The Challenges of attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) by 2015
Workshop C – September 4, 2013
The Challenges of attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) by 2015
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to take part in this workshop to discuss the Millenium Development Goals which is a great challenge to all of us.
Let us make it very clear from the outset that the Millenium Development Goals do not deal with relative poverty or poverty as such, but deal with extreme poverty and hunger. This means that Development Aid is aimed and should be aimed at providing long-term basic benefits so that communities would cease depending on humanitarian assistance.
Now, we all know that Development Aid has been provided by individual countries and through organisations, such as the agencies of the United Nations, from many decades. However, one can clearly state that the Millenium Development Goals has been the most successful, focused and result-orientated global initiative so far to combat extreme poverty.
As we all know, the achievements attained by the Millenium Development Goals are significant. When one goes into the statistics, one realizes, for example, that:-
i. in ten years, that is, between 2001 up to 2011, the number of workers living on less than $1 dollar 25 cents a day dropped by over 294 million. This is a good result but it is still a grave concern.
ii. if we discuss potable water, over 2 billion people have gained access to improved sources of potable water; and
iii. maternal mortalities have been almost halved between 1990 and 2010.
Notable progress has been registered in our endeavour to reach the Millenium Development Goals. However, the level of success brought about by the Millenium Development Goals effort did differ when one compares region to region, and sometimes even within the same community where, for example, women and disabled persons fell behind. One has also to underline that a lot remains to be done because, for instance:-
a. an estimated 1.2 billion people are still living in extreme poverty, and of these, more than 870 million are undernourished, including over 100 million children; and
b. more than 55 million children still do not even have access to primary education, and more than 123 million of these children or young persons are literally illiterate.
So, what are the challenges or, I may add, what are the obstacles, for attaining the Millenium Development Goals? I am going to highlight five major concerns.
1. ‘Resource Allocation’. As we know, the Millenium Declaration was signed by 189 delegations in the year 2000 and I have to admit that credit has to be given to this initiative for reversing the declining trend in making available Development Assistance. However, in recent years there was evidence that the official Development Aid has started to decline once again presumably due to the international financial crisis. Resource allocation is a key factor and it is unjust to slash funds earmarked for Development Aid, which for entire communities could effectively mean life or death, on such pretexts as the international financial crisis, which to many countries could mean the reduction of just a mere percentage point, or even a fraction of it, in their GDP growth.
That was not the case with my country, Malta, because the objective of Malta’s development policy, irrespective of the government in office, is very clear, that is, to fight poverty and bring about social justice. In fact, its current financial budget my country, Malta, achieved its target of allocating 0.23% of its Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance. So, the fact that as a country we have achieved our target under the Millenium Development Goals for these last years, irrespective of the current economic gloom and also during the financial crisis, gives us a lot of satisfaction as a country and renders us more determined to push forward towards meeting the next target of 0.33% of GNI for the 2015. So, our approach of increasing fund allocations and making better use of our resources should provide our recipient countries with better results and long-term benefits.
2. Sustainability. The second concern that I would like to indicate is with regards to sustainability. New projects funded by development assistance should be sustainable so that the benefits derived would be felt even in the long-term. For example, reading the European Court of Auditors Report No. 13 issued in 2012, entitled ‘European Union Development Assistance for Drinking Water Supply and Basic Sanitation in sub-Saharan countries’ I found out from its findings that it pointed out that in some cases, the operators could not fulfill their responsibilities due to insufficient technical skills or failure to build ownership, whereas in some other cases the results and benefits will not continue to flow in the medium and long term unless non-tariff revenue can be ensured, because the tariffs set for water did not cover all the cost, either because they had been set on the basis of the ability to pay or because of lack of willingness to pay together with ineffective billing and collection system. This is serious issue, because we are talking about projects that are there, but then there are technical and fiscal problems that somehow make these projects fail. Project sustainability is a very serious concern which we, as a member state of the European Union, should see that such problems and challenges as the ones highlighted in the report which I have just referred to are tackled so as to ensure that the intended services are delivered efficiently and that the benefits derived are enjoyed even over the long-term.
3. Financial and Trading Systems. The third point which I wish to highlight concerns the financial and trading systems. Except in the case of agricultural produce, tariffs imposed by developed countries on products originating from developing countries is said to have remained unchanged since 2004. I would add that what is even worse is that more protectionist measures have been introduced since 2008 in the wake of the global financial crisis, many of which are still in place with the result that, for example, trade with the sub-Saharan countries fell by a clear 1% in 2011. Now, such trade barriers stifle investment for development which is crucial to the long-term solution to extreme poverty, that is, not to remain dependent on humanitarian aid.
Again, debt relief initiatives have helped reduce the external debt of heavily indebted poor countries, but still some 20 countries remain at high risk of debt distress. In fact, recently I was attending the inter-parlamentary conference of the IMF and the World Bank in Baku, Azerbaijan, and there it was made very clear that in order to attain these Millenium Development Goals, we need to assist developing countries further by providing them with better debt relief initiatives to help them make the leap forward in terms of economic recovery and investment for development. So, while noting the increase in desease specific global health funds in 2011, one could not help noting that little progress has in fact been registered with regard to the availability and affordability of essential medicines in developing countries. In fact, on this same line of thought I should add that developing countries are also experiencing a slow and limited access to the benefits derived from new technologies.
4. Security, Stability and Good Governance. Efforts to tackle any of the Millenium Development Goals would stand no chance to succeed unless in the recipient countries there are security, stability and good governance. Stability and good governance are basic requisites for a country to aspire to have a functional democratic system, that is, to have a functional parliament, to have an elected government, to have an independent and impartial judiciary and to embrace such values as the rule of law, equality and social justice. My country, Malta, is witnessing what is happening in North African countries and others surrounding us like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria. Instability brings about a downturn in terms of economic activity and properity leading to the displacement of persons and imcreased poverty.
Recently, in my introductory speech on the occasion of the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, addressing the Maltese Parliament, I felt that I should quote the President of Uruguay, Pepe Mujica - who, as you know, is literally the poorest President in the world and who practically gives back all his renumaration as President to the poor - while addressing an international conference in Brasil, about a year ago, when he made it very clear that if the billions of people living in countries like China and India, and I add the African continent, were to consume goods and services at the same rate as in the most developed countries, like the UK, then literally, and I emphasize the word literally, the earth’s resources would be consumed within a relatively short time and life will not remain possible. We would not even have oxygen to breathe!
5. I would like to conclude my presentation with another concern: The Waste of Food and Resouces. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in its report on Global Food Losses and Food Waste, about one third of the food produced globally for human consumption, I am talking about 1.3 billion tonnes of food, is either wasted or lost every year! Now imagine what we could have done with that food for the people who are in need, for the people who are in extreme poverty, for the people scattered all over the world who are dying of sheer hunger! So, one of the remaining challanges is to raise consumer awareness, both about the financial and the environmental cost of food wastage, besides the moral responsability towards those millions of people who are at present still undernourished.
Dear colleagues, extreme poverty is a social injustice and a blemish of humanity and its eradication is the responsability of each one of us. The degree of indifference towards the plight of the millions who live in conditions of extreme poverty is blatantly evident in the ammount of food and resources being uselessly lost or wasted.
I conclude with this recommendation:
People everywhere need to be conscious of their responsibilities and should press governments to augment not deduct resources dedicated to the MDG effort.
Thank you very much for your attention.