influenced public opinion towards the United Nations by carrying the message of what it was doing to improve the lives of the worlds peoples. Their significant participation at the Conference underscored their determination to take action, in partnership with the United Nations, to achieve the Goals.
Also addressing the opening session this morning were: Joan Levy, Chair, NGO/DPI Executive Committee; Renate Bloem, President of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO); and Joan Kirby, Chair of the Conference and Co-chair of its Planning Committee.
A panel discussion this afternoon entitled, Towards 2015: MDG Progress to Date, focused on the state of MDG campaigns around the world and provided candid assessments of progress within the United Nations system and among governments and civil society partners.
It was moderated by the Senior Advisor for Global Monitoring at the World Bank, who said that the first global monitoring report of the Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), published in July, had found that, on current trends, most developing countries would fail to achieve most of the MDGs. Absent quick and tangible action to accelerate progress, especially by developed countries, the global compact for development could begin to lose credibility.
In the frank discussion that followed, participants heard first-hand accounts from NGO heads in various regions and countries, including from the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe, of the distance travelled in implementation and that which remained. Panellists provided insights into those regions that were on track and those that were behind schedule, while questions centred on ways to enlist government commitment to realizing the targets on the ground.
In closing, the Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals and Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University, Jeffrey Sachs, worried that he had not seen concrete efforts by the developed countries towards meeting their commitments of 0.7 per cent gross national product (GNP) in development assistance. The breakthrough towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals had to be made this year. Nothing was more important for global security than for the rich world to finally follow through on the 0.7 per cent pledge for development assistance. A safe world would come when everyones lives were taken seriously.
Other panellists were: Farida Allaghi, Senior Adviser to the President of the Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND); Leonor Briones, Co-convenor, Social Watch, Philippines; John Richardson, Ambassador and head of the delegation of the European Commission to the United Nations; and Albert Likhanov, President, International Association of Childrens Foundations, author, and Chairman of the Board of Russian Childrens Foundation.
The Conference will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 9 September, to convene a panel on Strategies to Overcome MDG Obstacles.
The fifty-seventh Annual DPI/NGO Conference began its three-day meeting this morning, focusing on the theme Millennium Development Goals: Civil Society Takes Action.
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General, addressing the Conference by video, said he was pleased that the meeting had decided to focus on the Millennium Development Goals. The Goals were a test for all. People everywhere wanted a fair chance for themselves and their children. If the Goals were not met, we all will be poorer. The Goals were different from other bold pledges that had not been met in three ways. First, the Goals were measurable. It was possible to see where progress was being made, as well as the areas in which further action was needed. Second, they had unprecedented political support. All world leaders had signed on to them. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had a key role to play in sustaining that political will. Third, the Goals were achievable. With the requisite national action and international support, almost every country could reach the Goals by the target date.
Non-governmental organizations could be proud of the contributions they had already made, he said. They had been innovative, had put pressure on governments to deliver on their commitments and had brought real change into peoples lives. He looked forward to receiving the recommendations which would result from the next three days. He was also eager for NGO reaction in a few weeks when he put forward suggestions for implementing the recommendations of the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the United Nations Relations with Civil Society, which would strengthen partnerships and help the United Nations keep pace with new developments in international affairs. There was now a historic opportunity to end extreme poverty and put the world on a more humane and just path. There was no time to lose.
JULIAN R. HUNTE, General Assembly President, said that the Conference theme was both impressive and timely. International collaboration was critical because, to date, implementation of the Millennium Development Goals was far from encouraging. Much work remained to right our balance sheet and meet the targets. It was time to take up the hard issues and ask the difficult questions, even when there were no easy answers.
He said the United Nations partnerships with NGOs were proving to be mutually beneficial. They extended the global reach of the Organization and helped raise public awareness and ensure understanding of the issues before it. The NGOs brought particular expertise and experience to bear on policy setting and the implementation of the agreed courses of actions. They also assisted in channelling resources appropriately. The organizations also positively influenced public opinion towards the United Nations by carrying the message of what it was doing to improve the lives of the worlds peoples.
Towards maintaining the momentum for such meaningful partnerships, he suggested that there was considerable scope for NGOs and civil society to contribute to the successful convening of the high-level plenary of the General Assembly in 2005, during its sixtieth anniversary. That meeting would follow up implementation of the outcomes of more than a decade of United Nations summits and conferences. NGOs and civil society organizations had participated in all of those gatherings and had a vested interest in ensuring that the commitments made were kept.
He said he also hoped that those organizations would play their part in other follow-up activities of the General Assembly, such as the 2005 follow-up to the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the 10-year review of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, also next year. Civil society had made important contributions to the collective efforts to effectively address pressing global issues. Indeed, a case could continue to be made for greater involvement of NGOs in the work of the Assembly; the world was rapidly changing, and the United Nations, including the General Assembly, must continue to change with it. In that context, the Assembly would speak to the issues raised by the Cardoso Panels report on United Nations-civil society relations.
The significant participation of NGOs at todays conference made a strong statement about those groups commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, he said. Moreover, that underscored their determination to take action, in partnership with the United Nations, to overcome obstacles and achieve the Goals, to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedoms. He wished participants a successful and proactive conference and commended them for their energy, dedication and commitment in working together with the United Nations to uphold the letter and spirit of the Charter.
EVELINE HERFKENS, Secretary-Generals Executive Coordinator for the Millennium Development Goals Campaign, said that NGOs were the prime movers for change, by extracting promises from governments, and through their passion and energy to try to give a voice to the poor. It was civil society that insisted on a rights-based approach, to demand government action, and to claim participation. It was civil society that continued to give a human face to abstract statistics, ensuring that action became relevant to the marginalized and excluded. Without civil society, there would not be any Goals in the first place. And without civil society, those Goals would never get implemented.
There were some that found the Goals just minimum goals, while others found them unachievable, she said. They were, of course, minimum goals. Where the Goals were not ambitious enough, governments and civil society should go ahead and raise the bar. In some countries in parts of Asia and Latin America, people and governments had decided to raise the bar. As to whether the Goals were achievable, she noted that the world had the resources to do it. They are doable. There was progress, but it was not adequate. The situation in sub-Saharan Africa and the least developed countries were particularly troubling. She would not stop believing that all of those countries could achieve all of the Goals. She added that the success stories were countries where the Global Compact was being implemented.
The Goals had broken all records, she said. Already, within a couple of years, the Goals had transformed the face of global development cooperation. In country after country, civil society had spurred that action. As the Secretary-General had stated, it was not at the United Nations that the Goals would be achieved. They would be achieved in each country by the efforts of governments and people. The Goals were also the road map to shape fair globalization.
While campaigning to hold governments accountable, it was important to acknowledge the division of labour in the global deal, she said. Addressing the rich countries, she said the Goals were a global compact built around mutual commitments and demanded mutual accountability by all countries. So, rich countries had to meet their commitments reflected in Goal 8 - increase aid and aid effectiveness, debt relief and trade opportunities, while eliminating agricultural subsidies which destroyed markets on which poor farmers in poor countries depended. The good news was that the number of rich countries that set themselves targets for Goal 8 was increasing.
The focus of those from developing countries should be on the primary responsibility of governments to achieve the first seven Goals. Even while rich countries failed to live up to their commitments, there was no excuse for developing countries not to do a better job. For example, even the poorest countries should be able to mobilize and prioritize domestic resources to get all their children to school. Dont let your own government off the hook to be accountable to its own people on how your own resources are being used, she stated. The Goals must be localized and tailored to national priorities and context. It was also important to fight corruption, and to hold governments to account.
Next year, she noted, governments would come together to ask themselves where they were in achieving the Goals. Dont wait, ask them that question today. It was necessary to start now to ensure that the summit next year would be a turning point in fighting poverty, to speed up commitments and to translate them into action.
SHASHI THAROOR, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and Chair of the opening session, said that, in all, some 3,000 NGOs had chosen to enter into association with the United Nations. Close cooperation between them and the United Nations dated back to the drafting of the United Nations Charter. The Organizations founders, and particularly the United States Presidents who were involved, had known how important civil society would be for the fledgling Organization, and so those encouraged NGOs to attend the San Francisco Conference and share in the discussions among founding States. Indeed, NGOs were the midwives of the UN.
In recent years, he said, the Department of Public Informations partnership with its NGOs had evolved significantly. From the Departments perspective, the Conference was a significant and critical element of the United Nations broad outreach programme, in which it sought to engage partners and stakeholders, from local womens groups to academics, and from young people to private corporations. The Conference provided an opportunity to examine and assess efforts by all stakeholders, including governments, to render the eight Goals a reality.
Although there was still some way to go before anyone could be happy that the real problem the Goals were designed to address had been resolved, there had been genuine improvements in many areas, he said. The Secretary-General stressed those successes in his annual progress report, which had been released yesterday. Among those, developing countries were reducing extreme poverty, extending access to primary education and alleviating disease and hunger in many regions of the world.
Mr. Tharoor said that, if those goals were to be more than a mere possibility, however, greater resources were needed from both domestic and external sources. Governments, the private sector and civil society would have to maintain their focus and increase their efforts. Success would take time - time to train teachers and health-care workers, to boost agricultural output in rural areas, and encourage businesses to create new jobs. Civil society must play a crucial part, which was another reason why constructive engagement with civil society partners had become a system-wide priority for the United Nations. Have no doubt, your involvement and your commitment have a positive impact on our work and help us move closer to the lofty goals that we have set for ourselves, he said.
He added that the success or failure of the Millennium Development Goals would be a measure of your strength, as much as ours, and of the strength of our cooperation. The organizations had chosen a topic that, although it did not yet have a high enough profile with the general public, was directly relevant to the Organizations priorities set by the General Assembly and Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The Cardoso report, the product of a high-level panel of eminent persons on United Nations-civil society relations commissioned by the Secretary-General, described greater collaboration between the United Nations, governments and civil society as essential if livelihoods for the people of both the North and South were to be sustainable.
He noted that the Cardoso report argued that, only through exchanged of ideas and the sharing of best practices, would it be possible to create a global development compact, through which opportunities would be extended to all. It recommended that ways be found to allow the United Nations to consult more regularly with civil society, including by fostering multi-stakeholder initiatives with governments, the private sector and local groups.
The General Assembly was scheduled to take up those recommendations in early October, he said. There would be further consultations with civil society organizations in the months to come. He flagged a different High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, established by the Secretary-General in November 2003, owing to the fact that the traditional collective responses to threats to peace and security had been called into question by the events of the past three years, including the Security Councils debates about an appropriate response to Iraq. The Panel had been examining the major threats and challenges to international peace and security today, including those threats arising from economic and social issues. It was to make recommendations about possible collective responses.
He said it was axiomatic that the Millennium Development Goals would not be met in a world marred by instability and conflict. Those were inextricably linked to the need to build international peace and security. No single country could even begin to successfully address the problems facing the world on its own. He sought the help of the Conference participants in making that clear to their leaders, their colleagues, their neighbours and friends.
JOAN LEVY, Chair, NGO/DPI Executive Committee, said that the Executive Committee represented 1,500 NGOs, who were affiliated with the Department of Public Information and located in all parts of the world. This year, there would be more participation than ever by NGOs, who would be able to express their ideas directly through expanded networking sessions and 30 midday workshops, among other things. Also this year, outreach efforts had been greatly expanded. The interactive web site was being broadcast in English, French and Spanish, and the Goals were presented in all six United Nations official languages.
She highlighted two topics of utmost importance to NGOs and other members of civil society. Those were the future of the Goals and the report of the Eminent Persons Panel on United Nations-Civil Society Relations. In September 2005, the General Assembly would undertake a Millennium Summit + 5 review. Civil society had a unique opportunity to provide input into those upcoming proceedings.
The report of the Panel was probably the most important issue for the future of NGOs, she said. In June, the Panel presented its report to the Secretary-General, and he, in turn, was preparing his response. Members of the Panel had been very generous in holding meetings with NGOs, governments and the Secretariat to answer questions and respond to comments. Non-governmental organizations had been and would continue to hold their own meetings and decide how to respond to the changes that had been advocated by the Panel.
RENATE BLOEM, President of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO), reiterated that everyone was aware that the Goals could not be reached within the set time frame of 2015 without a strong commitment and new impetus by civil society. The Millennium Declaration, from which the Goals had been derived, owed much to civil societys input. In May 2000, the NGO Millennium Forum had produced a declaration whose spirit was aligned by the official one adopted by 147 heads of State and government four months later. Given civil societys level of activity in formulating the Declaration, it bore a particular responsibility for implementing its goals.
She said that CONGO had raised the awareness of NGOs on the ground about the existence of the Goals and had tried to assess civil societys contribution to their implementation. Its motto had been, bring the Millennium agenda to the people, in particular to the different regions, and listen to peoples concerns and contributions, and bring these back to Millennium + 5 events. For that purpose, it had organized regional meetings. One of its key objectives had been to share capacities to analyse patterns of national budget allocations in relation to resources needed to meet the Goals.
Much could be achieved through resource redistribution and changes in power relations nationally, she said. It would be illusory, however, to expect real progress without a major breakthrough on the eighth Goal, which focused on international cooperation and the primary responsibility of the developed countries in that regard. It was necessary to move from mere lip service to a major overhaul in the international cooperation paradigm. In that context, it should not be forgotten that many service NGOs were working, in their daily operational activities, towards implementing the Goals, sometimes without explicitly being aware of that.
CONGOs outreach programme had also focused on regional consultations, which were not ends in themselves, but steps in a process leading first to the review summit planned for next year and then onto 2015. This weeks Conference provided a unique opportunity, including through its interactive web site, to formulate new ideas, create energies and synergies, and new alliances and partnerships to move participants together into an age of implementation. There was still time to give new impetus to the involvement of NGOs in the implementation of the Goals. Lets not miss it, she urged.
JOAN KIRBY, Chair of the Conference and Co-chair of its Planning Committee, said it was understood that, while progress had been made, the Goals were little known beyond the General Assembly Hall. NGOs were seeking to raise public awareness of the significance and opportunities of the Goals. They also wanted to highlight the findings of the Cardoso Report on the relationship between civil society and the United Nations. The report stressed that no one constituency could make change happen. The primary purpose at the Conference was to get the word out about the Goals, and to bring all the constituencies into collaboration.
In the coming days, experts from Member States, United Nations agencies, the World Bank, the Media and NGOs would, among other things, share their progress on the achievement of the Goals, and help identify the obstacles that obstructed progress towards those Goals. They would also look at the different roles of industrialized and developing societies from the perspectives of North/South partnerships. Of particular interest was the role of the international community in solving global development problems such as trade, debt relief and cooperation.
In panel 5 on Friday, she continued, the NGO community would commend, recommend, challenge and report what it saw as progress. NGO representatives would make recommendations that could be tracked through the year in preparation for the Millennium Summit + 5 review in 2005. The purpose of the Conference then was to ensure that the Goals were on the mind of every policy-maker, media representative and global citizen. It was also to see that no one could claim ignorance of the common duty to work actively towards the achievement of those eight Goals.
Introducing the afternoons panel discussion, entitled Towards 2015: MDG Progress to Date, ZIA QURESHI, Senior Advisor for Global Monitoring, World Bank, said that the Goals encapsulated the development challenge of the times, and civil society action was vital to meeting that challenge. In July, the World Bank, together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), published a global monitoring report, which was the first in a series of annual reports to asses how the world was doing in implementing the policies and actions for achieving the MDGs and how the various parties were delivering on their respective responsibilities.
He explained that the objective of those reports was to put in place a framework of monitoring and accountability that would enhance the international communitys review of progress on the global develop agenda. The findings of the first report had provided a sobering assessment of progress. The report found that, on current trends, most developing countries would fail to achieve most of the Goals. At the global level, the world would likely cut poverty in half by 2015, thanks mostly to growth in Asia, but several countries would not meet that goal. Sub-Saharan Africa was seriously off track, with just a handful of countries likely to achieve the poverty goal.
The picture was still more worrisome with respect to health, particularly child and maternal mortality, AIDS, and access to clean water and sanitation, he said. In terms of reducing child mortality by two thirds, for example, most, if not all, regions were off track. The implication of that rather sobering assessment was clear - achievement of the Goals required rising above current trends and substantially accelerating progress. There was an urgent need for all parties to scale up action. In that connection, there were three essential elements: reform must be accelerated in developing countries and Africa must double its growth rate; the delivery of basic human services and key infrastructures needed to be scaled up; and developed countries needed to speed up implementation of development partnerships agreed at Monterrey, matching stronger country efforts with stronger support, especially by opening markets to exports and providing more development aid.
Indeed, he said, actions by developed countries, to date, had been well short of the Monterrey vision. While the Goals presented a daunting challenge, past development successes had given cause for hope. For example, global adult illiteracy had been halved over 30 years and life expectancy had been increased and poverty had fallen from about 40 per cent in 1980 to a little over 21 per cent in 2001. Such achievements demonstrated that rapid progress was possible, given good policies and partners support. Monterrey and other conferences had created a powerful global compact for development, but success depended on timely and adequate implementation of agreed targets by all parties. The World Bank-IMF report warned that, absent quick and tangible action to accelerate progress, especially by developed countries, that compact could begin to lose credibility.
FARIDA ALLAGHI, Senior Adviser to the President of the Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND), said that it would be difficult to generalize about 22 Arab countries and whether or not they had achieved the Goals. She was disappointed that there were only perhaps five to seven NGOs represented from the Arab region. The Goals were not really talked about or known in the Arab world, she said. While many Arab leaders had come to New York and signed on to the Goals, there were few achievements.
However, despite the fact that the Goals were not covered in the media or talked about, there were millions of Arab men and women working under severe political and economic constraints to eradicate poverty and illiteracy, she said. The majority of the Arab population lived in the poor Arab countries. The oil was not in the highly populated areas. In the Arab world, illiteracy was still high and, as the Arab Human Development Report stated, there were many deficits, including the freedom deficit.
On poverty eradication, the biggest deficit in the Arab region was data and statistics, she noted. According to the Arab Human Development Report, there was little or no reduction in poverty throughout the 1990s in the Arab world. However, when it came to primary education, the last decade had witnessed quite a leap. At the same time, the rates for maternal mortality diverged widely throughout the Arab world. She emphasized several factors in the Arab countries and in the developing world, such as the political establishment, the lack of democracy, corruption and male domination of the political arena. Also, noting the war in Iraq and the Palestinian question, she wondered what Goal should be focused on when people were being bombarded day and night by bombs.
She was proud of what the Arab people had achieved, saying that the movement was forward. She also highlighted the wonderful alliance that existed between youth, womens groups and civil society. There were also strong networks being built with parliamentarians and the private sector. She emphasized that women needed to focus and push for the younger generation of women to move into politics and science and technology -- some of the so-called corridors of power.
LEONOR BRIONES, Co-convenor, Social Watch, Philippines, said that the challenge in Asia was the overall perception that the Goals were succeeding in Asia and the Pacific. After all, many cited the dramatic reduction of poverty in China and India, as well as the prosperity in Japan. But Asia and the Pacific was made up of more than its richest and most populous countries. The region was also composed of small landlocked countries like the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Cambodia, and small island nations. While the successes of countries in achieving the Goals had been highlighted, it was also true that several nations would not achieve those goals. Asia and the Pacific covered the range of the very richest and also the very poorest and most war-torn countries.
She said that the campaigns to achieve the Goals seemed to have proceeded on two tracks. The first had been initiated by the United Nations, while the other track had been initiated independently by the stakeholders themselves, such as civil society and religious groups. The United Nations global campaign had had a slow start. Meanwhile, the other stakeholders, who were supposed to have been delighted at the prospect of countries delivering on their promises, needed to be convinced that the Goals would work at all, since the other summit outcomes had not. Reactions ranged from suspicion and scepticism to outright distrust, even of United Nations bodies.
Questions had been raised about the humble target about halving poverty, she said. What would she tell the other 50 per cent and how would she choose which half would be liberated? she asked. Could the Goals, noble as they were, be attained with fundamental reforms? Perhaps the Philippines Social Watch campaign could be a second-track model for civil society organizations. Before describing the campaign in detail, she said there could be no disagreement that, long before the Goals were launched, everyone had been working on the problems. Upon their launch, however, everyone saw it as an opportunity -- beyond the debates and the scepticism -- to benchmark the delivery of government. Organizations such as hers had made it very clear to governments that the Goals were not enough - they were only the minimum.
JOHN RICHARDSON, Ambassador, head of the delegation of the European Commission to the United Nations, said that the contribution of the broad spectrum of civil society to the achievement of the Goals was crucial. Government alone was not enough, and the European Union had recognized that in its development policy. Greater participation by civil society and the private sector should be encouraged. It was important for the Union to reinforce its relations with civil society to facilitate their participation and implementation of cooperation programmes.
Achieving the Goals, he said, was not only in the immediate interest of those living in extreme poverty, but also a part of the common global future. It was in the direct interest of the Union in terms of its future security policy. The whole history of the Union was based on the conviction that prosperity and security were intertwined and could not be achieved by force of arms. In June, 25 Union member States declared their concern about progress towards the achievement of the Goals, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa; their desire to strengthen the Unions contribution to global poverty eradication; and their desire to deliver on the Monterrey commitments, among other things.
The Union was looking forward to contributing to the preparations for the 2005 Millennium Development Goals review, he said. What was needed now was concrete action, not more rhetoric. It was the loud voice of civil society that created the necessary political pressure. People must tell their representatives what to do. The Union had entrusted the European Commission with the task of preparing a single European Union Millennium Development Goal report. The Unions objective for the 2005 event was twofold. It wanted to make strong proposals on how to accelerate progress towards achievement of the Goals, such as coordination and harmonization of donor aid and policy coherence. It would also assess whether the Union was living up to its commitments in helping achieve the Goals, and outline how the Unions member States lived up to their Monterrey commitments, as well as list further measures. Particular focus would be given to accelerating the Goals in Africa.
ALBERT LIKHANOV, President, International Association of Childrens Foundations, author, and Chairman of the Board of Russian Childrens Foundation, said that, these days, Russia was burying her children. Terror had come this time to a school. Soon, it would come to the babys cradle. People in civil society in Russia and in the Government were asking what was to be done, and they had been unable to come up with an answer. In 1989, in this hall, he had participated in the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. During this visit, he found himself in a New York pit where the twin towers used to be, and he had looked up into an empty sky trying to recall his last visit.
He said it went without saying that steps were being taken and security was being tightened. The world was getting no kinder, however; it was getting more merciless. Merciless adults could not leave behind benevolent children. The literary giant, Fyodor Doestoevsky, noted in the nineteenth century that, no matter how noble a cause, the price was too high if it caused even a single child to cry. Today, childrens tears seemed to be an abstraction that did not touch peoples hearts. Many millions of people were not united by any person or thing. That mass acted under the influence of circumstance and had shrunk back, mistrustful of all. Human openness was disappearing. The most vivid example had been the decrease in births in Russia by 10 million in the past decade. People stopped having children, because they were scared about the future for those unborn children.
There were 709,000 orphans in Russia, having been deserted by their parents, he said. Those dreadful figures were a direct result of the pauperization of people and families. Russia had been also been plagued by narcotics, with school children accounting for 20 per cent of the users. The number of those infected with HIV/AIDS had also risen dramatically since 1987. The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF), perhaps out of political correctness, had said nothing about the spiritual reason behind the degradation of the lives of children in Russia, namely, the moral degradation of their parents, their economic weakness and their sense of defeat. A child receiving federal assistance had to pay income tax to the State, in what was one of many legislatively absurd situations. His foundation, in existence for 17 years, had assisted children to the amount of $170 million, which was a record for Russia. Its family orphanage programme, however, while personally supported by the President, had been impeded by bureaucrats, in a difficult paradoxical situation.
During the question and answer session that followed, Ms. ALLAGHI said that there were several international non-Arab NGOs working in the Arab world, including OXFAM and Save the Children. On how to reduce the impact of fundamentalism, she said that it started in early childhood, at home, in the socialization process, with parents. Another major factor was the educational curricula, which was linked to the political establishment. Also, the media was a very powerful force in promoting tolerance. Religion had been used by politicians for their political agendas, and needed to be restored to its rightful place.
Asked if the European Union would support the Tobin tax to mobilize resources to finance the Millennium Development Goals, Mr. RICHARDSON said that the tax was one suggestion for innovative financing for development. What should be avoided was instituting new forms of taxation. That was part of the problem in coming up with innovative financing. He did not know if the European Commission would propose going forward with the Tobin tax, the biggest argument against it being that it was not feasible.
On whether there was any hope for the reduction of agricultural subsidies, he said that the enlargement of the European Union, which meant a doubling of the number of the Unions farmers, had led to a point where heavily subsidizing agriculture was no longer possible. The Union had committed to achieving agreement, under the Doha agenda, to the complete elimination of export subsidies on agricultural products. It had already eliminated tariffs for agricultural products from the least developed countries. It was seeking to shift the remaining agricultural subsidies away from production-related subsidies to those related to rural development and environmental protection.
Replying to a question about ownership of the Goals, Ms. BRIONES said that the people themselves should own and advocate them. It was very difficult to campaign for poverty reduction at the grass-roots level without offering alternatives to poverty. So, that had to be linked to existing poverty reduction and reform programmes. Many programmes under Social Watch were campaigning for the delivery of basic services, respect for human rights and so forth. In short, governments could not talk about the Goals without introducing basic societal reforms.
She said, to another question, that population growth was an urgent problem for the Philippines, but since reproductive health was not included in the Goals, she wondered how her organization was supposed to incorporate population issues into its campaign. Social Watch had linked itself to legislators campaigning for a much more effective management of population and families. Religious issues were connected, but that had not changed the fact that the Philippines had the highest population growth in Asia, and the highest fertility level was seen in the lowest economic level. Social Watch was very clearly defending reproductive rights and choice and working to ensure that the children would have full lives.
In terms of the role of the World Trade Organization in eradicating poverty, she said that the Goals had touched very fundamental problems in societies related to distribution of wealth, power, womens status, and human rights. So, it was not possible to campaign for the Goals alone, without also campaigning for the reforms necessary to enhance their achievement. That was precisely the line being taken by Social Watch.
In the Philippines, she replied to a further question, there was a reduction in the numbers of the absolutely poor, but a rising trend towards malnutrition and hunger. That was related to food distribution, the price of food, power relations in society, and so forth. So, poverty was going down, but hunger was going up.
In the Middle East, Ms. ALLAGHI said that infant mortality had improved in past decade and primary school enrolment was not bad, particularly for young girls. There was a strong participation of Moroccan women in parliament, and in several other States she was seeing many more women in positions of power. The percentage of women enrolled in colleges for science and technology was up 70 per cent, particularly in the Gulf States, and there was a very strong participation of women in business. Real achievement, or democratization and political reform, however, had not yet occurred. The rest were little bandages to make everyone happy, but they were not radical achievements.
Mr. LIKHANOV added that, in Russia, things had gone from a situation where everybody was poor, but nobody died from hunger, to one where 20 or 30 well-dressed people controlled the resources, mostly oil. Now, 50.7 per cent of families in Russia were living below the poverty line.
Mr. RICHARDSON said that the broad European population did not know about the Goals and, therefore, did not push their governments to achieve them. He believed, however, that that could be done, and he suggested that those visiting New York for the first time should visit the Strawberry Fields in Central Park and imagine, recalling John Lennons song. He opened a newspaper entitled What If and said that upon turning the page the rest of the question was what if everyone could eat when they were hungry?.
He said that achieving the Goals in 2015 did not create a problem, in geopolitical power terms, for the European Union. The Union did not indulge in power politics. Its international relations were based on the idea that the more people worldwide who enjoyed peace and prosperity, the better off Europeans would be, both economically and in terms of security. The Goals were no threat to Europeans.
JEFFREY SACHS, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals, and Director, The Earth Institute, Columbia University, said that, in the United States, days, weeks, months could go by without hearing a word about the Goals and the worlds poor. The United States, like others, had signed on to the Monterrey Consensus by which all developed countries had committed to make efforts towards the 0.7 per cent development assistance target. He did not see concrete efforts taking place. Unfortunately, what was seen was the United States spending 30 times more on the military than on development assistance for the whole world. This year, $450 billion was spent on the military and $15 billion for all development assistance.
The Goals were not being funded, he said. What was being funded was war, not peace. There was no mystery about the Goals or what needed to be done. Not one more promise was needed. It was all in the Monterrey Consensus, the Millennium Declaration, the Johannesburg Plan of Action and the numerous Group of 8 Summit declarations. What was needed was follow through. It was also no mystery what the follow through meant. Eleven years was enough time to achieve the Goals everywhere. With targeted interventions to fight AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases, it was possible to save millions of children that were dying every year. Irrigations pumps could be put in place, wells dug, schools built and teachers paid. The technologies needed to help impoverished people could be made available. He noted that the United States was giving $500 million in food aid and giving $5 million to help farmers grow food, which made no sense.
When it came to good governance, he said, it was not the rich world that should be lecturing the poor world. There was no absence of seriousness in poor countries, or absence of plans or creative ideas. What was absent was rich countries following through on the Monterrey commitments. He was finding international agencies telling governments that there was not enough money to finance the plans of the poor countries. For the Goals to be met, they must be taken seriously, and it must be understood what it meant to scale up an investment plan. Monterrey came and then came the Iraq war. The United States was spending $100 billion a year for Iraq, and giving $1 million for the Millennium Challenge Account. We are at a crucial moment, he said. A billion people were fighting for survival today. Thousands would lose that fight today and thousands more tomorrow. Nothing was more dangerous than a world where millions were allowed to die without anyone doing anything about it. If life was so devalued, how would it be possible to win a war against terrorism?
The breakthrough had to be made this year, he said. First, it was necessary to understand the case -- the Goals could be met and they could be met everywhere. Second, it was necessary to follow through on the commitments made. Third, there was a real opportunity coming up in 2005, at which time a plan of action to take the Goals seriously would be needed. Nothing was more important for global security than for the rich world finally following through on the 0.7 per cent pledge for development assistance. A safe world would come when everyones lives were taken seriously.
Responding to a series of questions about the role of NGOs in the effort to achieve the Goals, Mr. SACHS stressed four roles for civil society in that regard. The first was the planning role, or working together with government and international organizations, to identify needs and priorities that made sense at national or local levels. The second role was the watchdog role, which was government fighting to achieve the Goals. The Goals could be met everyplace, there was enough time and enough means to do that. They would be met everyplace if only two conditions were applied: that the necessary financial and other support was forthcoming finally from the rich world; and if national governments were behaving themselves. In looking at poor governance, he made a strong distinction between volitional poor governance versus poor governance because the government was too broke to do what it needed to do.
He said that the third role concerned the delivery of services, which was what a lot of the participants of the Conference did, and did brilliantly. But, creativity was needed in developing delivery mechanisms right down to the village level. The fourth was the need to hear the voice of civil society and NGOs everyday about where the rich world was, after all. Participants had to make the responsibility felt appropriately everywhere. They had to be tough on governments in low-income countries, but understand that there was a point beyond which they could not go, unless the United States got its head straight about the meaning of development assistance. What the participants could help to do was to identify working models, do costing, and assess local needs, among other practical ways to assess results on the ground.
Addressing the problem of increasing privatization, he said that, on ensuring that aid went where it needed to go, governments needed a well-defined strategy. There were national poverty reduction strategies, but even those were not enough. So, he was proposing MDG-based poverty reduction strategies, or national plans of action. Also, recipient countries should have a delivery plan that was accountable and monitorable alongside those strategies. He liked the proposal of the New Partnership for Africas Development (NEPAD) for an African Peer Review Mechanism, by which those countries would look over each others shoulders. So much aid, however, went to politics and not to development. Serious plans, serious monitoring and mutual accountability and care were required.
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