DESA News Vol. 12, No. 09 September 2008


MDG implementation: The pressure buildsMDG implementation: The pressure builds

Signaling the need for decisive and timely action, world leaders will gather in New York for a high-level event on development on 25 September

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals remains a complex and enormous challenge, especially for the poorest countries. Yet, there has been real progress towards some of the MDGs, even in regions where the challenges are greatest. It is true that progress towards achieving the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals has been uneven, and that many developing countries are on track to achieve only some of the MDGs. But these accomplishments do show how developing countries and their development partners have come together as never before to put the Millennium Declaration into practice.

At the mid-point between the adoption of the Millennium Declaration and the deadline of 2015 set for the achievement of the MDGs, countries that are lagging behind feel an increasing sense of urgency to implement national development strategies more effectively, and to obtain additional support from the international community for their efforts. “The year 2008 should mark a turning point in progress towards the MDGs,” says Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Accordingly, together with the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General will convene a special high-level event on 25 September which will gather world leaders to discuss and translate their existing commitments into decisive and timely action to ensure that all countries can achieve the MDGs. It is hoped that the event will send a strong message from the highest political level that governments are ready and willing to more quickly strengthen the global partnership for development in support of the international development goals.

Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang of DESA is coordinating preparations for the high-level event, which includes three roundtables where heads of state and government will dialogue with one another. Achieving the MDGs represents a global challenge that requires all nations to collaborate in developing and implementing a shared strategy to create enduring social and economic development for all. The turbulent world economic situation makes such action particularly pressing.

“The weakening global economic environment is compounded by the steeply rising prices of food and energy,” Sha points out. “The increase in the cost of living has already caused social and political unrest in a number of developing countries. And it threatens to reverse some of the progress made towards the Millennium Development Goals, particularly the primary goal of reducing poverty and hunger.”

Building on the lessons learned from previous high-level events of the General Assembly, this meeting will ensure a maximum of interaction among member states in the roundtables rather than plenary statements. The three roundtables will cover poverty and hunger, health and education, environmental sustainability, with two cross-cutting themes in all round tables: gender equality and the empowerment of women and the global partnership for development.

Poverty and hunger: slow progress in sub-Saharan Africa

The universal goal to eradicate extreme poverty continues to be a major focus of countries, development partners and civil society organizations, whose combined efforts are making an impact on the incidence and depth of poverty. However, while the number of people living in extreme poverty continues to decline globally, this success masks the slow progress in some countries, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa.

Participants in this roundtable will consider such issues as ensuring adequate aid flows for emergency food aid, particularly through the World Food Programme; further analysis of the demand and the supply side aspects of the food price increases; the strengthening of rural infrastructure including small-scale water management, access to credit, land ownership by the poor, agricultural extension services and co-operatives, and seed banks; reducing subsidies to agriculture in developed countries, alongside more aid for developing countries to enhance food production and agricultural exports; and improving regional food security, including through regional grain security systems.

School enrollment up, infant mortality down

In 2006, primary school enrolment in developing countries reached 88 percent on average, up from 83 percent in 2000. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to lag behind in primary school enrolment. In all regions, inequalities in access to education are a major barrier to reaching MDG-2. The quality of education remains poor in many contexts, with impoverished children less likely to finish school and students in most developing countries recording lower levels of achievement in core subjects.

Worldwide, under-five mortality declined from 93 to 72 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2006. Nevertheless, in 62 countries, under-five mortality is not declining fast enough to meet the 2015 target. Sub-Saharan Africa has one fifth of the world’s children under five, but accounts for half of all child deaths. In many countries, malnutrition and lack of safe drinking water and sanitation are slowing down reductions in child mortality.

Member states taking part in the roundtable will focus on such issues as: scaling up effective health and education interventions; mechanisms to accelerate multi-year commitments on official development assistance for education and health; multi-country funding for research and development of essential drugs for tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS; partnerships between Governments and international donors for pursuing the MDGs in keeping with national priorities; the best mechanisms to strengthen health and education systems and institutions in poor countries; integrating investments to improve the health and education of the poor into national development strategies; overcoming the obstacles women and girls face in our obtaining equitable access to health and education services; and the best strategies for civil society organizations, local authorities or the private sector to work with Governments in improving the accessibility and quality of health and education services.

Equitable use of resources for environmental sustainability

Environmental degradation can undermine efforts towards sustainable development, including poverty eradication, as the rural poor, in particular, often depend on the natural resource base for their livelihoods. Such degradation erodes the natural adaptability of ecosystems, which in the past has ensured their resilience in the face of disaster and saved lives and livelihoods. The urban poor also suffer from degraded conditions in rapidly growing slum communities.

Crucial to progress towards sustainable development is broad public participation which involves poor and marginalized groups in decision making and implementation. Also essential are the principles of inter-generational and intra-generational equity in the use of the Earth’s resources. Since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and, most recently, with the sobering findings of the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world has become acutely aware of the need for stronger international cooperation and more equitable resource sharing to address global sustainability challenges.

Member states participating in the roundtable on a environmental sustainability will consider such issues as: constraints to more effective implementation of national sustainable development strategies; scaling up environmental practices proven at the local and community levels; revenue-raising mechanisms for the environment; mechanisms to facilitate the international transfer of low-carbon energy technologies; and measures needed to integrate the poor into the fabric of urban society.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women

Promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women – critical objectives in themselves – are widely recognized as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to promote sustainable development. The achievement of Millennium Development goal 3 depends not only on the extent to which specific targets – such as increasing women’s political and economic empowerment, literacy rates and participation in non­agricultural wage employment – are addressed, but also on the extent to which the actions taken to achieve the other Millennium Development Goals are designed to promote the equality of women and men. While focusing on Goal 3, the present section should therefore be read in conjunction with the remainder of the document.

Commitments to Millennium Development Goal 3 have increased efforts, including resource allocations, at the local, national, regional and global levels to ensure progress. More needs to be done to combat the gender inequalities that constrain the potential to achieve high levels of well­being in societies around the world.

Participants in all roundtables will focus on such cross-cutting issues as: scaling up promising practices in education, employment and in achieving full and equal political representation and access to decision-making; innovative financing mechanisms and partnerships for gender-related interventions; improving national statistical capacity to monitor gender equality and empowerment of women; and strengthening the substantive and programmatic work of the United Nations system on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Expanding the global partnership for development

In the global partnership for development, developing countries take primary responsibility for their development and for mobilizing domestic resources and ensuring good governance, while developed countries agree to provide assistance and promote an enabling international environment. More can and needs to be done in a number of areas to meet the targets proposed by the global partnership for development under Millennium Development Goal 8.

Participants in all roundtables will focus on such cross-cutting issues as: ways to complete the Doha Round of trade negotiations to reduce existing trade distortions in favour of more equitable mechanisms; extending HIPC and other debt relief mechanisms to developing countries in severe debt distress; promoting lower-cost access to essential drugs and other lifesaving interventions and promoting technology transfer; and promoting effective national and international public­private partnerships to improve access to digital and other new technology, especially in agriculture and adaptation to climate change.

At the midpoint to the year 2015, achieving the MDGs remains a vast and demanding challenge requiring common resolve and commitment by governments and other stakeholders to focused collaborative action at the national and international levels. What has been achieved up to now confirms how important it is to forge a shared strategy to achieve enduring development for all. Whatever is done from this point onwards must build on this shared strategy for social and economic development, where the actions of development partners complement and support each other, and where all stakeholders have a role and the space to realize that role.

The high-level event provides governments, civil society and the private sector the opportunity to examine and strengthen commitments, as well as to launch new initiatives, partnerships and alliances, to undertake the many demanding tasks in the years ahead to ensure the achievement of the MDGs by 2015. “Together, we must make this year one of unprecedented progress for the poorest of the poor,” says the Secretary-General, “so that we can realize a better, more prosperous future for all.”

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Complex migration pathways add to the global mixComplex migration pathways add to the global mix

Africa is itself home to some 17 million migrants, blurring distinctions between origin, transit and destination countries

There is more international migration today than ever before in human history and it is growing dramatically. The number of international migrants has almost doubled in the past quarter century, although as a proportion of the world’s total population it remains at a mere three percent. International migration affects countries and cultures of diverse levels of economic development and ideological persuasion. Migrants now depart from and arrive in almost every country in the world, making it up much harder to distinguish between countries of origin, transit and destination. Many states now belong to all three categories.

Over the past three decades, the proportion of foreign-born residents living in developed countries has grown, while in most developing countries it has either remained stable or diminished. Around 60 percent of all recorded migrants now reside in the world’s more prosperous countries, and the other 40 percent in developing regions. Despite this trend, large numbers of people continue to engage in South-South migration, moving from one developing country to another. In 2005, the number of international migrants from the “South” living in the “South” (61 million) was almost as high as those from the “South” living in the “North” (62 million).

While steps have been taken to liberalize international trade, the international movement of people is highly regulated. Between 1960 and 2005, the share of merchandise exports and trade in services as part of world income has more than doubled. During the same period the share of international migrants in relation to the world’s population has only increased from 2.5 to 3 percent. The limited opportunities for legal migration have contributed to the rise in irregular migration. By 2005, according to the United Nations Population Division, there were an estimated 191 million international migrants worldwide. Almost 50 percent of all international migrants were women and 7.1 percent were refugees.

The more developed regions of the world hosted some 115.4 million migrants, Asia 53.3 million, Africa 17.0 million and Latin America and Caribbean 6.6 million. In many developing countries, the remittances received from migrants, estimated by the World Bank at $251 billion in 2007, now constitute a more important source of income than Official Development Assistance, which totalled some $103.7 billion in 2007.

Human capital, a liquid asset

Human mobility has become an integral component of the global economy, with countries and companies looking further afield for the personnel they need to improve their competitiveness. It is no coincidence that some of the largest concentrations of migrants are to be found in ‘global cities’, dynamic, innovative and highly cosmopolitan urban centres that are enabling people, places and cultures in different parts of the world to become increasingly interconnected.

The growing competitiveness within the global economy has also led to a process of economic restructuring in recent decades, involving restrictive macroeconomic policies, structural adjustment, privatization, and deindustrialization that have limited the number of public and private sector jobs available in developing countries. At the same time, the demand has grown in the industrial world for a flexible labour force that is prepared to work for low wages and under difficult conditions.

Many industrialized states are cautious in recognizing that their continued prosperity will depend in part on international migration. Many of the world’s most affluent societies have low and declining birth rates, and as a result their populations are becoming progressively smaller and older. Consequently, they may find it difficult to maintain existing levels of economic productivity, to sustain their pensions and social security systems, and to find the caregivers required to meet the needs of an ageing population.

Migrants from developing countries are currently helping to fill that gap at the lower end of the labour market, and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future. In certain countries, whole sectors of the economy and many public services have become highly dependent on migrant labour, and would collapse overnight if those workers were no longer available. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon points out, “every hour of every day they tend to our sick, our elders, our children. They harvest our crops, labour in our industry. They perform many of the most essential tasks that under-gird our well-being.”

Throughout much of the world, migrants are not only employed in jobs that nationals are reluctant to do, but are also engaged in high-value activities that local people lack the skills to do. At the upper end of the labour market, migrants are in growing demand to fill positions in high-value and knowledge-based sectors of the economy that are currently confronted with a global shortage of appropriate skills. “They have founded countless enterprises,” adds the Secretary-General, “including household names such as eBay, Mittal, Google, and Intel and they have pioneered research as a basis for innovation.”

The predominant form of migration varies considerably from one part of the world to another. In Asia, for example, many migrants move on the basis of temporary labour contracts, while in parts of the Americas and Africa, irregular migration is far more prevalent. Traditional countries of immigration such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States continue to accept migrants for permanent settlement, while the oil producing countries in the Middle East admit large numbers of international migrants for time limited periods and without any expectation of integration. In Europe, a major concern of recent years has been the arrival of asylum seekers, the majority of whom do not qualify for refugee status.

The African perspective

International migration is controversial because it is linked to national identity, global equity, social justice and the universality of human rights. International migration policy is difficult to formulate and implement because it involves the movement of human beings, purposeful actors who are prepared to make sacrifices and take risks in order to fulfil their aspirations. Its challenges are radically different from those that arise in managing the movement of inanimate objects such as capital, goods and information. The special case of Africa, where development challenges are particularly acute, illustrates these challenges well.

According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa, migration flows within and out of the continent display a wide range of patterns, affected by strategies to cope with factors such as economic and ecological problems, intra-regional disparities in economic well-being, political instability, and restrictive migration policies. African international migration involves a variety of voluntary and forced cross-border movements within the continent, as well as regular and irregular migration to destinations outside the continent. Migration streams within Africa are much larger than those out of Africa, and forced migration plays a significant part. African nations, already struggling to provide for their own populations, were harbouring 2.5 million of the world’s 9.7 million refugees at the end of 2007.

International migration hurts development in Africa through a loss of human capital, but also helps it through remittances of migrants and their acquisition of skills abroad. The African human resource pool is continuously depleted as the educated choose to emigrate and apply their skills abroad. In the health sector, where African countries are facing increasing demand as a result of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, several countries experience a net depletion of their health work force. For example, 926 Ghanaian doctors practice in the OECD countries alone, representing a much-needed 29 percent of the doctors practicing in Ghana.

African migrants contribute to the development of their continent through a number of channels. Diaspora remittances and the income multipliers they create are critical resources for the sustenance of receiving households and promote local and national development. In 2004, remittances to Africa amounted to $14 billion, with Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria being the largest recipients. From 2003 to 2007, remittance flows to sub-Saharan Africa doubled from $6 to $12 billion. Households that receive these ‘migra-dollars’ tend to use the proceeds primarily for basic needs such as food and clothing some monies do make their way into investments in MDG-related areas such as children’s education, healthcare, and investments in agricultural technology that can improve household food security.

According to the Economic Commission for Africa, the response of African governments to migration challenges has been limited and fragmentary. Few countries have implemented international conventions and related policies on migration. International migration barely features in national development plans and strategies, and has not been adequately addressed in any of the regional and national development frameworks such as NEPAD, MDG strategies, or poverty reduction strategies. Fortunately, African leaders are now focusing more on international migration. In this regard the African Union has set up a policy framework to stem the emigration of highly skilled workers through the creation of national employment opportunities, and to mobilize African expatriate communities for the development of their countries of origin.

ECA proposes a range of actions and policies for the continent necessary for maximizing the contribution of international migration to development. Among these is promoting all human rights, particularly the rights of international migrants and their families, through ratification and implementation of the relevant international conventions, and through bilateral and multilateral agreements between sending and receiving countries.

Cultural enrichment

International migration brings very diverse cultures into direct contact. Therefore, action must be taken in receiving countries to bring about tolerance and coherence to nurture integration and support multiculturalism. Coercive policies in both sending and receiving countries work against human rights and peace and security at all levels, and against the maximization of the benefits of international migration. Therefore, governments need to cooperate further to eliminate coercive polices. International migration contributes to development not only through economic gains but also through cultural enrichment, social welfare, health and education, and political stability. Therefore, these neglected dimensions must be harnessed for development.

Countries also need to harmonize their national policies and the roles of various ministries and agencies involved in international migration. Too often, the policies pursued by ministries in charge of immigration control do not sufficiently take into account the views of other ministries, such as the one in charge of international cooperation, or the private sector. Finally, human and institutional capacity building is important for maximizing the benefits of international migration. Continuous investment in education and health will bring about long-term benefits that would need to be realized through the creation of employment opportunities and commensurate wages.

Migration is an inevitable ‘force of nature’

In an increasingly interconnected world, the way forward for harnessing the benefits of migration for sending and receiving countries, and for migrants and their families, involves respect for human rights, ratification and implementation of international conventions and protocols, awareness raising, especially in receiving countries, and highlighting the positive contributions of migrants to sending and receiving countries.

As the Secretary-General says, “we cannot stop this force of human nature” that is international migration. But we can do a great deal to build a better migration experience. We can ensure that people move in a way that is safe and legal, and which protects their rights. We can work to strengthen the positive impact of migration on the development of home countries. We can encourage destination countries to promote the success of migrants, both in their original and their adopted homes. We can advance the understanding that the better integrated migrants are, the more they will have to contribute to their countries of origin – as returnees or as engaged members of a global diaspora.

DESA furthers United Nations activities on international migration through the analytical and normative work of its Population Division. Under-Secretary-General Sha participates in the Global Migration Group, a meeting of principals of thirteen United Nations entities plus the International Organization for Migration.

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A time for reconciliation between States and indigenous peoples

A time for reconciliation between States and indigenous peoples

Speaking for Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, on 8 August, Sergei Zelenev of DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development called for truth, justice, forgiveness and healing to mark the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. Reconciliation is a complex process, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz noted in her message, “through which a society moves from a divided past to a shared future.”

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