HEADQUARTERS PRESS BRIEFING BY PRESIDENT OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL
The President of the Economic and Social Council, Ivan Simonovic, briefing correspondents at Headquarters today, said that the message of the High-level Council segment should centre on building on the achievements of Monterrey and making Johannesburg a success.
Ambassador Simonovic (Croatia) was addressing correspondents this afternoon following the opening earlier today of the Council's 2002 substantive session and three-day High-level segment, which was aimed at improving the health and education policies in developing countries and building momentum towards more international aid.
Although the Economic and Social Council did not attract the same media attention as decisions to end peacekeeping operations, it was very interested in outreach, he said. The high-level segment was taking place in an extremely important environment -– after the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development and before the upcoming Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. The main message was that investments in human resources in health and education were productive investments. For example, a $1 investment in health led to $7 in economic output.
He said it was essential to break the vicious circle between poverty, poor health and education, and poor economic output. Regarding health and education, the present situation was far from satisfactory. Among least developed countries, only $13 or less was spent per person per year on health. And the results of investment were dramatic. Through better health protection and improved nutrition, it would be possible to save as many as 8 million people annually.
Five of the Millennium Development Goals were directly related to health and education, and estimates were that in order to achieve them, official development assistance (ODA) should be doubled from $50 billion to $100 billion per year, he said. The synergetic action between health and education would be highlighted during the present high-level segment.
Other aims of the 2002 session included the establishment of an ad hoc advisory group on African countries emerging from conflict. Upon the request of an interested State, the Council would establish such a group for the individual country to facilitate contacts with funds and agencies, and for the Bretton Woods institutions to motivate donations. There was already a Security Council advisory group for African countries. He hoped to achieve very close cooperation between those two groups.
He pointed to closer cooperation between the Economic and Social Council and the Security Council. For example, it had also been accepted that conflict prevention and the prevention of a recurrence depended on economic and social activity. In terms of cooperation between the two bodies, he had participated twice in the work of the Security Council as Economic and Social Council President, and, in turn, had invited the President of the Security Council to address the Economic and Social Council during its session this week.
The establishment of ad hoc advisory groups for individual countries, the increased frequency of contact with Bretton Woods institutions, and the special role assigned to the Council regarding implementation of the Millennium Development Goals was transforming the Council into a body that was active year-round, he said. It was no longer a body whose success was determined by the number of resolutions it adopted and then forgot about, but one that was focused on the impact it could make in real life.
Asked if the United States plan to increase ODA was dependent upon too many conditions, Mr. Simonovic said that a major step forward had been taken in Monterrey: after a decade of an overall decline in ODA, that trend had been reversed. The United States was among countries promising a substantial increase. There were some difficulties in practical implementation, but "we are finally -– regarding ODA –- on the right track".
On the Millennium Development Goals, he said that ODA should be doubled. There had been some good signs, but they were not enough. One of the main messages of Monterrey that had been repeated during today's session concerned the need to ensure that countries doing their best to allocate adequate resources for health and education budgets meet the Millennium goals, despite their poverty. The World Bank initiative of placing 10 such countries on a "fast track" should allow them to meet the goals much sooner than 2015.
Replying to a question about an Economic and Social Council project for Haiti, he said he thought the Council had been doing some good preparatory work in that regard. However, owing to some political changes in the country and resulting problems from the United Nations perspective, practical implementation of that project had ceased.
A correspondent asked why the main problem -- namely lack of good governance -- never surfaced in an Economic and Social Council document.
Mr. Simonovic said he thought progress was being made in that respect. In Monterrey, problems such as corruption and bad governance were addressed. The climate was changing.
The correspondent said that a major part of the problem was governance in developed countries, including their trade policies. He asked why other realities, such as the aggressive commercial wars being fought in Africa that profited transnational corporations, had been ignored in the Council’s reports.
Mr. Simonovic said they had not been ignored, and said there was a trend towards being more frank about such issues. The current dialogue between the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions, for example, would have been unimaginable a couple of years ago when the two groups coexisted without communicating. Now he hoped the frequency of their meetings would increase, despite the many difficulties in the multilateral arena. The involvement of the World Trade Organization had also been encouraging. Future meetings among those institutions would likely analyze the extent to which commitments were and were not being fulfilled.
Responding to a question about whether present commitments were more promising than past ones, he said that if ODA was doubled -- which would still be far below the agreed 0.7 per cent of developed countries’ gross domestic product -- it would be possible to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals. Monterrey had been positive because it outlined the necessary mechanisms for financing development. The present high-level segment was seeking to find plausible ways to finance those development goals in the areas of health and education.
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