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NGOs Rally Behind UN Plan to Slash World Poverty
Published on Thursday, January 20, 2005 by
NGOs Rally Behind UN Plan to Slash World Poverty
by Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Development groups are rallying behind a new UN plan unveiled Wednesday that concludes that, with sufficient support from wealthy donor nations, goals aimed at halving the number of people living in abject poverty around the world by 2015 are still achievable.

If wealthy nations double their aid to an average of 0.54 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP), not only will the number of absolute poor be sharply reduced over the next decade, but also, other goals set forth at the Millennium Summit in 2000 will be realized. U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs--main author of 'The Millennium Report' that outlines the new Plan--and non-governmental groups believe that even the goal of reducing maternal and infant mortality can be achieved within that time frame.

"The cost is low. The benefits are huge," Jonathan Hepburn of the international development agency, Oxfam, told OneWorld. He cited the unprecedented US$4 billion in aid commitments that followed last month's catastrophic tsunami as evidence that citizens of donor nations were willing to meet the needs of poor people.

The Sachs report--a summary of the 3,000-page project titled "A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals" (MDGs)--comes as British Prime Minister Tony Blair assumes the presidency of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations which represent the world's 22 major donor countries. The Plan was developed by more than 200 leading scientists and development specialists from both developed and developing nations

In the run-up to his presidency, top British officials, including Blair himself, have vowed to bring new momentum and focus to the fight against global poverty by pushing for increased aid commitments by wealthy nations, and for the cancellation of the external debt owed by three dozen of the world's poorest nations.

As endorsed by 189 governments--including the U.S. and other G-7 nations, at the World Millennium Summit five years ago--the MDGs call for halving the number of people living in poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; reducing infant mortality rate by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters; and reversing the spread of HIV /AIDS , malaria and other infectious diseases that kill millions in poor countries annually by 2015. Another world summit, planned for September this year, will review progress towards the goals and set the development agenda for the next decade.

Currently, more than a billion people live in absolute poverty--defined as subsisting on the equivalent of a dollar or less a day--while 2.7 billion others try to get by on the equivalent of between $1-2 a day. Around 11 million children die each year from preventable diseases like malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.

More than 800 million people go to bed hungry every night, while an estimated 114 million children around the world do not attend primary school.

Most experts agree that the MDGs are attainable, but many also say the last five years have been squandered. Many key donors have actually reduced their aid budgets in the last five years; the HIV/AIDS epidemic is spreading faster in Asia and Russia rather than abating, and the number of hungry people is believed to have risen.

But Sachs, who also heads the Earth Institute at Columbia University, insisted this week that the goals are "utterly affordable."

"We're talking about rich countries committing 50 cents out of every $100 of income to help the poorest people in the world get a foothold on the ladder of development," he said.

"The overwhelming reality on our planet is that impoverished people get sick and die for lack of access to basic practical means that could help keep them alive and do more than that--help them achieve livelihoods and escape from poverty," he added.

The report calls for donors to reward well governed poor countries with more aid delivered more quickly. Among those for which "fast-track status" is recommended are Mali, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, and Yemen.

It also urges pressing immediately for 17 specified "quick wins" that could improve the lives of millions of people within a relatively short period of time. These include the elimination of all fees for primary education, expanding treatment for people with AIDS and tuberculosis, and the mass distribution of anti-malaria bed nets.

"Every month, 150,000 children in Africa, if not more, are dying from the silent tsunami of malaria, a largely preventable and utterly treatable disease," Sachs said. The cost of effectively defeating malaria as a threat to children in poor countries would come to just $2-3 per American and other citizens in wealthy nations, he noted.

But the key to achieving such successes depends on the availability of more foreign assistance from donor nations.

Currently, only a handful of countries--Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden--earmark 0.7 percent or more of their GDP for development aid. In the last two years, six other countries--Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Spain, and Britain--have committed to meet that target before 2015.

But several major countries--including the U.S., Japan, and Germany--have failed to make such a commitment. The U.S. currently devotes only 0.15 percent of its GDP to development assistance. Increasing that aid will require the mobilization of citizens who want to help the poor.

"The key to the success of achieving the MDGs is having an active and engaged constituency," according to Edith Asibey, acting president of New York-based NetAID. "Pressure needs to be put on governments to change policy."

"This means that civil society organizations and the work that they do--informing people and giving them opportunities to turn up the pressure on decision-makers--are absolutely critical if we want to see a significant reduction in poverty by 2015," she added.

"The Millennium Report gives us an ambitious, but very realistic 'blue print' to create a safer, better world for women and men working together," said Ritu Sharma, co-founder and president of the Washington, D.C. based Women's Edge Coalition. "Now it's up to us, as Americans, to inspire our government to join the team that will build a 'dream house' that we all get to live in."

Minar Pimple, the director of the Peoples Movement for Human Rights Learning (PDHRE) also based in New York, said increasing aid should be accompanied by the cancellation of debt--beginning with the tsunami-affected countries--as well as changes in trade policy that will enable the poorest countries to earn money by exporting to western markets.

In addition, he said, "investing in development must be accompanied by investing in the promotion of human rights learning for all, so they can participate actively, and in an informed way, in the development process; so they feel that they have a stake in it."

© 2005 One World US


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