Tuesday, May 20, 2008

UN Millennium Development Goals Review

by Mike Tolochko

The Millennium Development Goals [MDGs]
Third World Summit

Monday, May 19, 2008
Location, Conference Room 2
United Nations, USA

A brief report.

It was not clear who was in charge of this important meeting where Kofi Anan's epic initiative on the MDGs would be discussed and possibly evaluated. The three-hour meeting was brought to order by the head of the powerful UN Department on Economic and Social Affairs, ECOSOC. But, then in her introductory remarks she drew attention to the Virtue Foundation and a group called, Women Together as the launchers of the meeting. It was hard to figure out what was going on.

The Virtue Foundation was established and is essentially run by a NYC dental philanthropist and Women Together is a NGO working mostly out of Barcelona, Spain.

At the outset it was clear that this would not be what many had hoped for, i.e., an evaluation of the progress being made by each of the 8 MDGs. The MDGs were launched about 8 years ago and there are just 7 more years to go.

It turned out that those reporting on the goals would be showing some examples, very limited examples, of how each of the Goals could be achieved. They did not seem to be charged with evaluating progress on that Goal.

Goal #1 Ending Poverty

A leader from an international credit agency called, Microcredit Summit Campaign, showed how lending a few dollars to people in dire poverty significantly help elevated that person out of poverty. The solution was clearly a market solution and not one that would be government driven.

The role of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization were not even mentioned.

While this report, probably the most important of the MDG, was clearly not getting very far, the representative of the group stepped out her role as a banker. She made it clear to everyone in the room that the recent skyrocketing cost of food is setting back all efforts to move toward the elimination of poverty by 2015. She said the cost of food is up 30% and rice is up 50%. This is very bad for the most impoverished countries. She said that, for example, in Sri Lanka where 80% of income is spent on food; the percent is now far higher. In developed countries, the percent is in single digits. The year of 2007 up to present is a food crisis period that must be addressed.

Goal #2 Primary School Education

This report focused only on limited progress in a few Central America countries. The educational conditions in Nicaragua were reported as being very poor. They reported that for this Goal Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras are doing pretty good.

Goal #3 Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women

This reporter focused on Brazil where she said progress was being made, but a backlash was taking place against the progress. She called for help there. The reporter was very distressed at these developments.

Goal #4 Child Mortality

The example here was pediatric hospital in Barcelona where administrators made the atmosphere a better place to delivery services. Barcelona is a very advanced developed country with resources far greater than the countries that are receiving MDG attention. Somehow, this example bore little resembles the tremendous problems of child mortality in developing and exploited countries.

Goals #5 & #6 Maternal Death and HIV/AIDS

The physician, from a major NYC academic medical center, delivering this case example spoke about the value of drugs to curb the HIV/AIDS crisis. The report was more pure research and clinical rather a policy driven. That was about it.

Goal #7 Environmental Sustainability

A corporate representative gave this very brief presentation. No mention was made of the UN's concentration around Climate Change and other environmental problems.

Goal #8 Global Partnership for Development

The only reporter to actually deliver a policy approach to the MDGs and one, which former UN Secretary-General would have been proud of, was Mireia Belil, from Barcelona and head of a group called Forum de las Culturas Foundation. Her brief comments were right to the point. She quoted Albert Einstein in regard to how to achieve the MDGs by the year 2015, "No problem can be solved from the same level that created it." This is probably her version that if your part of the problem, you cannot be part of the solution.

She showed a lot of fire by her very aggressively stating that, "Money is NO excuse for not achieving the goals." She added, "The money is there; redistribution is the issue." She received strong applause.

NGOs Speak UP

During the very brief question and answer part of the day, each NGO representative expressed frustration at the day's reports. One representative was particularly angry that there was not even one mention of the Goals and African and Southern Asia.

Whither the MDGs?

Given the nature of the Reports and the very poor turnout, less than 100 were in the large room, the future of the MDGs doesn't look good. The three-hour meeting was extremely disappointing.

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