12 September 2008

Millennium Development Goals are Achievable, Yet an "Aggressive Push" is Needed

More resources outside debt relief operations need to be provided in order to reach the MDGs, says Austrian State Secretary Hans Winkler

VIENNA, 12 September (UN Information Service) - Following the launch of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Report 2008 by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York yesterday, the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) Vienna organised a press briefing today with the participation of a number of prominent speakers, including the Austrian State Secretary for European and International Affairs Hans Winkler, National Director of Care Austria Ulrike Schelander and the Acting Head of UNDP's Poverty Practice Unit in Bratislava, Slovakia, Andrey Ivanov. UNIS Vienna Director Maher Nasser, who moderated the event, also highlighted UN efforts concentrated in September to focus attention on the MDGs not only to review what has been achieved but also to highlight areas where more work was needed.

In his introductory remarks, UNIS Director Maher Nasser echoed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's confidence that the MDGs were achievable and quoted the Secretary-General's remarks that for that to be possible: "We must really galvanize political will and mobilize necessary resources". As the most comprehensive global assessment to date, the MDG Report 2008 provided hard evidence on what the world has done well and what needs to be done in order to reach the MDGs by 2015. The report shows that thanks mainly to reduced external debt servicing, fresh assistance and new financing from private foundations, developing countries are able to devote more resources to education and health. As a result, primary school enrolment is rising and progress on health and gender equality has also been achieved. More importantly, on the overarching goal of reducing extreme poverty, new data from the World Bank shows that the proportion of people living in extreme poverty is indeed expected to decline by half by 2015.

Development Assistance

Austrian State Secretary for European and International Affairs Hans Winkler praised the MDG Report as a valuable document worth studying in great detail and expressed his full agreement of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's reference to the need for an "aggressive push" to move forward.

State Secretary Hans Winkler spoke about last week's conference on development assistance in Accra where he noted a prevailing mood of careful optimism emanating from partnerships between donor and developing countries, especially in Africa. He stressed the need for joint efforts in working with developing countries and the importance of ensuring aid effectiveness. The State Secretary made reference to the joint action plan adopted at the 2005 EU-Africa summit in Lisbon as an example demonstrating that EU Member States perceive activities needed to reach the MDGs as a joint effort.

While it was clear that additional resources were now needed from all donors to be able to fulfil commitments made, State Secretary Winkler said that the unfortunate reality of the slowing world economy will affect the ability to provide such resources. This perhaps explains the fact that there has been a decrease in official development assistance (ODA) in the last three years.

In order to fulfil the commitments made by donors, additional resources were needed. "We have to be honest to ourselves: From 2005 to 2007 the Paris Club [of donor countries] granted a number of debt relief operations which alleviated the debt burden of developing countries. The debt relief is and was an important measure of development cooperation," State Secretary Hans Winkler said, "but we have to see that in the current years - at least in 2009 and 2010 - there will be no major relief operation. That means that we have to increase our resources outside the debt relief measures considerably."

Austria and the EU have made clear commitments to increase the official development assistance (ODA) to 0.51 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010 and up to 0.7 per cent of the GDP by 2015. Mr. Winkler called upon the future Government of Austria to live up to this commitment.


National Director of Care Austria, Ulrike Schelander, highlighted that women were most affected by poverty as approximately 70 per cent of the people living in extreme poverty are female, two-thirds of the 774 million people who are illiterate are women and women provide 80 per cent of the food, and do 70 per cent of the unpaid work in keeping a family together, but receive only 10 per cent of the income.

The current food crisis affects women and girls directly and more than any other segment of the society. "Women are the first to give up their meals so that the rest of the family has something to eat. And it is mostly the girls who are taken out of schools when there is not enough money for education due to increased food prices," Ms. Schelander stressed.

Ms. Schelander attributed to women the key to the fight against poverty and called up that development programs need to focus more on empowering women and girls to enable them to build up their confidence, skills and capacities to overcome their own discrimination in wider society. Women and girls need to gain equitable access to and control over resources, being involved in decision making processes and developing one's capacities with a view to participating actively in shaping one's own life and that of one's community in economic, social and political terms. "Only empowered people can engage in taking on democratic ownership of development processes which leads to sustainable changes and significant achievements towards the MDGs," the National Director of Care Austria said.

In view of the donors' commitment to increase official development aid, she noted that also Austria - as one of the richest countries of the world - is challenged. Austria's current ODA rate is about 0.49 per cent including debt relief, but just over 0.20 per cent without debt relief. Ms. Schelander stressed that Austria will need to come up with fresh money for ODA as debt relief is done.

MDGs in Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

Human Development Policy Adviser at the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Mr. Andrey Ivanov, highlighted that the MDGs are relevant to countries of Eastern Europe and the CIS, though they may at first glance seem less applicable to these countries as a more-or-less developed region.

The poorer countries of this region are indeed quite poor, e.g. the GDP per capita in Tajikistan - the poorest country in the region - is only 550 dollars in absolute terms. In many countries the social services inherited from the pre-transition period were not built on solid foundations and have, over time, eroded. Today, several countries in the region - Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova and Tajikistan - are ranked according to Human Development Index in the second hundred of the countries. Social issues included in the MDGs, Mr. Ivanov stressed, remains valid for many other countries in the region, not only low income CIS countries. Averages can be misleading, hiding regional variations, differences between ethnic groups or discrepancies between sexes. For some groups, for instance Roma in Central and South Eastern Europe, reaching MDGs represent as challenging task as for some African or South Asia countries.

Mr. Ivanov underlined that the emerging of international economic and financial crisis might endanger the achievement of the MDGs, even for countries that are on the right track. The recent crisis in the United States and the poor prospect of growth in Europe might endanger the world growth and by reflection the growth of countries that are depending on the US and EU markets.

The countries of the region, in particular the new Member States of the EU face a challenge in the transition from recipient countries of development assistance to donor countries, so-called emerging donors, Mr. Ivanov said.

In order to achieve the MDGs, Mr. Ivavnov summed up that "we need to be cautiously optimistic." But in order to convert this cautious optimism there is the need to be consistent in what the Governments pledged in 2000 and to be adequate in terms of what is really done regarding measures, progress and policy reactions.

The MDG Report 2008 and further background information is available at www.unis.unvienna.org

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For further information, please contact:

Lothar Mikulla
Associate Information Officer, UNIS Vienna
Telephone: (+43-1) 26060-5693
Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5693
Email: Lothar.Mikulla@unvienna.org