U.N. Warns of Impending Development Emergency

NATIONS - The much-ballyhooed Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs ) -- which include the reduction of extreme poverty and
hunger by 50 percent by 2015 -- are being seriously undermined by food,
financial and climate change crises.

"We face nothing less than a development emergency," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday.

Halfway to the target date of 2015, "it is clear that we are not on track to meet the goals, especially in Africa," he said.

"And new global challenges -- an economic slowdown, high food and fuel
prices, and climate change -- threaten to reverse the progress we have
made," he warned.

The warning comes on the eve of a meeting of world leaders on
MDGs, scheduled to take place on Sep. 26 on the sidelines of the 63rd
session of the General Assembly.

Releasing a new 51-page study on MDGs, the secretary-general
said the current "troubled climate" poses a risk that may result in
further unraveling the gains made so far in reducing poverty worldwide.

But Alison Woodhead of Oxfam International had a different
take on the crisis. She said the report shows that inaction by
governments on MDGs has created a "poverty emergency".

"The growing food crisis and economic downturn provide
compelling reasons for leaders to act, not further excuses for
failure," she added.

The United Nations is expecting over 90 heads of state or
heads of government to participate in what is billed as "a high level
meeting" on MDGs.

But Woodhead pointed out that world leaders converging on New
York City must come up with a plan of action to end extreme poverty
within the next seven years.

"Without bold leadership, progress on the goals will go backwards, not forward, at this critical moment," she said.

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in extreme poverty and hunger;
universal primary education; promotion of gender equality; reduction of
child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by
three-quarters; combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other
diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a
North-South global partnership for development.

A summit meeting of 189 world leaders in September 2000 pledged to meet
all of these goals by the year 2015. But the results have been
disappointing -- specifically in sub-Saharan Africa.

The study released Thursday points out that recent successes
in the developing world (including increased school enrolment;
agricultural productivity; and progress towards eradicating malaria)
"demonstrate that rapid success is possible when sound policies are
matched with increased aid and technical support."

"But many countries are off-track -- none of the goals are
likely to be met in Africa, if current trends continue, and even in
middle income countries, large pockets of people still live in extreme
poverty," it added.

Although the number of people living in extreme poverty fell
by over 400 million, most of the decline took place in East Asia,
particularly China.

But sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet republics
actually saw the number of poor increase, between 1990 and 2005,
according to the study.

Salil Shetty, director of the U.N.'s Millennium Campaign, says
the global food, financial and climate crises have, in fact,
exacerbated the situation.

"And much of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the
few financial speculators, emitters of pollutants and oil consumers,"
he added.

Shetty said that with only seven years before the 2015 deadline, it is critical that the rich rally to meet these commitments.

Asked whether the upcoming high level meeting will serve any purpose,
particularly if there are no concrete commitments, Shetty told IPS: "We
are at the mid-point and a renewed political commitment at the highest
level is important in itself."

"But it is right for civil society to push for a time-bound action plan, from now till 2010," he said.

This meeting is also very important to frame the discussions
for the Doha meeting on Financing for Development in end November, he

Asked how confident he was that most of the developing nations will
meet the MDG targets by 2015, Shetty said that some of the poorest
countries in the world including Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia, Ghana,
Malawi, Tanzania and Bangladesh are on track to achieving many of the

This is also true for some of the larger developing countries like
Brazil, which is on track to achieving all the goals, except the
sanitation goal.

"It is clear that if national leaders in developing countries are
serious about achieving the goals, there is no reason why any country
should fall short-- but not at the current pace of implementation".

"We have to ratchet up the operations," he added. Likewise, the rich
countries have not delivered on many of their commitments, as last
week's U.N. MDG Task Force Report shows with hard numbers.

He said aid volumes are lagging behind particularly amongst the Group
of 8 most industrialised nations -- the United States, Britain, France,
Germany, Italy, Canada, Russia and Japan.

"Aid quality is still poor as we saw (at last week's conference) in
Accra. And poor countries have got a very raw deal in the Doha
negotiations on trade," he added.

Shetty also said that oil producers must reduce prices, which have a
direct impact on the cost of food. "It is the world's poorest who are
most impacted by these exorbitant prices, driving the cost of food to
levels which they can no longer afford."

The financial industry must stop reckless speculation, a practice whose
fallout sends shockwaves through the global economy. That a few
individuals, corporations and countries can rake massive profits on the
backs of the world's poorest people and countries is not just bad
ethics, but bad economics as well, Shetty added.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.