6 June 2007


6 June 2007
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press conference on Africa’s implementation of Millennium Development Goals

Despite faster growth and stronger institutions, the African continent remained off track to meeting the world’s shared goals for fighting poverty, but some progress was emerging, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told correspondents today as she presented the United Nations latest data and analysis on Africa’s implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

Today’s launch of the report, entitled “Africa and the Millennium Development, 2007 Update”, which contained the most up-to-date and comprehensive statistics available on progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals in sub-Saharan Africa, was timed to coincide with the opening of the Group of 8 (G-8) Summit in Germany, she said.  At the Summit, the Secretary-General would put forward as an issue for discussion, including the way forward, the question of implementation of the Goals in sub-Saharan Africa.

Joining the Deputy Secretary-General were Francesca Perucci, lead author of the report and Chief of the Statistical Planning and Development Section of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Guido Schmidt-Traub, team leader of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Millennium Development Goals Support Team.

Highlighting some of the report’s key findings, Ms. Migiro noted that, while the challenges remained daunting, there were positive signs.  The report showed that the rise in extreme poverty -- or the number of people living on less than one dollar a day -- had levelled off since 1999.  It also showed that, in the face of rapid population growth, African countries had increased primary school enrolment rates to 70 per cent in 2005, but more investments in the sector were needed to reach the goal of universal primary education.

Continuing, she noted that child mortality rates had fallen, but only marginally to 166 per 1,000 live births, and remained stubbornly high across the continent.  Maternal mortality rates remained shockingly high.  A woman in Africa had a 1 in 16 chance of dying in childbirth or from complications in pregnancy, compared to a likelihood of one in 3,800 in the developed world.  The number of new HIV/AIDS cases was still rising faster than the rate at which new treatment was being offered.

There was also good news in Africa, she said, including improvements in economic growth rates, the quality of governance, macroeconomic stability and in the area of peace and security.  Some of that progress, however, remained quite fragile.  Much of Africa’s economic performance was based on a commodities boom, which was precarious partly because of the volatility that characterized global commodity markets.  Indeed, many African countries remained dependent on a few primary commodities for their exports.  The strengthening and diversification of the productive base was an essential condition for improved economic performance in the medium to long term.  That was why concluding a genuine development package in the Doha round of trade talks and operationalizing the Aid for Trade initiative was important for Africa, as well as for other developing countries.

The challenges identified in the update had one thing in common, she said:  they could be addressed using resources, skills and technologies that the international community had at its disposal, based on the commitments of both African Governments and the donor community.

She said that an important lesson in recent years from the experience of many African countries had been that rapid and large-scale progress towards the implementation of the Goals was possible when strong government leadership, good policies and practical strategies for scaling up public investments in vital areas were combined with adequate international financial and technical support and market access opportunities.

Impressive results had been achieved in Malawi, for example, where there had been rising agricultural productivity, she said.  Countries such as Ghana, Kenya, the United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda had seen increasing primary school enrolment.  In the Niger, Togo, Zambia and Zanzibar, malaria control had been achieved.  Access to basic rural health services had increased in Zambia.  There was also large-scale reforestation in the Niger, and increasing access to water and sanitation in Senegal and Uganda.

Such success stories demonstrated that the Goals were indeed achievable across Africa, she said.  Those success stories, however, could not be taken to scale because official development assistance to Africa, excluding “one-off debt relief” and humanitarian assistance, had not increased significantly since 2004.  With the exception of Nigeria, which had received exceptional debt relief this year, net official development assistance to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa had actually increased by only 2 per cent in real terms since 2005.

She added that the upcoming G-8 Summit provided an important opportunity for donor countries to lay out concrete timetables for how they would increase development assistance to each African country through to 2010 and on to 2015, which was the target date for achieving the Goals.

“The stark figures in this report should stir us to move away from debating principles towards working out the practicalities of scaling up interventions to achieve the MDGs, while ensuring full accountability and transparency,” she said.  Many African Governments were already leading by example.  She hoped that the world leaders now meeting at the G-8 Summit would carefully study the success stories and resolve to take them to scale.

How much of the problems of implementation had to do with the lack of infrastructure and the policies of African Governments, and how much with the lack of overseas development? a correspondent asked.

Responding, Mr. Schmidt-Traub said there was no “silver bullet” for meeting the Goals.  Indeed, meeting them required many inputs.  The fact that not a single country in sub-Saharan Africa was on track was clearly the result of a lack of funding.  Aid projections were completely flat and the required scaling-up was not happening.  That was not to say, however, that money would solve everything.  Rather, it was a matter of investing money in clear strategies, to which all sides of the partnership could be held accountable.

Stressing the importance of regional infrastructure, he noted that Africa faced a host of unique challenges, including extreme disease, difficulty in attracting investment and a large number of landlocked countries.  While implementation plans existed, financing was often lacking.

A range of necessary inputs was required, including financing, strong government commitment and the formulation of sound strategies, he said in response to a related question.  Malawi had more than doubled its agricultural output because a strong strategy had been met with financing.  Financing was a key constraint in countries that had met their side of the bargain.

To a comment that the report focused exclusively on “success stories”, Ms. Perucci said there had been much talk for a number of years of Africa lagging behind in implementation.  Data was now becoming available and it was important to highlight the fact that some progress had been taking place.  The report focused on what had been possible and what was achievable with the combination of strong will on the part of Governments, financial assistance and the right strategies, instead of on the pessimistic view of Africa being off track.  That was not entirely true.

Mr. Schmidt-Traub added that the report was about international partnership for development.  That international partnership, which included official development assistance, trade and other components agreed at Monterrey, was vitally important for meeting the Goals in Africa and ending the poverty trap.  That did not apply, however, to every country in Africa, as some had experienced significant increases in public revenues as a result of the commodities boom.  Looking at typical sub-Saharan Africa, however, financing had not been there.  Even with excellent governance, achieving the Goals had been impossible.

Asked which countries represented bad examples, he noted that Africa was not one country, but was home to extreme diversity.  Zimbabwe did not stand for all of Africa.  Neither did the United Republic of Tanzania.  Some countries were doing relatively well, while in others, the commitment to development was not in place.  The international community’s role was to identify the key factors of success.

Looking at the data, it was difficult to say which countries were setting the wrong example, Ms. Perucci added.  The Goals covered a wide range of issues.  Some countries had performed badly in improving access to education, for example, but had improved HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns.  Looking at the country data, it was necessary to look at the starting points for each country as not all countries had started from the same level.  Also necessary was to examine the huge differences between rural and urban areas.  In short, it was not easy to just “name the bad countries”.

Regarding the G-8 Summit, Mr. Schmidt-Traub said his role was not to provide guidelines, but to describe key elements of success and failure.  The Malawi example shined the spotlight on practical challenges to be addressed and on how Governments could organize themselves to do so.

While there was no one blueprint, there were several common factors for success, he continued.  Farmers needed fertilizer and improved seeds, basic inputs that could not be afforded on the open market.  That was where Governments needed to provide targeted, smart subsidies.  Very practical approaches could be applied even where there were significant challenges.  The success stories should be used to inform and motivate the quest for scalable strategies across the Continent.  Such complex situations could not be condensed into guidelines.  Countries needed a blend of tools over a sustained period to reduce extreme vulnerability in rural and urban sub-Saharan Africa.

The report focused on sub-Saharan Africa, Ms. Perucci further explained.  The situation was quite different in other parts of Africa.  Northern Africa was most likely to achieve some of the targets and goals.

Asked if the Goals were too ambitious, she said she did not think so.  The language of the goals and targets was derived from the Millennium Declaration, which had been based on the commitments made during the 1990s at the various United Nations conferences.  Some, perhaps, were not clear in formulation, but the targets could be met by applying the lessons learned over the past few years.

Dramatic results could be achieved in a short period of time when good economic policy, macroeconomic stability and a firm commitment to development was coupled with targeted investments, Mr. Schmidt-Traub added.  While trade was a key engine of long-term economic development, with the exception of a few commodities, trade access was not the barrier to development in Africa.  That was where international partnership came in.  The Goals were not too ambitious.  He hoped the G-8 Summit would reaffirm the commitments made at the 2005 Gleneagles G-8 Summit and map out a time frame for commitment.

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