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U.N. Report Optimistic on Anti-Poverty Strides

Beatrice Paez

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2010 (IPS) - Despite the ongoing financial crisis, global poverty rates are expected to fall by half in the next five years compared to 1990, according to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Report 2010 launched on Wednesday by Secretary-General Ban Ki- Moon.

This could mean lifting up 920 million people who are now living under the international poverty line.

“Economic growth has been robust enough to guarantee that all regions remain on track to meet the poverty target,” said Francesca Perucci, chief of the U.N.’s Statistics Planning and Development Section.

However, progress remains uneven in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and parts of Eastern Europe.

The report says that the number of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day fell from 1.8 billion in 1990 to 1.4 billion in 2005, and the poverty rate dropped from 46 percent to 27 percent. These advances were partly driven by India and China, along with countries in Eastern Asia, which experienced sharp reductions in poverty.

The MDGs are a set of far-reaching commitments undertaken by governments in September 2000. They range from the empowerment of women to reducing child mortality. The deadline for meeting these targets is 2015, leaving governments five years to go.

The report will be used as a tool in preparation for a high- level summit on the MDGs this September at U.N. headquarters in New York. It noted that development aid continues to rise, but cautioned that the flow of funding has been uneven and only five donor countries – Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden – are meeting or exceeding the U.N.’s target of 0.7 percent of gross national income.

The lag in certain development goals is partly due to skewed budget priorities, “but also objective difficulties for governments not being able to fund and sustain all those changes in the long run,” Perucci told IPS. “There might be changes if there is strong political will from both sides – the donors and national governments from developing countries.”

She noted that the fastest progress has been mostly towards goals that do not require major infrastructural changes – like Goal 6, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. The availability of anti-viral drugs and treatment has risen rapidly for HIV and malaria. Countries where malaria is endemic have seen an increase in aid from 0.1 billion dollars in 2003 to 1.5 billion dollars in 2009.

However, other key goals, such as the empowerment of women, remain distant. Job insecurity and lack of benefits for women are widespread, and have been exacerbated by the financial crisis, the report said.

Providing sanitation for the 2.6 billion people who lack it has also proven difficult to achieve – only half of the developing world has met this critical need.

“The good news is that countries as poor and diverse as Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Nepal and Tanzania have all experienced surges in primary school enrolment after the elimination of user fees,” said Olav Kjorven, assistant administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

For Nepal, this is just one highlight of its achievements towards meeting the MDGs. Together with UNDP, the government has also delivered clean energy to a population of 250,000 people living in remote villages, some more than a day’s walk to the nearest road.

While access to modern energy is not explicitly listed among the MDGs, it is a cross-cutting issue that has the ability to bolster efforts on other fronts, said Kjorven. Presently, almost half of the world’s population has limited (or no) electricity, according to UNDP. This initiative has the potential to serve as a model for other countries to follow.

In Nepal, the project has spurred the growth of jobs and incomes, along with opportunities for women and school enrolment. Women are able to devote less time to the collection of firewood and water. They are also able to avoid open fires while cooking, which pose hazards to their health.

The micro hydro plant initiative is distinctive because “it is a community-based infrastructural development programme”, Gyan Chandra Acharya, permanent representative of Nepal to the U.N., told IPS. It has also helped activate an entrepreneurial spirit among women and other rural dwellers.

Kiran Man Singh, project manager of the Rural Development Programme, spoke to reporters about a woman who now runs her own agro-processing unit, milling grains for other communities. Though public investment helped kick-start the programme, sustaining it requires the mobilisation of small private investors.

Most of the decisions and control remain in the hands of the community and electricity prices will remain affordable, but the government has employed the private sector to do the construction and to buy the equipment necessary to keep the hydro plants running.

“We have the framework conditions that protect the community and that also allow entrepreneurs to do something, and that’s a win-win,” said Olav.

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