17 April 2009


17 April 2009
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

fulfil existing goals rather than making new promises, Deputy Secretary-General

urges in address, ‘2010: delivering on the promise of the mdgs’

Following is the text of UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s address, “2010:  Delivering on the Promise of the Millennium Development Goals”, as delivered at the Palais des Congrès, in Montreal, 16 April:

C’est pour moi un immense privilège de prendre part au lancement de la deuxième journée du Sommet du Millénaire de Montréal.

Je suis très reconnaissante pour l’excellent accueil qui nous a été réservé depuis notre arrivée dans cette belle métropole de Montréal.

It is a delight to be here and to contribute to these important discussions on the future of the Millennium Development Goals.  It is also a great honour to visit the hometown of the very first Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Madame Louise Fréchette.  Madame Fréchette defined the role of Deputy Secretary-General for all who have come after her.  I am grateful for her path-breaking work.

Thank you for coming together to galvanize action on the Millennium Development Goals.  When the Goals were agreed in 2000, there was great hope that they would rally efforts to end poverty.  Your presence shows that those hopes were not in vain.

In fact, the Montréal Summit is rapidly becoming a venerable institution.  Now in its third year, this Summit brings us together to redouble our efforts for development.  As spring unfolds, this gathering reminds us that our world remains ever more perfectible.  It is particularly fitting that we meet so soon after the celebrations of Passover and Easter ‑‑ holidays when many of us look forward with hope to the prospect of renewal.

I salute the leadership of Daniel Germain and his team.  Daniel’s visionary efforts have helped to alleviate poverty for thousands of Canadian families.  With this Summit, he raises our sights to take on the world’s development needs.  Daniel has shown that one person can make a difference.  He has also shown how much more can be achieved when we work together.

Robert Kennedy once observed that “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

When I look out over this vast hall, I see more than 3,000 people.  Three thousand people who have decided that this is the generation that will end extreme poverty.

I commend the commitment and foresight that has brought us together.  And I am profoundly moved by your sense of urgency.  This urgency is desperately needed.  As you know, 2008 marked the midpoint of the Millennium Development Goal period.  We are now more than halfway to the target year of 2015.  Time is running out to reach the Millennium Development Goals.  But we have reason for hope.  We have made substantial progress on some of the Goals.  And we’ve shown that good policy combined with adequate financing can bear fruit.

Across the world, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since the turn of the Millennium.  Primary school enrolment and completion rates have soared in many countries, such as my homeland of Tanzania.  In the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, we’ve made big strides in fighting malaria and tuberculosis.  We’ve begun to make a dent in the incidence of neglected tropical diseases.  And a recent study has found that the American President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief ‑‑ PEPFAR ‑‑ has helped prevent over 1 million AIDS-related deaths in Africa alone.

A decade ago, conventional wisdom said that poor people couldn’t adhere to the strict drug regimes required to combat AIDS.  Ten years later, we know that compliance rates are better in many African countries than in some Western cities.

Our work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals is turning conventional wisdom on its head.

If I had been asked a few years ago to name the country with the highest percentage of women in its Parliament, I would have reflexively answered “ Sweden”.  In fact, that country is Rwanda, a nation still recovering from the scars of genocide.  We must never underestimate the human capacity for change.

Several developing countries have achieved gender parity in primary education.  Still more have seen big increases in women’s representation in business, government and civil society.  Evidence shows the empowerment of women produces higher rates of growth.  We can expect the benefits of these developments to accrue for years to come.

On other Millennium Development Goals, much remains to be done.  Challenges remain in our attempts to improve maternal health.  Progress has been too slow.  We must find better ways to create the health systems needed to help mothers and children.  More can also be done to protect the environment.  Countries such as Senegal have shown that big advances can be made in improving water and sanitation.  But pollution, deforestation, and erosion continue in many developing countries.  And global warming is increasing the costs of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Most critically, the global partnership for development under Goal 8 remains woefully incomplete.  In exchange for debt relief and new resources, developing countries agreed to improve governance and put their economic houses in order.  The results have been striking.  Over the last decade, many developing countries have achieved robust growth, low inflation, strong fiscal balances, growing reserves and large increases in foreign direct investment.  Governments have also raised money to finance their own development.

More can ‑‑ and should ‑‑ be done.  Developing countries need to stand by their promises.  And donors need to stand by theirs.  But a lot has been achieved.  Many developing countries have done their part.

On the other side of this bargain, donors could do more.  We need to deliver on the promises that have been made.  Forty years ago, Canada’s statesman, Lester B. Pearson, called on rich countries to adopt a foreign aid target of 0.7 per cent of national income.  In 1971, this target was endorsed by the Member States of the United Nations. And in 2002, at Monterrey, Mexico, all nations affirmed the target.  They promised to undertake “concrete efforts” to achieve it.  Most recently, Canada raised its annual aid flows by about 12 per cent.  This was one of the top five increases recorded worldwide.  Additionally, I understand that Canada is on track to meet its Gleneagles commitment to double aid to Africa.  I am sure Canada can still do more to raise its aid flows from less than 0.4 per cent of its national income to the 0.7 per cent target.

It’s certainly true that money isn’t everything.  Money can’t buy development.  But we also know that it is impossible to make progress without more resources.  And the amounts involved are relatively small.

Let’s consider some comparisons for perspective.  In recent years, the world spent about $1.2 trillion on its militaries.  Rich countries spent a bit less than $300 million on farm subsidies.  About $3.1 trillion in fiscal stimulus has been assembled in a matter of months.  Several trillion dollars more in guarantees have been provided to the financial sector.  If we want to address a problem quickly and with overwhelming force, we can do so.

In contrast, net development aid to all countries in 2008 was just shy of $120 billion.  If every rich country met the 0.7 per cent target, aid would only have to rise to around $350 billion.  Canada’s contributions are especially critical right now.  The current economic and financial crisis threatens to undo the progress we have made on the Millennium Development Goals.

The World Bank estimates that 53 million people in developing countries were pushed back into poverty last year; another 46 million could join them in 2009.  An additional 51 million people are losing their jobs; and 40 million more are going hungry.  Preventable diseases and conditions could kill between 200,000 and 400,000 more children this year ‑‑ up to 2.8 million needless deaths between now and 2015.

These rollbacks are made worse by the global food crisis, volatile energy prices, and climate change.  We don’t face one crisis, but rather four.  Four crises that together form a “development emergency”.  Four crises that pose a real threat to the Millennium Development Goals.  We can’t catch up on missed opportunities on some far-off day in the future.  If we dither in the fight against poverty, we incur losses that can never be recovered.  Malnourished children can be permanently stunted.  Physical capital can be lost forever.

Since the Millennium Development Goals are most off-track in Africa, the United Nations has placed a special focus on the continent’s development needs.  In 2007, the Secretary-General brought together eight leading multilateral organizations to intensify their support for the Goals.  The MDG Africa Steering Group’s recommendations provide a clear road map to achieving our targets by 2015.  We need to deliver on this plan.

I am asking you to keep our target year of 2015 in mind.  But I would like you to focus even more closely on our next milestone in 2010.  Next year, the world will gather in New York to consider the second comprehensive review of the Millennium Development Goals.  The first review in 2005 produced a detailed plan for the Goals.  It showed that they were ambitious but realistic objectives.  It showed that they could be met within existing aid commitments.  It showed that achieving the Goals would have a massive impact on human welfare.

As we gather now, one year ahead of our next review, we need to ask ‑‑ sincerely ‑‑ what have we achieved?  It would be simple to craft an answer that highlights all that remains to be done.  It’s easy to see the gaps that persist on a few of our Goals.  But we must remember that the Millennium Development Goals themselves are a truly remarkable achievement.  They mark the first time that the world has agreed on development targets, financing, and action plans in a single, coordinated package.   Canada and its partners can use this package to help transform the conditions that poor people face everyday.

As we prepare for the next Millennium Development Goal review in 2010, we need to build on this solid foundation and go even further.  We need to consider what is working and replicate it.  And we need to identify what isn’t working and change it.  There will be a temptation to consider new promises.  There will be an attraction to bold new plans.  Today, I am asking you to help us stay the course.  Development does not happen overnight.  This is why the Millennium Development Goals have a 15-year target period.  We know that real results take time.

In the limited years we have left, we can’t afford to speculate on what works.  We have identified a set of tried and true low-cost interventions that are effective.  We need to put them into place.  Some will say that the Goals should be revised.  That we should accept that we may fall short.  Nothing is further from the truth.  If we are lagging in some areas, it means that we have to intensify our efforts.

The Goals represent the minimum we must do.  After all, if the tables were turned, and one of us lived in a shanty town, we wouldn’t say that the Goals should be scaled back.  That one Goal is less essential than the others.  That less should be done.  Our daily lives would show us that each of the Millennium Development Goals is critically important.

So I ask you to approach 2010 with a renewed sense of vigour on the Millennium Development Goals.  The Montréal Summit provides a yearly call to action.  And 2010 will give us all a chance to assess the action we’ve taken.  To focus this action.  And to produce results for 2015.

As we go forward, let us avoid being distracted from our long-standing Goals.  Rather than making new promises, let us fulfil the ones we’ve already made.

Achieving the Millennium Development Goals would make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of people.  The world’s promise to devote just 0.7 per cent of rich countries’ incomes would be enough to finance the Goals.  Now is the time to deliver on these commitments.

It has been said that we should never let a good crisis go to waste.  After all, a crisis presents as many opportunities as problems.  And we certainly have an ample crisis on our hands.  But the global economic and financial crisis actually does us an unexpected favour.  It shows us that financing the Millennium Development Goals is eminently affordable.

One might say that aid is a luxury in a time of economic turmoil.  But our reaction to the crisis shows just how wrong-headed such thinking would be.  We cannot accept the notion that the crisis makes it more difficult to deliver on our aid commitments.  It should be the reverse:  the crisis makes aid more critical than it’s ever been before.  For many countries, aid is the only option left.  Private financing has virtually disappeared.  Developing countries are cut off from capital markets.  Exports have fallen precipitously.  Trade credits have become ruinously expensive.  Remittances and tourism have been slashed.

This is why the Secretary-General called for a truly global stimulus package at the G-20 Summit in London.  A package that meets the needs of developing countries.  He argued strongly against protectionism.  And he urged the world’s wealthy nations to show solidarity with their poorer neighbours.

If we fail to meet our aid commitments, we miss a chance to speed our own economic recovery.  Fiscal stimulus has the biggest impact when it is directed to poor people.  People who consume rather than save.  The very people found in developing countries.

Investing in the poor and most vulnerable must be part of our solution to the economic crisis.  The Millennium Development Goals alone will not be enough to lift them out of poverty.  We also need stable financial markets and a favourable economic environment.  Moreover, political will is just as important as economic resources in our efforts to end poverty.

We have the means to summon this will.  And we must do so.  The G-20 will meet again this autumn in the United States.  The G-8 will meet this summer in Italy, and then again next year in Huntsville, Ontario.

As we leave here today, let us commit, each one of us, to building the political will to make poverty history.  To ensuring that in 2010, we can look forward to achieving the Millennium Development Goals five years later.

Je vous félicite vivement pour votre engagement dans la lutte pour un monde sans pauvreté.  Je vous souhaite une bonne conférence.  Et je vous remercie pour votre collaboration précieuse dans la création d’un développement durable pour tous.

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