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DEVELOPMENT: Chances of Achieving MDGs “Slim” Without Civil Society

Christi van der Westhuizen

GENEVA, Jun 28 2007 (IPS) - Global civil society leaders called on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Thursday to use both international channels and their muscle on the ground for applying pressure on governments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The Civil Society Development Forum also heard that the global picture for progress towards the MDGs is uneven, with sub-Saharan Africa and western Asia set to miss most of the targets – despite there being enough money to achieve the goals.

All regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, are on track to achieve full primary school enrolment (goal two). But sub-Saharan Africa will, on average, not be able to halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day, or halve the number suffering from hunger by 2015, said Nikhil Seth, director of the division for support and co-ordination at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

In western Asia poverty rates have doubled over the past few years, while half the population of the whole of the developing world still has no access to sanitation. No progress has been made with reducing the number of underweight children, said Seth.

Inequality both within and between countries is growing, stressed Salil Shetty, director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign. Certain countries have shown progress, however, with Tanzania, Rwanda, Mozambique and Bangladesh set to meet many of the goals.

Some 500 delegates from NGOs from across the world have gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, for the Civil Society Development Forum which has been arranged by CONGO, or the Conference of Non-governmental Organisations in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations. The United Nations Millennium Campaign co-hosts the event.

The results of the forum will be conveyed to the annual high-level meeting of ECOSOC taking place later this year. The focus of the forum is also to mobilise NGOs to promote goals one and eight. Goal one concerns eradicating poverty and hunger, and goal eight creating a global partnership for development.

“Without civil society as the driving force behind the MDGs, the chances are very slim that we will reach the MDGs,” said CONGO President Renate Bloem in her opening address. “Together we should pursue the vision that respect for human rights and human development go hand in hand.”

The systematic and active participation of NGOs is essential to hold government accountable for progress with the MDGs, said Dalius Cekuolis, ECOSOC president.

He told delegates about the recent reforms at ECOSOC which allow for involvement of NGOs in development policies at the international level. ECOSOC will hold a Development Co-operation Forum next year, where development policies will be reviewed.

NGOs should also use the offices of the U.N. based in their own countries to advocate for issues of concern, said Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of CIVICUS, a global non-governmental organisation representing civil society.

He reminded delegates that the MDGs were minimal goals. At the time of the drafting of the MDGs activists were also worried that while the goals which developing countries had to fulfil (one to seven) had target dates, goal eight – which developed countries had to fulfil – had no deadlines, said Naidoo.

This was especially worrying against the background of the “compliance deficit” that the U.N. system suffers from, he said. Many goals have been set and missed in the past. Part of the problem is the lack of political will, which is especially important when it comes to financing, said Sergei Ordzhonikidze, director general of the U.N. office in Geneva.

According to Shetty, success in working towards the goals is determined by whether MDGs are given high priority by political leaders, whether policies and budgets are in place, and whether donors come to the table, offering assistance such as debt cancellation – and more and better quality aid.

Speakers emphasised that enough money is available globally to finance the MDG processes. The current global expenditure of 1.2 trillion dollars on arms far exceeds the global spending on development, Sergei Ordzhonikidze pointed out.

Economic growth has globally been the highest ever in the past 50 years, so there is a question about where the resulting wealth is going, said Roberto Bissio, executive director of the NGO Social Watch. There are some 12 million individuals who each have more than one million dollars in offshore investments, totalling 12 trillion dollars.

Calculations showed that if the interest on this money was taxed even at a minimal level, more money could be raised than was necessary to fund the achievement of the MDGs, said Bissio.

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