Is it possible to eradicate extreme poverty? In late September, President Barack Obama will be traveling to United Nations Headquarters in New York to address two high-level events: the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) summit and the annual General Debate, the ministerial meeting of the General Assembly which consists of 192 Member States.
During this year’s Millennium Development Summit, which is scheduled to take place from 20-22 September, immediately before the General Debate, nearly 140 world leaders will be devoted to examining the progress made in the struggle against extreme poverty. However, what are – specifically – the MDGs? Unfortunately, when a recent survey was conducted in the United States regarding the MDG’s, ninety percent of the people admitted that they were unfamiliar with the specifics of the MDGs.
Economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Millennium Development Project, published a plan a plan to halve the rate of extreme poverty by the year 2015 (compared with 1990), achieving quantitative targets by listing the investments required to assist the world’s impoverished nations to cover basic needs in food production, water, sanitation, health education, roads and other key areas. The facts are abysmal, as approximately 1.1 billion out of today’s 6.5 billion global inhabitants are destitute in a world of plenty. Yet, Sachs has given the world hope: according to the economist, “extreme poverty could become a thing of the past in a few decades if the affluent countries of the world pony up a small percentage of their wealth to help the planet’s 1.1 billion indigent populations out of conditions of dire poverty.”
The MDGs were born in September 2000, when a concerted global effort was undertaken as the nations of the world promised to accomplish eight goals at the United Nations Millennium Summit by the year 2015:
– Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
– Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
– Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
– Goal 4: Reduce child mortality rate
– Goal 5: Improve maternal health
– Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
– Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
– Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development
This year’s summit will take place ten years after the world leaders set these eight goals. Unfortunately, of the eight goals, improving maternal (or reducing maternal mortality rates) is the goal where the least progress has been made. According to Richard Briddle, the head of UNICEF in Cambodia, this result is due to poor political prioritizing of various governments. Furthermore, the MDGs have failed to be achieved in Africa. Therefore, are these goals too lofty? According to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, these targets can – indeed – be reached by 2015 with the help of political engagement at the high levels and billions of additional dollars. According to the World Bank, the failure to achieve the MDGs in Africa was driven by several factors, including the unmet promises of the G8 to invest twenty-two million in food security, the increase in food prices, the world financial crisis and the rise in energy product prices.
The Western world must not consider foreign aid as money lost. According to Sachs, “if rich nations fail to make these investments, they will be called on to provide emergency assistance more or less indefinitely. They will face famine, epidemics, regional conflicts and the spread of terrorist havens. And they will condemn not only the impoverished countries but themselves as well to chronic political instability, humanitarian emergencies and security risks.” If the poor nations can wean themselves from charity, they will eventually be able to contribute to the international advancement of trade and technology. Furthermore, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan once wrote: “There will be no development without security, and no security without development.” Sachs believes that the achievement of the MDGs will allow poor nations to “escape political instability, which leaves many of them vulnerable to violence, narcotics, trafficking, civil war and even terrorist takeover.”
The MDGs symbolize a galvanized global commitment. They are the greatest promises the world community has ever made to eradicate extreme poverty. While promises generate hope and awareness, at the same, the rhetoric of good intentions needs to be translated into actions and results. Strategic opportunities must be identified. Sachs has identified eight major gaps of unmet objective which must be overcome in order to achieve the MDGs by 2015. These gaps cover the areas of education, water and sanitation, climate financing, empowering girls and women, infrastructure, smallholder agriculture, education, infrastructure, strategies and goals at the local level. Although Sachs’ hypothesis may be controversial, his special measures have motivated world leaders to draft a detailed strategy. An action plan is imperative. We only have five years left.
Brenda Vongova writes for the HARBUS on international affairs. She has served in the cabinets of three Presidents of the United Nations General Assembly.