Press Conference by Secretary-General to Launch Report of Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force

16 September 2010

Press Conference by Secretary-General to Launch Report of Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force

16 September 2010
Press Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Secretary-General to Launch Report


of Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force


The global economic and financial crisis had led to shortfalls in aid, trade and debt, notably in Africa, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a Headquarters press conference today, while emphasizing that renewed commitment to a global partnership for development was crucial for filling those gaps ahead of 2015.

“We must not balance our budgets on the backs of the poor,” Mr. Ban stressed, as he launched the 2010 report of the Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force (see Press Release SG/SM/13102).  Created by the Secretary-General in 2007 to improve the monitoring of Goal 8 (global partnership) through inter-agency coordination, the Task Force comprises more than 20 United Nations bodies — with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs as the lead agencies — as well as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Painting a mixed picture of the world situation, Mr. Ban said that, although official development assistance (ODA) was at an all-time high, States were $20 billion short on commitments made for the year.  Africa accounted for 80 per cent of that gap — or $16 billion — and it was distressing that the place of greatest need accounted for the lion’s share of the shortfall, he added.  While gains had been made in providing debt relief to the poorest nations, many remained at high risk of debt distress as existing initiatives expired.

He went on to say that it was unclear whether pre-crisis trade growth would again be on the horizon.  Rising prices had hampered access to medicines and, while there was greater access to new technologies, the digital divide remained wide.  Public and private investment in technologies for renewable energy production, energy efficiency and environmental protection were also needed.

Despite those setbacks, however, “we have the tools and resources to achieve the Goals by 2015”, the Secretary-General affirmed, adding that, taken as a whole, the report should motivate leaders to act with urgency during next week’s High-level Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals.  “We know what works,” he said, stressing the importance of combining sound national strategies and international support.  The foundation for sustainable and prosperous tomorrow would be laid by focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable, he added.

Accompanying the Secretary-General were Olav Kjørven, Assistant Administrator and Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Development Policy; Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; and Rob Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Asked how the Task Force had come up with the ODA figures, Mr. Jomo, its Co-Chair, said the commitment to devote 0.7 per cent of gross national product dated back to 1971.  “Those commitments largely have not been met,” he said, adding that in 2005 the Group of Eight (G-8) had committed itself to more modest targets, which also had not been met in total.  They included resource transfers for special categories, such as countries in Africa and least developed countries.

He went on to say that there was concern that the recent turn to Government spending cuts would further adversely affect aid commitments.  However, Belgium and the United Kingdom, among others, appeared to be keeping their commitments — even increasing their ODA contributions — and there was no reason why other developed countries could not emulate them.

As for how to meet the ODA gap, Mr. Jomo said public support for aid transfers to poor nations was strong in developed nations, as demonstrated by surveys taken in the United States.  Only political will was lacking, he said, noting that commitments had been reiterated numerous times and the question was whether leaders would seriously try to fulfil them.

Asked about the challenges for countries like Pakistan, which had been hit by unprecedented natural disasters, Mr. Kjørven, who is also a Task Force Co-Chair, said the upcoming Meeting would put the spotlight on challenging situations.  The Task Force was discussing how to raise awareness of the need to meet unprecedented needs and assessing the impact of the flooding on Pakistan’s Millennium Development Goal trajectory.  The best available climate science pointed to climate change as the cause of the disaster, which would affect the way in which recovery was shaped down the line.

In response to a question on how the Summit would underscore partnerships in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, which received large amounts of ODA but had vulnerable Governments, Mr. Vos said the Summit should ensure that aid flows were particularly concentrated in those most in need, which could include Iraq and Afghanistan, but not to the detriment of others in need.  He recommended better alignment of aid delivery with innovative financing to help relieve pressure on national budgets.

Mr. Kjørven added that, with five years to go until the 2015 deadline, “it’s hard to think of a better investment to make”.  A big share of aid was going to countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, which needed resources, and it was important to support them.  If leaders used the Summit to declare support for “bringing the bottom billion in from the cold”, that could rebalance the global situation.

Addressing criticism that aid had not been effective in improving economic growth or human welfare, Mr. Jomo said that subtracting the five largest aid recipients from the equation — Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt and Colombia, where aid was heavily politically motivated — and then considering the relationship between aid and growth would show indications of a robust positive relationship.

Asked why ODA contributions by hydrocarbon producers did not figure in the report, Mr. Vos said it discussed the importance of South-South aid flows.  Hydrocarbon producers had contributed between $10 billion and $15 billion annually, still a small amount.  While those amounts had recently increased, on the whole, they were still small relative to contributions from OECD countries.  The same was true for Saudi Arabia, which had been a large ODA provider in the 1970s, he said, calling for consideration of ways to make those nations a more stable source of financing.

Responding to a question about the report’s reference to debt sustainability, notably for Pakistan, Mr. Jomo said States’ relationship to United Nations specialized agencies was complex.  States had called time and again for improvements in the “voice” and participation of developing countries in the IMF, but, while there was some agreement between the United Nations and the Fund on how to achieve a robust recovery effort, it could not be said that the world body agreed with all IMF decisions.

As far as lending conditions were concerned, he said that, following the infusion of funds following the 2009 G-8 summit, there had been improvement in latitude, but questions remained about whether that had been enough.  Three weeks ago, the United States had declined to accept a continuation of the IMF Board, which meant that discussions would now centre on the consequences of a smaller Board with a different composition.

Reflecting another aspect of that topic, Mr. Vos said the Fund had played a key role in implementing the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative, which had reduced the debt burden of many countries.  Pressure from Governments and civil society had helped to make that happen.  There were suggestions to put in place a sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, he said, adding that he looked forward to discussing that idea.  Indeed, it was a challenge to “get to the poorest of the poor”, and establishing a clear policy and dialogue framework around the Goals would help move the agenda forward.

Asked about appropriating investment and technology to bridge the technology gap, Mr. Jomo said the “digital divide” had grown despite increased access to mobile phones, which had seen explosive growth.  Solutions depended on what measures were examined.  In addition, there were numerous areas in which access to and cost of technology had become crucial.

By way of example, he said the cost of essential medicines in poor countries was now several times the reference prices, in part because India, which provided generic, low-cost drugs to sub-Saharan Africa, could no longer supply them due to changes in Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) regulation.  Only in exceptional cases — through the Clinton Global Initiative, for example — were retrovirals produced in India available in sub-Saharan Africa.  Other examples could be found in climate change adaptation and mitigation, he continued, stressing that the costs of such technology must be lowered if significant progress was to be made.

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