Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jul14/04)
23 July 2014
Third World Network
scepticism, trumpets successes in cutting poverty
Published in SUNS #7840 dated 9 July 2014
York, 7 Jul (IPS/Thalif Deen) -- With 17 months before the Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs) reach their targets by the December 2015
deadline, the United Nations is trumpeting its limited successes -
but with guarded optimism.
"Global poverty has been halved five years ahead of the 2015
time-frame," says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the latest
status report released Monday.
In 1990, almost half of the population in developing regions lived
on less than 1.25 dollars a day. "This rate dropped to 22 percent
by 2010, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty by
700 million," the study claims.
Still, the overwhelming majority of people living in extreme poverty
belong to two regions: Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, according
to the 56-page Millennium Development Goals Report 2014.
But some of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) closely tracking
trends in social and economic development in the developing world
are sceptical of the claims.
Roberto Bissio, director of the Uruguay-based Social Watch, told IPS
the global average the United Nations celebrates is almost exclusively
due to China - and most of that poverty reduction in China happened
before the year 2000.
"Thus the MDGs are credited with outcomes that happened before
they existed," he said. "This is because the target is defined
as lowering to half the 1990 global poverty line, not the 2000 figure
as the Millennium Declaration implies by talking in present,"
The study singles out the increased access to drinking water sources,
an improvement in the lives of slum dwellers and the achievement of
gender parity in primary schools.
"If trends continue," says the report, "the world will
surpass MDG targets on malaria, tuberculosis and access to HIV treatment
(while) the hunger target looks within reach."
Other targets, such as access to technologies, reduction of average
tariffs, debt relief, and growing political participation by women,
"show great progress."
Over the past 20 years, the likelihood of a child dying before age
five has been nearly cut in half, which means about 17,000 children
are saved every day, according to the report.
Chee Yoke Ling of the Malaysia-based Third World Network told IPS
the MDG report is "over-optimistic", and avoids the systemic
obstacles that continue to deprive large parts of the world from their
right to development.
"A much-needed orderly sovereign debt work-out mechanism is still
rejected by rich countries and we see Argentina on the verge of another
crisis because of the greed of ‘vulture funds,'" she said.
Failure to deal with structural barriers can negate any success made
over the past two decades. "Unfortunately," she pointed
out, "the trend in the UN Secretary-General's office and many
developed countries is to place hopes in private corporations and
‘multi-stakeholder partnerships' that fudge the massive problems caused
by many corporations.
"The vote on June 26 at the Human Rights Council to start a process
for a treaty to regulate transnational corporations is a clear signal
that if we are to make development a reality, corporations cannot
be the deliverer," she added.
In a statement released Monday, the London-based WaterAid said the
UN report is a reminder of a terrible truth: that there are still
2.5 billion people in the world without access to basic toilets. Of
the 2.5 billion, 644 million are in sub-Saharan Africa and more than
1.0 billion in South Asia.
"Going without this right is compromising the health, safety,
security and dignity of billions of people," said Fleur Anderson,
global head of campaigns at WaterAid.
As the UN works on a renewed set of development goals, it is critical
that sanitation be made a central priority in development, activists
For the first time in history, bringing safe water and basic sanitation
to everyone, everywhere within a generation "is in our grasp",
Anderson stressed. "But it will require political will and dedication
to get there. Without these basic building blocks, there is no effective
way to address extreme poverty," she added.
Bissio told IPS that by concentrating attention on extreme poverty,
developed countries got off the hook and do not feel they have to
report on their own commitments at home. Poverty in developed countries
is ignored and inequalities are ignored everywhere, resulting in this
being the major constraint now to economic growth (apart from all
other considerations) as recognised even by the International Monetary
Fund (IMF), he noted.
The study also points out that after two years of declines, official
development assistance (ODA) hit a record high of 134.8 billion dollars
in 2013. "However, aid shifted away from the poorest countries
where attainment of the MDGs often lags the most," it said.
Eighty per cent of imports from developing countries entered developed
countries duty-free, and tariffs remained at an all-time low.
The debt burden of developing countries remained stable at about 3.0
per cent of export revenue, which was a near 75 per cent drop since
2000, according to the report.
Despite considerable advancements in recent years, the report says
reliable statistics for monitoring development remain inadequate in
many countries, but better statistical reporting on the MDGs has led
to real results.
Yoke Ling told IPS the explosion of transnational corporations (TNCs)
suing national governments in developing countries over environmental
and health regulations by invoking corporate rights under bilateral
investment agreements is sucking billions of dollars from those countries.
She also pointed out that developing countries that made some progress
and continue to face huge challenges are increasingly excluded from
the commitments of developed countries to provide climate finance,
ensure access to affordable life-saving medicines and transfer technologies
for sustainable development.
This is because countries such as China and India are regarded as
"competitors" by the US.
European corporations assert undue influence over their home governments'
development cooperation policies, which in turn undermines the key
UN treaties on climate change and biodiversity, she said.
The ongoing negotiations at the UN on sustainable development goals
are mired in debate because developed countries refuse to put the
systemic economic issues at the centre of the next development partnership
- which should be primarily about inter-state responsibilities and
commitments, not unaccountable "partnerships," Yoke Ling