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DEVELOPMENT: Uneven Results Forecast for Millennium Goals

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 2 2007 (IPS) - The world’s 22 rich nations, comprising the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), grudgingly doled out about 104 billion dollars in official development assistance (ODA) to the world’s poorer nations in 2006.

But just one solitary OECD member – the United States – has spent or allocated a staggering 456 billion dollars on the ongoing five-year-old destructive war in Iraq.

“The financing of destruction has overtaken the financing of human development,” says Yoke Ling of the Third World Network, a development-oriented non-governmental organisation based in Malaysia.

“Every dollar spent on the Iraq war could have been used instead to bring us closer to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” she told IPS.

As the international community reaches the midpoint between the adoption of the MDGs in 2000 and the target date of 2015, the United Nations Monday released a 36-page report, described as “the most comprehensive global assessment of (MDGs) progress to date.”

“The results are, predictably, uneven,” said the study, which takes stock of the successes and failures in achieving the MDGs, which focused largely on reducing global poverty and hunger by 50 percent by the year 2015.

The other goals include universal primary education; promotion of gender equality; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a North-South global partnership for development.

In a foreword to the study, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says unequivocally: “The world wants no new promises.”

But he complains that the “lack of any significant” increase in ODA since 2004 “makes it impossible, even for well-governed countries, to meet the MDGs.”

Ban points out that “adequate resources” need to be made available to countries in a predictable way for them to be able to effectively plan the scaling up of their investments.

“Yet these promises remain to be fulfilled,” the secretary-general declares.

In 2005, ODA rose to a record 106.8 billion dollars, due primarily to large debt relief operations, most notably for Iraq and Nigeria.

In 2006, substantial debt relief to these two countries began to drop out of the equation, causing net aid disbursements to fall to 104 billion dollars – equivalent to 0.3 percent of developed countries’ combined national income.

And in real terms, official aid dropped by 5.1 percent, the first decline since 1997, according to the U.N. study.

The only five donors to reach or exceed the U.N. target of 0.7 percent of gross national income for development aid – set by the General Assembly about 37 years ago – were Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

The study says that 16 of the 22 countries of OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, however, met the separate 2006 targets for ODA they set at the 2002 Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development.

But the biggest single defaulter is the United States. In 2006, net ODA by the United States, the largest donor, was 22.7 billion dollars, a fall of 20 percent in real terms, according to OECD figures.

Yoke Ling said: “The past decade has been filled with lofty promises by the rich, in the name of poverty eradication and raising human dignity in the developing world.”

But the reality is “shameful”. She pointed out that the U.N.’s development role has been weakened, while the World Trade Organisation has become even more of an arena for global businesses to pry open emerging economies with the result of further marginalisation of poor countries.

Last week, the National Priorities Project (NPP), a research organisation based in Washington, placed Iraq war spending in a domestic context.

The NPP said the 456 billion dollars Washington is spending on the Iraq war could have been disbursed locally to provide some 5.7 million people with health care coverage for a five year period and about one million affordable housing units for the homeless in the United States.

The U.S. military spending in Iraq could have also provided 4.7 million students with tuition-free education in a state university for four years, while 430,000 school teachers could have been hired in the United States during five years of an overseas war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the U.N. study singles out some of the progress made in achieving the MDGs over the last seven years.

The proportion of people living in extreme poverty – living on less than a dollar a day – fell from nearly 1.25 billion in 1990 to some 980 million people in 2004. “If the trend is sustained, the MDG poverty reduction target will be met for the world as a whole and for most regions.”

The study also said that progress has been made in getting more children into school in the developing world: enrolment in primary education grew from 80 percent in 1991 to 88 percent in 2005

Additionally, women’s political participation has been growing, but slowly. Even in countries where previously only men were allowed to stand for political election, women now have a seat in parliament.

Child mortality, on the other hand, has declined globally, and the right life-saving interventions are proving effective in reducing the number of deaths from the main child killers, such as measles.

And the tuberculosis epidemic, finally, appears on the verge of decline, although progress is not fast enough to halve prevalence and death rates by 2015.

But the report also underlines some of the key challenges that have to be addressed in the march towards MDGs.

Over half a million women still die each year from treatable and preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth, while the number of people dying from AIDS worldwide increased to 2.9 million in 2006.

At the same time prevention measures are failing to keep pace with the growth of the epidemic.

According to the study, half the population of the developing world still lacks basic sanitation, while most economies have failed to provide employment opportunities to their youth.

On the other hand, the benefits of economic growth in the developing world have been unequally shared.

The report also warns of the devastation that could be triggered by global warming because emissions of carbon dioxide rose from 23 billion metric tons in 1990 to 29 billion metric tons in 2004.

“Climate change is projected to have serious economic and social impacts, which will impede progress towards the MDGs.”

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