World Must Act Now to Achieve Anti-Poverty Goals by Honouring Fiscal Commitments, Standing by Pledges to Fund Implementation of Targets, Second Committee Told

12 October 2009

World Must Act Now to Achieve Anti-Poverty Goals by Honouring Fiscal Commitments, Standing by Pledges to Fund Implementation of Targets, Second Committee Told

12 October 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

Second Committee

Panel Discussion (AM)

World Must Act Now to Achieve Anti-Poverty Goals by Honouring Fiscal Commitments,

Standing by Pledges to Fund Implementation of Targets, Second Committee Told

Panel Discussion:  ‘Achieving the MDGs by 2015:  Preparing the 2010 MDG Summit’

The international community must act now to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or risk having the world becomes a more dangerous place, Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute and Professor of Health Policy and Management, Columbia University, told the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) during a panel discussion on “Achieving the MDGs by 2015:  Preparing for the 2010 MDG Summit.”

With less than a year to go before the Summit, this moment represented the last chance for the world to get it right by honouring fiscal commitments and standing by their pledges to fund implementation of the targets, he said.

The Goals, adopted in September 2000, were an extraordinary and unprecedented effort by the world community to eradicate extreme poverty.  The establishment two years later of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was a major achievement, as was the Monterrey Consensus, “a superb document”, which outlined financing of the Goals.  The Millennium Project’s report of recommendations and the Summit at Gleneagles, where Governments agreed to double the aid to Africa by 2010, were similarly important.

However, despite the dramatic results of these efforts, Governments had not fulfilled their financial pledges and the Fund could no longer subsidize all its programmes, he said.  “This is not rocket science -- it’s a matter of basic decency.”  Each year 9 million children under the age of five die from preventable diseases.  “If you do not fund the Global Fund, they die.  If you fund the Global Fund, they survive,” he said.  “There is nothing complicated about this.”

Sachs called for a simultaneous effort on all eight Goals, as both poverty and escape from poverty should be regarded in a holistic fashion, and he praised United States President Barack Obama’s speech to the General Assembly last month in which he expressed commitment to the targets.  He was also encouraged by the American decision to partake in the 2010 Summit and suggested it become a summit of accountability, in which countries made good on their promises, while there was still time.  Instead of commissioning more studies and making more promises, Governments should finance, implement and scale up what they had already promised to do.  “Please, no more studies,” he said.  “We need follow-through now.”

Committee Chairperson Park In-kook ( Republic of Korea) said global trade was expected to fall this year for the first time in 27 years.  Unemployment would increase worldwide, gross domestic product (GDP) would contract and up to 100 million more people would fall into poverty.  There was also concern that the crisis would make it difficult to implement the Monterrey Consensus, as countries shirked on their official development assistance commitments.  Tightened access to finance could further curb funding for social protection and development programmes.  Deforestation and the extinction of species would continue at an alarming rate.

Last week, countries had discussed in the Committee the impact of the economic slowdown on their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, Mr. In-kook said.  Countries must learn from past experiences and focus on such previously neglected areas and populations as rural communities, the very poor and ethnic minorities.  The 2010 MDG Summit gave an opportunity to reinforce commitments and support for the Goals and find ways to channel limited resources where they were most urgently needed and to adjust development efforts to a constantly changing world.

Esther Duflo, Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Founding Director of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab, called for practical, cost-effective and evidence-based strategies to combat poverty.  Such so-called “best buy” strategies were effective, simple and could be easily scaled up to achieve great results on a national scale.  For example, intestinal worms left 400 million children in the world too anaemic and tired to go to school.  But, school programmes to prevent worm infection cost just 50 cents per child annually and increased attendance by one-sixth, or 30 days annually.  In Kenya, such programmes were used to successfully treat 3.6 million children.  In India, basic remedial education programmes costing $2.25 per child annually had already helped 20 million children learn to recognize letters and read a short story.

The use of insecticide-treated bed nets had large social benefits, as did HIV/AIDS education and teen pregnancy prevention programmes for young girls having sex with older men, she said.  Providing people with small incentives could go a long way in improving health.  For example, giving a person a bag of lentils for getting vaccinated against a widely transmitted disease would dramatically increase attendance at immunization camps and clinics in areas where few people got shots.  Similarly, in agriculture, simple technology and limited time offers during harvest time, instead of big subsidies at planting time, could result in bigger harvests at lower cost and dramatically increased income.

Patrick Hayford, Director of the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, said African countries, in particular, would not achieve the Millennium targets by 2015 unless the present negative trends -- mass devastation caused by HIV/AIDS and steadily declining per capita food production exacerbated by drought -- were radically reversed.  Owing to the economic crisis, Africa’s sustained economic growth had stalled, and commodity earnings, foreign direct investment and remittances from expatriates living abroad had dropped significantly.  Africa had made many courageous efforts to achieve the Goals.  The African Union had made clear commitments on human rights, democracy, women’s empowerment and the rule of law.  The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was an African-owned and driven blueprint for development.

But, resource constraints hampered progress, he said.  In many ways, the international community held the key to success and it must support and fund African efforts on a sustained, predictable basis.  “What about accountability on the side of development partners?  How well is the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness being implemented?” he asked, stressing the need for them to make good on their commitments.  The 2010 MDG Summit to review progress in implementing the Millennium targets must involve a broad range of national and international stakeholders and duly focus on new and emerging challenges, particularly such climate change issues as the severe drought that had ravaged development in East Africa for more than five years.

Another panellist, Olav Kjǿrven,, the Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Bureau for Development Policy of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said that the targets were still within reach, but that to attain them, countries needed to break through old habits and “latent or not so latent cynicism”.  He was encouraged by today’s discussion and the high-level commitment on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s general debate last week.

Since the inception of the Goals, there had been tremendous successes, Kjǿrvensaid, citing investments in primary school enrolment, reforestation, maternal health, water and sanitation across Africa and in South-East Asia.  The stark reality, however, was that many sub-Saharan countries were still far from achieving the targets and the impact of the food, fuel and economic crises could undo very hard-fought-for gains.  What was needed before the 2010 Summit were renewed momentum, new coalitions, as well as an analysis of what works and what doesn’t on the ground.  “We are within reach to make improvements in the lives of millions of marginalized people,” he said.  “We cannot miss this opportunity.”

During the ensuing question-and-answer session, several representatives expressed worries about the weak level of commitment to the Monterrey Consensus and said it was time to replace words with deeds.  They asked for guidance on how to put together the 2010 MDG Summit in a way that used political and intellectual resources to best address the thorny aspects and obstacles to reaching the Goals.  Should the Summit look beyond 2015 and should the MDG framework be changed?  What priorities should be set in the next year and what should countries do to achieve them?  What would and should happen if the Goals were not reached by the target date?

In response, Mr. Sachs said his experience in some 130 countries had taught him that programmes worked when they were specific, targeted, funded and accountable.  “Keep it simple, put money in an account, ask the Government for a national plan, scientifically vet it and then hold the Government rigorously accountable for execution of the plan,” he said.  “This is a contract, not a gift -- keep the numbers, the audits and the monitoring.”  But, that was easier said than done, particularly since too few countries in need of programmes were able to pay for things on their own, and too few rich nations were making good on their official development assistance commitments.  Aid agencies in the field had good intentions, but no money to pay for them.  “You can’t pay for this unless the world behaves like the Netherlands,” he said, and added that “if you pay for it people survive; if you don’t they die”.

A good way to pay was through international funds such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the Global Alliance Vaccine Initiative, which were very transparent and held project funders and recipients to account, Mr. Sachs said.  Some 200 million people in developing countries had received free insecticide-treated bed nets since the Global Fund’s inception in 2002.  He predicted that a similar fund set up at the World Bank for agriculture with ready access for African agriculture ministers would enable them to double agriculture production in five years.  But, many bilateral donors did not like international funds because they were too transparent and they couldn’t “plant a flag” or take individual credit.

On a question over the lack of progress towards Goal number five on reducing maternal mortality by 75 per cent by 2015, he said the problem was that no single fund existed to apply strategies to curb mortality and no one wanted to finance a mechanism already proposed for that purpose.  The Global Fund should be turned into a global health fund to finance efforts to end maternal mortality and tropical diseases, and to assist community health workers.

Regarding next year’s Summit, he said Governments should work intensively in the coming weeks to hammer out its substance.  The world could make a clear statement then to look beyond 2015 to end extreme poverty, beyond the current target of halving it by 2015.  The poverty problem was compounded by climate change, an even greater threat.  “This is the dry run for the sustainability of the planet,” he said.  “If we lose the easy goals, then we lose the hard ones in the long run.”

On several questions about financing and the priorities ahead, Ms. Duflo answered that taxpayer support was pivotal and that it was, therefore, important to fight cynicism and doubt, an effort that required acknowledging both successes and failures, scrapping programmes that didn’t work in order to scale up those that did.  Mr. Hayford, for his part, emphasized that, with the right support, the Goals were still achievable and that new partnerships could play an important role in their attainment.

To conclude, Mr. Sachs said there had been progress, noting among other things, that China had boosted its investment in infrastructure in developing countries.  But much work remained.  “We are two-thirds through the semester,” he said.  “Will the world pass the most important test of global solidarity?”

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