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DEVELOPMENT: MDG Goals Face ‘Triple Crisis’

Cillian Donnelly

BRUSSELS, Jul 6 2009 (IPS) - The developing world faces a “triple crisis” as global economics, food prices and the impact of climate change affect the world’s most vulnerable people, a new UN report warns.

The UN’s annual Millennium Development Goals Report outlines the progress made since 189 countries signed up to a set of far-reaching goals aimed at eradicating a major portion of hunger, poverty, disease and illiteracy by 2015.

This year’s report comes at a particularly crucial time, says Nicola Harrington, director of the United Nations/United Nations Development Programme (UN/UNDP) Brussels office, in view of the G8 summit in Italy and the continuing economic crisis worsening severe poverty in the developing world.

The report released Monday analyses progress made on each of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) since the commitments were made nine years ago.

Those goals are that by 2015 the extent of extreme poverty and hunger amongst the world’s poor will be halved; children everywhere will be able to complete a full course in primary education; gender disparity in education will be eliminated; a two-thirds reduction in the under-five mortality rate; reducing by three-quarters the maternal mortality rate; reversing the spread of HIV/AIDs; integrating the principles of sustainable development into national policies and reversing the loss of environmental resources; and to develop a global partnership for development.

“This report, which is released annually, comes two weeks after the UN finance meeting in New York, and at a time when our Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) will be at the G8 summit,” Harrington tells IPS. “At this time of crisis, it is vitally important how the developed countries take into account these current challenges, and how they can help those in the developing world.”

Those challenges are threefold, says Harrington: the financial crisis, the problems of climate change, and the ongoing rise in the price of foodstuffs. But while the first two are relatively well understood, the last is not seen to be as important as it should be.

“It has dipped off the radar recently,” says Harrington, “but it is still a huge problem. People in the developing world are still paying high prices for their food, often staples.”

Climate change too, she says, is being seen as a “problem of tomorrow” by the developing world, while it is instead an immediate and serious issue for those who experience it first hand and who do not have the resources to counter its effects.

But while this report assesses developments as they stand, it is complicated by the simple factor that its data was largely complied before current economic trends began to take hold, and the report’s contents need to be seen within that context, says Harrington.

“If you take the period before the crisis, we were advancing very well in some areas, such as poverty reduction, education, child mortality and the decline of new infections of HIV/AIDS, but now the financial crisis has hit the developing world hard, and not all countries, both in the North and South, have properly integrated a programme for change.

Also, the developing world could be more affected than suggested because reduction in remittances has had a huge effect on the economies of developing countries, something that Harrington says Western observers tend to forget as a “real issue”.

The UN/UNDP, along with many European NGOs, is calling on the G8 and the European Union not to forsake development aid at this critical time.

“International actors such as the European Union, with its prominent place in the world in global diplomacy and economics, are well placed to do something about this crisis,” says Harrington.

But more than that, both the developed and developing world should see that their problems are interconnected, and that cooperation must be the key to ensuring future protection from any crises to come, she says.

“The problems of the developing world are also the problems of the developed world. How Europe, for example, addresses its own recovery from the financial crisis, such as its trade regime, affects the whole world.

“Global sustainability has to go hand-in-hand with human development; we have to avoid protectionism, and encourage productive opportunities in areas like agriculture, industry and services.

“We have to build up markets. The more they (developing countries) are part of a global market, the more that market will expand. Everyone has a duty to make those markets grow again.”

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