4 April 2008
General Assembly
GA/10700

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-second General Assembly

Plenary

94th Meeting (AM)


GENERAL ASSEMBLY CONCLUDES THEMATIC DEBATE AIMED AT GALVANIZING SUPPORT


FOR ACHIEVEMENT OF GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT GOALS BY 2015

 


‘2008 Must Be the Year of Action,’ Says Assembly President;

Proposes Annual Debate, Report by Secretariat to Monitor Progress


Stressing that “2008 must be the year of action,” General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim this morning proposed that the United Nations Secretariat -– in partnership with all relevant funds, programmes and agencies -- compile an annual Global Monitoring Report to form the basis of an annual Assembly meeting to review progress in implementing the Millennium Development Goals and hold all partners to account.


Wrapping up the Assembly’s four-day thematic debate on “Recognizing the achievements, addressing the challenges and getting back on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015”, the President said many of the 111 delegations addressing this week’s gathering –- including many Government ministers -- had already endorsed his call for an annual follow-up session until 2015.  Indeed, the Assembly had a critical leadership role to rally global support for the ambitious Goals, he said.  Its two upcoming meetings in September -– one to focus on Africa’s specific development needs and the other Millennium Development Goals event to be organized by the Assembly President and the Secretary-General -– would provide further opportunities to announce new concrete initiatives.   


“Our focus on facts and substance demonstrates that we take the achievement of all the MDGs by 2015, in all countries, extremely seriously.”  Mr. Kerim said, “It also demonstrates that when dealing with substance the Assembly is stronger and able to send a strong message to the rest of the world.”


He then highlighted some of the debate’s key conclusions, pointing to the uneven and slow progress thus far in achieving the Goals, with Africa and the least developed countries in particular in need of long-term assistance to catch up to the rest of the international community.  Delegates had made strong calls for investment in agriculture and infrastructure to do that, especially in light of rising food and energy prices that were exacerbating food insecurity and malnutrition -– a primary cause of infant mortality, stunted growth and other serious health risks.  Preferential trade access for agricultural and value-added goods for Africa and the least developed countries would immediately boost their economic growth, he said, noting that Africa’s cotton exports would jump 75 per cent, if the European Union and the United States eliminated cotton subsidies.


Speakers had noted that basic health care and services not only saved lives, they were also smart investments, he added.  According to a study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), every $1 invested in family planning could save up to $31 in Government spending on education, food, health, housing, water and sewage services.  A total of $5.5 billion was required to achieve Millennium Goals four and five by 2015.


Delegates had also found fault with the international aid architecture for being too fragmented and unpredictable, he said.  Donors were not on track to increase aid by $50 billion by 2010.  In fact, aid had fallen in real terms for the second consecutive year.  That was most troubling for countries emerging from conflict, which urgently required better long-term support and aid delivery in order to prevent a return to violence and instability. 


Speakers had warned, too, against trying to alter the Millennium Development Goals Framework.  “Any attempts to change the Goals without intergovernmental agreement, only serves to undermine their legitimacy,” Mr. Kerim said.  Rather, donors must scale up aid and debt relief, while developing countries must integrate the millennium targets into national development plans, as well as expedite implementation of other commitments, including good governance.  But, only 17 per cent of developing countries had operational strategies to do that.


The aid landscape was also changing, the Assembly President said.  The private sector now contributed approximately $14 billion in aid and non-governmental organizations and civil society approximately $12 billion.  While the private sector’s role did not replace Governments’, the Assembly had heard some compelling arguments to give it the opportunity to provide goods and services to the poorest “bottom billion”.  Charitable foundations, such as the MacArthur Foundation, were also participating more in championing specific goals and bringing in donors and developing countries to work on targeted initiatives.  More foundations should be encouraged to follow suit. 


Also during this morning’s debate, several observers and observer organizations took the floor to express their views.  For example, the Observer for Palestine said that the ongoing Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, was the Palestinian people’s main and most formidable obstacle to achieving the millennium targets, and that in the past eight years, Israel’s illegal policies had actually reversed all previous progress.  According to World Bank figures, the Palestinian economy shrank by 40 per cent since 2000, negatively impacting on the Goals to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.  He called for the international community’s full support for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, which was not only a prerequisite for peace, but also for development and achieving the Goals. 


The Permanent Observer for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) noted that the parliamentary community had an important role in ensuring the necessary budgetary allocations to support pro-poor economic and social policies.  But, the full potential of parliamentarians, particularly in developing countries, to fully capitalize on available resources and improve decision-making processes for development was largely untapped.  IPU was working to change that by educating parliamentarians on ways to improve working methods, he said, noting that it was setting up a programme with the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States to help legislators in those nations better integrate the Brussels Programme of Action into their own work plans.


The representatives of Guyana, Ethiopia and Mauritania also made statements, as did the Observer for the Holy See.


Also making statements were representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). 


Background


The General Assembly met today to conclude its thematic debate on “Recognizing the achievements, addressing the challenges and getting back on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015”.


Statements


GEORGE TALBOT ( Guyana) said that the theme of the present debate aptly captured the shared recognition by the international community of the fact that progress towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals was currently off-track.  That was despite the many instances of successful interventions related by various countries and stakeholders, and the fact that the international community had the means to address the gaps that persisted.  As noted by the background paper, as many as 143 million children under age five in the developing world continued to suffer from inadequate nutrition.  In a $65 trillion world economy, such a situation was no less than a call to action.  At the midpoint en route to 2015, the actions of the international community should be imbued with a new sense of urgency and its partnerships renewed vitally to ensure that it got back on track.


The Guyana Millennium Development Goals Report 2007 had revealed that the country had made modest and uneven progress in recent years towards attaining the Goals, he continued.  The country had attained near universal primary education, but attention to some dimensions, such as improving the percentage of trained teachers and the student-teacher ratios, continued to be necessary.  The retention of trained teachers, many of whom had been lost to developed countries and other regions, was also a major challenge.   Guyana was also on track to achieve targets in relation to the eradication of extreme hunger, gender equality and the empowerment of women, and ensuring environmental sustainability.  Urgent efforts were, however, needed to make the attainment of targets in relation to the eradication of extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS more likely, as well as consolidate the impressive gains made recently towards eliminating the threat of malaria.  Also, if current tends continued, achieving the targets set for reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating other major diseases might prove elusive.  The attainment of the Millennium Development Goals remained firmly anchored on his country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.  The level of success in countering significant structural economic challenges and maintaining favourable national economic conditions overall would directly impact on the prospects for attainment of the Goals.


NEGASH KEBRET (Ethiopia) said that, after all the discussions through the years since the world had committed to meeting the Goals set by the Millennium Declaration, it was high time –- halfway to the 2015 target date –- to identify the key challenges hampering attainment of the objectives and to take concrete action to address them in a timely manner.  He echoed the sentiments of other speakers that, without ensuring the requisite global development partnership, the efforts of developing countries would not alone yield the long hope for results, at least not before the deadline.


It was obvious that development partners had failed to deliver on the promises they had made in the Declaration, as well as in the Monterrey Consensus and the outcomes of other United Nations conferences and summits.  The languishing global partnership, coupled with the increasingly volatile and difficult global economic situation, had compounded existing challenges and effectively undercut much of the progress that had been made on the part of developing countries, thus far.   Ethiopia would call for, among other things aimed at getting the process back on track, scaling up investments in agriculture, infrastructure and the social sectors.


Indeed, to accelerate industrial development and boost overall economic growth in developing countries, it was essential to develop an agricultural sector that could contribute to both industrial performance and food security.  Ethiopia, for its part, was determined to build on what it had achieved over the years and had, among other things, designed a comprehensive five-year development strategy -– the Plan to Accelerate Sustainable Development to End Poverty –- which addressed social sector improvements, agricultural reform and the expansion of the country’s energy sector.


ABDERRAHIM OULD HADRAMI ( Mauritania) said that, halfway towards the target date for the Millennium Development Goals, it had been noted that the attainment of the expected results remained far from being realized.  While some countries had made progress, for a large number of States, a lot remained to be done with regard to the fight against poverty and hunger.  It was urgent for the international community to mobilize itself towards the achievement of the Goals by putting in place the resources and methods necessary for their attainment.  Following free and fair elections in Mauritania in 2007, the country had become a democratic one, with institutions based on popular suffrage, human rights and respect for liberties.  The Government had put in place a three-year development programme for whose financing it had sought the support of development partners during a round table organized in Paris in December 2007.  Close to $1.9 billion had been pledged during that meeting.   Mauritania was currently working with donors for the mobilization of those funds.  It was also taking the necessary measures to guarantee transparency in the execution of the projects under the programme and was working to ensure that all sectors worked towards the realization of the projects that had been funded by the international community.


With the mobilization of the funds pledged at the Paris round table, Mauritania would be able to make good progress towards the attainment of the Goals, starting with the strengthening of its poverty eradication programme, he continued.  Mauritania’s efforts towards the attainment of the Goals between now and 2015 would not be successful without the support and solidarity of the international community.  In that respect, the urgent mobilization of the funding agreed to at the Paris round table constituted a significant step.


CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said greater international solidarity was needed to narrow the ever-increasing gap between rich and poor countries and between individuals within countries.  While international aid was important, a more just international trade environment -– that addressed market-distorting practices which put weaker economies at a disadvantage -– was crucial.  He stressed the importance of the upcoming Doha Review Conference.  The combined efforts to meet the target of providing 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) for official development assistance (ODA) and review trade and financing mechanisms, as well as to end bad governance and internecine conflicts in aid recipient States, would go a long way in lifting millions out of extreme poverty and hunger.  The Holy See was actively engaged in alleviating poverty and hunger, which were offences to human dignity.  It would continue to highlight those basic needs, so that they received international attention and was addressed as a matter of social justice.


He lauded the progress made towards achieving the millennium target of universal access to primary education and he noted the dramatic increase in school enrolment in some of the world’s poorest regions.  However, without stepped up efforts, 58 countries might not achieve that Goal by 2015.  Education underpinned all the Millennium Development Goals and was the most effective tool to empower people to achieve greater social, economic and political freedoms.  The utmost effort was needed to give boys and girls equal opportunities to education.  Thousands of educational institutions of the Catholic Church were located in degraded inner cities and far-flung villages, where children were constrained to work to survive.  The health-related millennium targets also required collective action.  While progress had been made in reducing child mortality, there had been slower progress in addressing maternal health, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, due to a lack of resources and a continued lack of access to basic health services.  Investing in primary health care, rather than in selective, culturally divisive and ideologically driven forms of health services, was among the most cost-effective, successful ways to improve the overall quality of life and the stability of families and communities.


RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, said that the ongoing Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, constituted the main and most formidable obstacle to the achievement of any form of sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals, as a whole, by the Palestinian people.  Over the past eight years, illegal policies by Israel had actually reversed all previous progress in that regard.  According to the World Bank, since 2000, the Palestinian real GDP had shrunk by 40 per cent.  That dire situation had negatively impacted on the Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) now warned that almost half the population did not have enough food to meet its needs.  The humanitarian crisis was a man-made disaster, caused by the occupation’s policies, especially the collective punishment that Israel continued to inflict on the Palestinian civilian population.  The situation in the Gaza Strip was most severe.


Education goals were also negatively impacted by the Israeli occupation, as well as the efforts to reduce child and maternal mortality and improve access to health care, he continued.  Environmental sustainability was also seriously harmed.  The international community should give special attention to the unique circumstances and challenges facing the Palestinian people.  Development could not coexist with oppression and hegemony, the worst manifestation of which was foreign occupation.  The Palestinian people had clearly asserted their desire for peace and a life of freedom, dignity and prosperity for their children.  Those goals also undoubtedly encompassed the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, which would help to lift the Palestinian people out of the misery the occupation had imposed on them.  He, thus, reiterated his call for the international community’s full and firm support for the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, which was a prerequisite not only for peace, but also for development.  Without that, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals would regrettably remain out of reach. 


ANDA FILIP, Permanent Observer for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said IPU had sought to educate parliamentarians about the Millennium Development Goals through various resolutions and debates, in an effort to stimulate legislative action.  The parliamentary community had an important role in ensuring the necessary budgetary allocations to support pro-poor economic and social policies.  In two weeks, the IPU Assembly in Cape Town would hold a debate on “pushing back the frontiers of poverty”.  That debate would seek to build a better understanding among legislators of the concrete actions needed to at least halve poverty by 2015 and it would help identify some of the best practices that legislators, community leaders and opinion-makers should support.  It was important to support greater capacity-building for more informed and effective policymaking.  The full potential of parliamentarians, particularly in developing countries, to exercise their functions in a way that fully capitalized on available resources and improved decision-making processes for development, was largely untapped.  For that reason, IPU was investing heavily to support parliaments in their functions.


IPU was setting up a new programme with the Office of the High Representative for the least developed countries to help parliamentarians in those countries better integrate the Brussels Programme of Action into their own work agendas.  IPU was working with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs to strengthen parliaments’ information and communication technology capacities to improve their working methods and become more open vis-à-vis the people they were elected to represent.  Funding was a critical obstacle, he said, noting the huge shortfall between current official development assistance allocations and the estimated cost of achieving the millennium targets.  Official development assistance was a key source of development financing for countries that were not on track to achieve the Goals, but that aid was not increasing at a fast enough rate and its overall effectiveness left much to be desired.  IPU would scale up efforts in that regard, particularly by supporting the new Development Cooperation Forum of the Economic and Social Council. 


MICHAEL SCHULZ, Observer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (ICRC), said a basic, but often forgotten tenet of the Millennium Development Goals was that they were built around needs and that the details of those needs had to be identified at the community level when it came to implementation.  His group would continue to bring the communities and their real needs into policy and programming discussions at the national level.  That was the only way to ensure that programmes were delivered in a way that didn’t discriminate, either for or against anyone.


He said the search for partnerships must be intense and two issues must be taken into account in the formation of renewed and reinforced partnerships.  One consideration was the impact that non-achievement of the Goals exerted on human risks, as they defined human vulnerability.  Continued population growth, environmental degradation, conflict, crises, and slowed economic growth exposed every person to growing risk potentials, which in turn further negatively affected each person’s vulnerability status.  In addition, climate change and its consequences, in such forms as intensified natural disasters, multiplied risks and further impacted on vulnerability.  Therefore, the second concern was to ensure that there were no gaps in funding actions under each Millennium Development Goal.  While other factors could negatively impact on achievement of the Goals, no progress in implementation could be made without adequate funding, including for adaptation measures in response to climate change.  In conclusion, he said all parties must be reiterative, accountable and transparent in demonstrating the will to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. 


ROBERT SHAFER, Observer of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said that the Order considered the Millennium Development Goals as an example of the “preferential option for the poor” teachings of the two most recent Popes.  Combating poverty, along with diseases and sufferings, which were other Millennium Development Goals, had been at the heart of the Order’s activities for more than 900 years.  Since its founding in the eleventh century, the Order had historically directed its efforts towards the poor, the sick and homeless, regardless of race, religion or nationality.  Its 12,500 members, 80,000 permanent volunteers and professional medical staff, and 13,000 doctors, nurses and stretcher-bearers made up an exceptional network permanently present in 120 countries, providing hospitals, hospices and medical services.  Those activities were carried out with great expertise, often by the Order’s worldwide relief service, Malteser International.


Successful progress towards the first Millennium Development Goal, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, was key to more rapid progress towards all eight Goals, he went on.  To help achieve that Goal, the Order had considerably expanded its activities in the most disadvantaged areas.  For example, in the slums of Nairobi, it financed numerous health centres and operated far reaching programmes for treatment of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.  The Goals regarding health were of particular importance to the Order.  In that regard, it had been working towards them in Cambodia after that country’s 30-year civil war, by carrying out a comprehensive, community-based maternal child health project.  Infant health, maternal health and HIV/AIDS converged in the issue of mother-to-child transmission of the virus.  In Mexico, the Order’s programme brought infected women into prenatal care.  Because of that, all the women had given birth to healthy children.  There, as in other countries where it had programmes, the Order had aligned itself with the efforts towards the Millennium Development Goals.


MASSIMO TOMMASOLI, Observer for the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), said there were many examples of the linkages between achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, broad political dynamics and democratic processes.  For example, the third Goal on gender equality and empowerment of women included a specific indicator on the number of women elected to national parliaments.  That indicator showed women gaining ground politically even though men still wielded control.  Globally, as of March, women made up 17.7 per cent of single and lower houses of parliament, up from 13 per cent in 1990.  An even more explicit demonstration of the links between the Millennium Development Goals and the political environment was provided by Mongolia’s choice to adopt a national goal nine strategy for promoting human rights, fostering democratic governance and fighting corruption.  That example showed that democratic institutions and practices not only contributed to creating an enabling environment for achieving the Goals, but could also constitute an objective that was tailored to addressing country-specific needs.


He said the principles of ownership and partnerships in achieving the Millennium Development Goals were emerging as important factors in the current debate.  Two additional elements were emerging as factors in achieving Goals at both national and regional levels.  One was the concept of ownership, as related to the importance of strengthening and consolidating democratic institutions beyond Governments to encompass other actors, such as civil society organizations.  The second emerging element was represented by the inter-linkages between equitable growth and democratic practices, which was particularly challenging in highly polarized political environments, such as post-conflict situations where the space for dialogue was reduced and the scope for defining nationally owned, broad-based visions for development was limited.  That’s where the long-term engagement and support of the international community was important and the links between democracy and development were a prominent cross-cutting dimension in the 2006-2011 International IDEA Strategy.  A round table on democracy and development would be held in Delhi this year.


Closing Statement by General Assembly President


SRGJAN KERIM, President of the General Assembly, closed the debate by thanking all the 111 delegations -– including many ministers -– representing Member States and Permanent Observers that had contributed to it.  “Our focus on facts and substance demonstrates that we take the achievement of all the MDGs by 2015, in all countries, extremely seriously.  It also demonstrates that when dealing with substance the Assembly is stronger and able to send a strong message to the rest of the world,” he said.


He then highlighted some of the key conclusions of the debate.  For example, significant progress had been made towards achieving the Goals, but it was uneven and too slow.  Africa and least developed countries needed long-term assistance to catch up to the rest of the international community.  In particular, there were strong calls for investment in agriculture -– a critical source of income for the poorest of the poor -– and infrastructure to achieve that.  The Millennium Development Goals were interdependent.  Progress on the poverty and hunger, education and health targets would have a catalytic effect on the other Goals.  The international aid architecture was constrained by excessive fragmentation.  The international community must work in close partnership to reduce transition costs and increase aid predictability over the long-term.  Partnerships with civil society and the private sector were essential to accelerate progress.


Further, climate change was already undermining achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in the poorest countries, he said.  Development must be environmentally responsible and sustainable.  Progress towards the Goals and economic growth could be greatly improved by closing the gender gap, empowering women and providing better access to maternal health care and basic health services, including reproductive health.  Trade was a potent tool for fighting poverty, and a timely and successful conclusion of the Doha Development Round had the potential to lift millions out of poverty.  Preferential trade access for agricultural and value-added goods for Africa and the least developed countries would immediately boost prospects for economic growth and achieving the millennium targets.  For example, if the European Union and the United States eliminated cotton subsidies, cotton exports from Africa would increase by 75 per cent.


Rising food and energy prices were increasing food insecurity and malnutrition –- a primary cause of infant mortality, stunted growth and other serious health risks, he continued.  Countries emerging from conflict urgently required better long-term support and better ways to deliver aid in order to reduce the likelihood that they would return to violence and instability.  Better resource management, particularly from the recent commodity boom, would increase domestic resources for development.  Education was the foundation for lasting development and an additional $10 billion in official development assistance was needed to meet the Goal of providing basic education for all by 2010.  Investment in basic health care and services not only saved lives, it was also smart economics.  According to a study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), every $1 invested in family planning could save up to $31 in Government spending on education, food, health, housing, water and sewage services.  A total of $5.5 billion was required to achieve Millennium Goals four and five by 2015.


In addition, he said, national ownership and policy space were vital for developing countries, and fundamental reform of the international architecture was needed to give developing countries greater voice and participation in global policy and decision-making.  The Millennium Development Goals Framework was the internationally accepted and inter-governmentally agreed benchmark for international development and formed the basis of the global partnership.  “Any attempts to change the Goals without intergovernmental agreement, only serves to undermine their legitimacy,” he said.  “If there is one point that has been made clearly and repeatedly, it is that delivering on our commitments is a priority and that delivering results a necessity.”  Donors must scale up aid and debt relief already promised and developing countries must integrate the millennium targets into national development plans, as well as expedite implementation of other commitments, including good governance.  Donors were not on track to increase aid by $50 billion by 2010.  In fact, aid had fallen in real terms for the second consecutive year.


Only 17 per cent of developing countries had operational strategies to integrate the millennium targets into their national development plans, he said.  The target they set for themselves was 75 per cent by 2010.  Despite Member States’ many positive initiatives, progress on both sides was lagging.  Commitment and dedication were needed to achieve the Goals on time.  He commended Ted Turner’s United Nations Foundation initiative, which was working with Lutheran and Methodist organizations to provide $200 million to fight malaria in Africa, and the Secretary-General’s work to scale up implementation in Africa by identifying financing gaps.  Donors now had concrete investment opportunities to deliver on their promise to double aid to Africa by 2010. 


The aid landscape was changing, he said.  The private sector now contributed approximately $14 billion in aid and non-governmental organizations and civil society approximately $12 billion.  While the private sector’s role did not replace Governments’, the Assembly had heard some compelling arguments for the private sector to be given the opportunity to provide goods and services to the poorest “bottom billion” and that private equity was prepared to work for a social dividend.  Charitable foundations were playing a bigger role in championing specific goals and bringing in donors and developing countries to work on targeted initiatives.  A good example was the MacArthur Foundation’s work on maternal health.  More foundations should be encouraged to follow suit. 


The General Assembly had a critical leadership role to play in mobilizing global support to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, he said, adding that many delegations had endorsed his proposal for the Assembly to meet annually until 2015 to take stock of global implementation and to hold all partners to account.  The Assembly should also mandate that the United Nations Secretariat, working with all relevant funds, programmes and agencies, provide an annual Millennium Development Goals Global Monitoring Report analyzing implementation in all countries, which would form the basis of the Assembly’s debate.  The Assembly’s 22 September meeting, to focus on Africa’s specific development needs, and the 25 September event, to be organized by the General Assembly President and the Secretary-General, provided two more opportunities to rally global support and announce new concrete initiatives.  “2008 must be the year of action,” he said.


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