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flying albatross International Conference on Financing for Development, Monterrey, Mexico, 18-22 March 2002 United Nations
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Media Information : Media Kit-English

Media Kit: Improving the lives of people - the real wealth of nations

Development - which includes raising national income, lifting literacy rates, basic sanitation and a decent standard of living - has taken giant steps forward in the past half-century, but much more needs to be done. To have a real chance of meeting development goals, a stepped-up effort by both developing and developed countries as well as multilateral institutions is required.

The ultimate benefit of economic growth, it is now generally recognized, lies in the widespread improvement of human lives and living conditions. And in the economics of the twenty-first century, people are recognized to be the most important of all economic resources. The International Conference on Financing for Development presents a real and practical opportunity for advancing both of the above propositions.

The challenges are daunting. Of the 4.6 billion people in developing countries:

  • Some 826 million are not getting enough food to lead normal, healthy and active lives.
  • More than 850 million are illiterate.
  • Almost one billion people lack access to clean water supplies.
  • Some 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation.
  • Nearly 325 million boys and girls are not in school.
  • 11 million children under the age of five die each year from preventable causes.
  • Around 1.2 billion live on less than $1 a day.

But substantial progress in all of these areas is possible and achievable. Clear precedents exist.

Since the end of World War II, international campaigns in areas such as vaccination, health care, public sanitation and hygiene and public infrastructure have advanced average global life expectancy to a greater degree than has occurred in all the years of previously recorded history, according to expert estimates cited by Sir Richard Jolly, until recently the editor of the Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Over the last thirty years, according to the 2001 edition of the Human Development Report, average life expectancy worldwide has risen from 60 to 70 years; the infant mortality rate has dropped from 100 to 50 per thousand live births; the number of under-nourished dipped from roughly 900 million to about 800 million; and the adult literacy rate rose from slightly over 60 per cent to nearly 80 percent. The share of rural families with access to safe water has grown more than fivefold within the past 30 years.

Not just national policies of developing country governments and global economic growth, but aid and development cooperation have been responsible for these remarkable strides. Unfortunately, this sea change in the terms of human existence has been largely ignored, rather than made the subject of headlines.

Millennium Development Goals

At the Millennium Summit in September 2000, 147 heads of State and Government and 191 nations in all adopted the Millennium Declaration with specific goals for development and poverty eradication. The goals are a consolidation and expansion of international development goals that had emerged from UN conferences of the 1990s, as well as discussions in multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In addition to reaching targets by 2015 of reducing infant mortality rates by two-thirds, providing access for all who want reproductive health services, reversing the loss of environmental resources and implementing national strategies for sustainable development by 2005, the world leaders also pledged:

  • To halve the proportion of the world's people living on less than $1 a day.
  • To halve the proportion of the world's people suffering from hunger.
  • To halve the proportion of the world's people without access to safe drinking water.
  • To achieve universal completion of primary schooling.
  • To achieve gender equality in access to education.
  • To reduce maternal mortality ratios by three-quarters.
  • To reduce under-five mortality rates by two-thirds.
  • To halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases.

What are the prospects of achieving these goals? The good news is that for universal primary education and gender equity in education, many developing countries have already achieved the goals or are on track to do so. Furthermore, over 60 percent of the world's people live in 43 countries that have met or are on track to meet the goal of halving the number of people who are living in hunger.

Nonetheless, in other areas more than half the countries for which data are available will not achieve the goals without a significant acceleration in the progress. To help countries develop potential strategies for action towards these goals, the UN Secretary-General has prepared a "road map", an integrated and comprehensive overview of the current situation that suggests paths to follow and shares information on best practices [A/56/326].

The price tag on development goals

Resource implications of reaching the development goals are considerable, but hardly astronomical. A high-level panel appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and chaired by former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo estimated in June 2001 that in addition to the current level of development assistance - currently at about $50 billion, a 30-year low in relation to total world income - an estimated additional $50 billion per year is needed. A more detailed study by the World Bank, released in January 2002, came up with similar results, calculating that extra aid of $40 - $60 billion would enable fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals.

According to the World Bank and the IMF, reaching the development goals will also require a sound policy and governance framework within developing countries; availability of external financing on favourable terms; and reduction of the obstacles that block access of developing countries to the markets of the world's richest economies.

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