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Global Development Blueprint Reveals Urgent Uphill Battle

Aprille Muscara

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 10 2010 (IPS) - A document outlining the U.N.’s strategy to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 was finalised Thursday after months of heated negotiations.

The text, titled “Keeping the Promise – United to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals”, will be formally signed off on by world leaders at the upcoming MDG summit, which is to be held here from Sep. 20-22.

The final 27-page version, obtained by IPS, differs considerably from the 14-page “zero draft” base text from which member states inserted, amended and removed passages.

However, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) worry that the completed text, called an outcome document, falls short of the substantial action plan it was hoped to be and is instead a rehash of already-made promises and generalised commitments.

“This document lacks the adrenaline boost to accelerate the MDGs, and with only five years left, world leaders coming together in New York must commit to concrete actions that will ensure all people are lifted from poverty in our lifetime,” said Emma Seery, a spokesperson for Oxfam International.

Over the years, NGOs and aid groups have advocated for a human rights-based approach to tackling the MDGs. A review of the document at different draft stages reveals the addition of key human rights language, such as inclusion of the right to development, the right to food, the right to health and the right to education.

“We recognize that the respect, promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of effective work towards achieving the MDGs,” the final document states.

But notably absent from the list is access to clean water and sanitation, which the U.N. in a resolution declared a basic human right in late July. The resolution proved to be a divisive one, however, with 41 countries, including the United States, Britain and Canada abstaining from the vote.

Although water and sanitation is not explicitly framed as a human right in the final outcome document, they appear frequently throughout as basic needs essential to achieving the MDGs.

Absent, as well, is the assertion “that gender equality is a basic human right, a fundamental value and an issue of social justice” – a statement that was inserted during the draft process but failed to make it through to the end. The final version reads: “We acknowledge the importance of gender equality and empowerment of women to achieve the MDGs.”

Indeed, the evolution of the outcome document, which at one point ballooned to 38 pages, reflects a process of political wrangling over touchy wording. With its numerous additions and amendments, the final product is at once more specific in its language yet still general in its pledges.

Language on peace and security matters appears to have been especially contentious. For instance, references to “armed violence,” present in the zero draft, and “transnational crime” and “trafficking in persons,” introduced in subsequent drafts, as posing threats to the attainment of the MDGs have been removed entirely in favour of the more benign “conflict.”

However, one instance of both “foreign occupation” and “terrorism” – new additions – as hindering achievement of the MDGs appear in the final version, reflecting a political compromise between the Group of 77, a coalition of developing countries, and the European Union and the United States.

In the final stages of ironing out problematic language, the E.U. and U.S. and the G77 were often on opposing sides in typical developed-developing, North-South fashion.

It is common practice, a U.N official told IPS, for the relevant parties to go to extremes in their proposed amendments in anticipation of having to make concessions.

Thus, the G77’s insertions that claim the current global financial structure – from trade to aid – is “non- inclusive,” “ineffective” and “inadequate” for developing countries were removed in place of more watered down wording stressing the need to further reform international financial systems.

A greater focus on the particular needs of the developing world, rural populations and specific mention of regional efforts by the global South in attaining the MDGs are also additions, reflecting G77 bargaining.

Meanwhile, the importance of parliaments, national ownership in developmental efforts and mutual accountability for commitments made towards achieving the MDGs suggest concessions made to the West.

Among the other numerous differences from the zero draft is an acknowledgement of the impact of the world financial crisis, volatile food and energy prices and humanitarian emergencies in stunting developmental gains. And of the eight goals, the document characterises maternal health, MDG5, as making the slowest progress.

Also added is a litany of references to U.N. conventions, agreements and agencies, which serves to reinforce the commitments and goals made in those forums, but also highlights the world body’s role in ensuring the accountability of governments.

To this end, the final document requests a “Special Event” to take place during the 68th session of the general assembly in 2013, two years shy of the deadline, to follow up on efforts made toward achieving the MDGs.

Ultimately, despite its acknowledgement of the uneven advances made thus far, the document reflects the urgent uphill battle left on the path to 2015.

“Progress on other MDGs is fragile and must be sustained to avoid reversal,” it states.

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