4 September 2008
Press Conference

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

press conference by United Nations Secretary-General to launch

report of Millennium Development Goals gap task force


The report Delivering on the Global Partnership for Achieving the Millennium Development Goals sounded a strong alarm because delivery on commitments made by Member States had been deficient, United Nations Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Launching the report by the MDG Gap Task Force -– the product of a unique and collective effort by more than 20 United Nations entities, as well as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development -- the Secretary-General said it highlighted a large delivery gap in meeting commitments on official development assistance (ODA).  Last year, there had been a shortfall of $10 billion, and total net aid from OECD/DAC (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development/Development Assistance Committee) countries amounted to only 0.28 per cent of their combined gross national income, as opposed to the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent.  In order to meet the 2010 target set at the 2005 Group of Eight (G-8) Summit, ODA would have to increase by $18 billion a year.

He went on to say that the failure to conclude a development round constituted the largest implementation gap, and even though aid for trade had increased in real terms, it had fallen as a percentage of ODA.  The report stressed the need to move faster in reducing domestic and export subsidies on agriculture in developed countries, and to address other barriers to developing-country exports and growth in their agricultural productivity.

There had been some progress on debt, since relief had been or would be provided to 33 out of 41 eligible countries, cancelling more than 90 per cent of their external debt, he said.  However, debt reduction must be extended beyond the Heavily Indebted Poor Country and Multilateral Debt Relief initiatives, and sustainability assured.

On health, he said access to essential medicines had improved -- including those for combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, but wide variations in pricing meant that essential medicines -- including antibiotics and painkillers -- were often unavailable to the poor.  The report recommended eliminating national taxes and duties on essential medicines, in addition to adopting generic substitution policies for essential medicines.  There was also a need to step up efforts in transferring new technologies for development, including for agriculture, infrastructure, and to improve access to energy.

He said that with only seven years until the deadline for meeting the Millennium Goals, the United Nations High-Level Event on 25 September would provide an opportunity to start bridging the gaps.  “We aim to make it a turning point -- a forum for world leaders to review progress and commit to concrete efforts, resources and mechanisms.  By asking world leaders to announce their specific plans and proposals, the High-Level Event should prepare the ground for a decisive conference on financing for development in Doha in November.”

The Secretary-General concluded by extending his sincere condolences to the families of victims killed in the plane crash in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Taking over upon the Secretary-General’s departure, were Ad Melkert, Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Chair of the MDG Gap Task Force, and Rob Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and lead author of the report.

Mr. Melkert said recent data analysis by the World Bank, revealing that the number of people living in absolute poverty was an estimated 500 million higher than previously assumed, served as a reminder that a relentless focus on the facts on the ground was critical to maintaining the momentum of the Millennium Development Goals campaign.  Millennium Goal 8 had been a complex target from the start as it framed the two-way-street philosophy underlining the big deals that had been struck by development partners in the early years of the century:  the Millennium Declaration; the Monterrey Consensus; the Paris Coordination Agenda; and the “unfortunately protracted” Doha trade round.

Having just returned from a visit to hurricane-struck Haiti, he emphasized the indispensable need for a larger commitment by the rich world, which “overall has become ever richer”.  The poverty in the rain and mud in Haiti was “nothing less than a disgrace”.  All actors must do more and do it better, which was the message behind Millennium Goal 8 -- essentially the signature to the contract for development between the rich and the poor.

Responding to questions about the lack of a human dimension in the report, Mr. Melkert referred again to his visit to Haiti, stressing the importance, when working on a technical subject, of presenting a cool analysis of the facts and ensuring it connected with what could be seen on the ground, namely the disgrace of people in the mud.  The report’s function was to bring the partners together in addressing those issues.  In the end, that was the ethical approach.  Working with hard facts was the beginning of getting an effective policy on the ground.

Fighting poverty was a moral duty, he continued.  Abject poverty was all the more objectionable because all the resources to address it were available, as had been proven by the fact that several hundred millions of people had been lifted out of poverty recently.  However, a core group had been left out and could not be reached.  Moral indignation must be translated into action, but there was no reason for pessimism.

Asked whether the report took into account commitments to development cooperation by countries such as China and Venezuela, or other South-South cooperation, Mr. Vos said there was an increasing number of donors beyond the traditional donor pool and their contributions were increasing strongly.  However, it could not be established exactly how much countries like China and India had contributed as statistical material from them was incompatible with the statistical methods used in the report.  The new Development Cooperation Forum, established by the Economic and Social Council would provide a platform for coordinating that type of cooperation.

Responding to questions as to whether the extra profits that oil companies and some countries had derived from the recent surge in oil prices had led to an increase in development aid, Mr. Vos said no effort had been made to approach oil companies directly.  Countries could, of course, tax those extra profits, and some oil producers, in particular Kuwait and several OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) members had increased their funding for development.  There was a large potential there that could be used to finance development.

Asked to “name and shame” countries that had not delivered on commitments, he said that, corrected for inflation, contributions from the United States, Japan and European Union countries had gone down over the last two years, although the latter delivered more as a percentage of gross domestic product.  ODA flows had been rising up to 2006.  The 2005-06 increases consisted of one-time debt relief counted as ODA, but flows had declined after that.

Mr. Melkert added that the report showed shortcomings by virtually all Member States, but it was specific enough to get Heads of State to tell about their commitments on 25 September.  Gaps in delivering commitments could be large or small, but there were gaps in all cases.  November’s meeting in Doha, five years after the Monterrey Consensus, would be a chance to get everybody back on track.

He said that on 25 September, he would be looking for the ODA transfers needed to lift many countries to the basic levels of infrastructure and services.  It might also be possible, following the break-down of the Doha ministerial round, to address the issues at the level of Heads of State.  An expansion in technology transfer, in particular regarding climate change adaptation, would also be welcome.

Declining to comment on the reasons for the collapse of the Doha round, Mr. Melkert said in answer to another question that in his opinion, it had to do with changes in the balance of power and the failure by some actors to recognize those changes.

Mr. Vos said in reply to another question that the report did not include the impact of sanctions on development, adding that it was difficult to measure the impact of such measures.

Asked about UNDP’s involvement in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Mr. Melkert said that question would be taken up by the UNDP Executive Board next week.  The Board would be provided with options, but would not be given any specific recommendation.  The question of conversion rates would be part of the dialogue with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  As for paying wages to the whistle-blower, as recommended by the Ethics Office, UNDP was awaiting the outcome of an internal judicial procedure in that regard.

In response to a question about the appropriateness of Evelyn Herfkens returning as an adviser to the Millennium Development Goals Campaign for $1 a year plus daily sustenance allowance, after having previously accepted $218,000 from the Dutch Government, in violation of United Nations rules, when heading that Campaign, Mr. Melkert said that matter had been investigated, with the conclusion being that both Ms. Herfkens and the Dutch Government had unintentionally violated rules.  The fact that Ms. Herfkens had refused to return the subsidy to the Dutch Government was an issue between her and that Government.

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For information media • not an official record