Press Conference on 2009 Report of Millennium Development Goals Task Force

16 September 2009

Press Conference on 2009 Report of Millennium Development Goals Task Force

16 September 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on 2009 Report of Millennium Development Goals Task Force

“The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are more than a set of targets – they are a solemn promise to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable,” United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said today at a Headquarters press briefing to launch the 2009 report of the MDG Gap Task Force.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon created the Task Force in 2007 to identify gaps in efforts to strengthen the Global Partnership for Development, called for under Millennium Goal 8, she explained.

Joining Ms. Migiro were Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development; Olav Kjørven, Director of the Bureau for Development Policy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Rob Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division at the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), representing the bodies that co-chaired the Task Force.

The report –- Strengthening the Global Partnership for Development in a Time of Crisis –- had outlined some encouraging signs, she said.  Donor countries had increased aid flows and reaffirmed pledges to further increase them.  What was needed, however, was a country-by-country account of how those aid increases would be delivered each year.  To meet 2010 targets agreed at the 2005 Group of Eight (G-8) Summit at Gleneagles, Scotland, global aid would need to increase by $35 billion annually, of which $20 billion would need to be earmarked for Africa.

In addition, she said debt relief under the Heavily-Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative had helped many developing countries devote resources to health, education and social services, yet more support was needed.  Further, trade barriers set up in response to the global financial crisis had to be unwound, and the Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks should be concluded on terms that supported development.

Finally, she said that, while highlighting progress in increasing access to information and communications technologies, the report urged that more be done to prevent the global crisis from undoing past gains.  In particular, ensuring that climate change technologies were affordable would be critical to talks at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen this December.

“Better economic times helped to strengthen the Global Partnership for Development,” she said.  “Now that a crisis is upon us, we must show that we can also work together in bad times, when the poor, sick and vulnerable need us most.”

Speaking next on behalf of Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. Jomo stressed the importance of monitoring progress on Goal 8 quantitatively and qualitatively.  Indeed, 2008 findings had shown that total net aid from countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee amounted to only 0.3 per cent of their combined gross national income –- not even half of the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent.

“Enormous efforts will be needed to fill that gap,” he said. Active trade policies were also badly needed in the face of protectionist trends and an alarming 20 per cent fall in global trade from April 2008 to April 2009.

By the first quarter of 2009, 35 of 40 eligible countries had qualified for debt relief under the HIPC initiative, he continued, but as the financial crisis had made their prospects uncertain, the international community should broaden its efforts.  It should also ensure affordable access to generic medicines, as people in developing countries were paying three to six times more than what they should. They also paid 10 times more for internet services than those living in developed countries.  The private sector should work with public telecoms companies and regulators to address that issue.

Rounding out the discussion, Mr. Kjørven said it was important to recall that the nine years before the global economic crisis had seen “encouraging achievements” towards reaching the Goals.  The number of people living in extreme poverty had fallen from 1.8 billion in 1990 to 1.4 billion in 2005.  In sub-Saharan Africa, school enrolment increased by 15 percentage points from 2000 to 2007, while deaths of children under age 5 had dropped worldwide, from to 9 million in 2007, from 12.6 million in 1990, despite population growth.

Such examples showed that progress was possible in the face of seemingly intractable challenges, he said, adding that now, donors at the upcoming Group of 20 meeting must help prevent a catastrophic reversal in human development and follow through on Millennium Development Goal pledges.

“One has to expect a broader perspective than just fixing global financial system per se,” Mr. Kjørven explained.  “One has to have a view to human development and the significant risks and reversals that are now occurring.”

Taking questions, first on Governments’ commitment to give duty-free, quota-free access to 97 per cent of exports, Mr. Jomo said that the outstanding issues included non-agriculture market access.  Developing countries were pressing to retain provisions that allowed them to protect domestic markets, notably with a view to ensuring food security.

He said the commitment to increase market access from an average 80 per cent to 97 per cent was made in 2005.  While poor nations appreciated that increase, the original request had been for 100 per cent access, and it was feared that the 3 per cent excluded might be in areas where least developed countries could be most competitive.  “This is at the root of the problem,” he said, adding that the list of outstanding issues had been reduced.

Asked about commitments to allocate 0.7 per cent of GDP to official development assistance and the gap in coverage for sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Jomo clarified that the 0.7 per cent commitment originally stemmed from a call in 1971 by the World Council of Churches for a 2 per cent allocation.  Commitments specifically for least developed countries were associated with the 2001 Brussels Programme of Action.  Other commitments, including for Africa, had been made at the 2005 G-8 meeting at Gleneagles.

Of the $25 billion committed at Gleneagles for Africa in the next year, actual delivery stood at $7.5 billion, implying a shortfall of over $17 billion -– “especially bad”, he said.  It was difficult say why shortfalls existed, but they were partly a problem of public education and lack of political will.  Five countries had exceeded their 0.7 per cent commitments.  The fear was that, given the recent global difficulties, the situation might worsen.

Mr. Kjørven added that even when a commitment was made, it often did not materialize without follow-up, as there were competing demands for public resources and aid budgets.  “The fight has to be fought every year through the budget process to make it happen,” he said.

As for whether developed countries were expressing fatigue over requests for technology and aid, Mr. Jomo responded that in earlier years, the mood had been “perhaps a bit more generous”.  There was far less publicly funded research today; meaning that Governments’ ability to transfer technology was constrained, as much of that research was privately owned.  In an area like climate change, if mitigation and adaptation technologies were not available or accessible, that would frustrate Government efforts to deploy them to meet commitments.

Mr. Vos agreed that there was concern, particularly with limited progress made under the Paris and Accra Declarations to harmonize aid.  While it was true that donor countries had not fully disbursed aid commitments, national programmes were not in place, aid would not be delivered.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.