Radical policy shift needed if we are to meet poverty goals


OPINION: World leaders attending the UN Summit in New York this week to review the Millennium Development Goals must realise the time for prevarication on core objectives is over, writes  JUSTIN KILCULLEN

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed by 192 countries in 2000 promised to halve the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day, and set out targets in areas including mother and child health, education, gender equality and sustainable development to be achieved by the same date. The eighth goal set out the commitments around provision of finance and good governance that would enable these targets to be met. But without a radical shift in direction, the goals won’t be achieved.

Research undertaken by the Overseas Development Institute and the UN Millennium Campaign has shown that significant progress has been made where sufficient, timely and focused aid has been made available. If the donor governments, including Ireland, are serious about achieving the goals they must learn from this, and deliver on the following:

Meet aid commitments: Since 2000, commitments to development aid made by donor countries have not been delivered. Global promises of aid given at the G8 Make Poverty History summit in 2005 have now fallen short by €17 billion. Ireland has twice reneged on its aid commitments made in 2000, first in 2005 and again last year. Ireland’s aid programme has been cut by 25 per cent over the past two years. Other countries are following suit, blaming the recession. Governments must find the money to deliver on them or say “we give up”. With five years to go there is no room for prevarication anymore.

Resolve the trade issue: The goal is to restructure global trade to the benefit of developing countries. Trade negotiations began in 2001 on the “development round”; they are not yet complete. Developing countries can benefit hugely by just trade relations with the developed world that enable them to raise revenue to implement policies to meet the goals.

Generate new, innovative forms of finance for development: Aid by itself is insufficient to achieve the goals. For years, wealthy countries have resisted implementing a financial transaction tax. It is estimated that a tax of just 0.05 per cent applied to organised financial exchanges between international markets would raise more than $400 billion annually, or three times the current aid levels.

End the debt problem: The reduction in debt to sustainable levels in 25 of the 40 poorest countries has resulted in marked progress towards meeting the development goals at national level. In Mozambique, expenditure on poverty eradication has trebled to over $2 billion annually as a result of debt reductions.

Face up to our responsibilities on climate change: The failure to agree a climate change deal in Copenhagen last December had far-reaching consequences for the world’s poorest billion people. Dramatically changing weather patterns have impacted seriously on the planet’s ability to feed itself. Now it seems that talks due in Mexico this December will not produce the required deal. We cannot afford to wait. We need a political commitment to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and provide additional finance to poor countries. Strengthen the focus on women: Respect for human rights, good governance and political accountability are prerequisites for success. Central to this is the issue of gender equality. Women are the developing world’s farmers, yet are often denied the right to own or inherit land. In hard times, girls are the first to be withdrawn from school.

Yet we know children born to mothers without formal education are more likely to be malnourished or die before the age of five. Ireland has taken a progressive stance on many of these issues – for instance we agreed to prioritise the needs of poor producers that advance their right to food. In New York, the Government will continue to give leadership on the issue of hunger, the main focus of our aid programme. But difficult decisions must be made if Micheál Martin’s words in New York are not to ring hollow in the vital five years ahead. The Government has indicated we will meet our aid target of 0.7 per cent of GNP by 2015. Minister Martin must give assurances that this target will be met and set out clearly defined, year by year steps, to do so. Ireland should lead the European Union countries by adopting legislation to safeguard this commitment.

Combating hunger and poverty requires more than aid. Investments in development must be supported by policy coherence in related areas – so that economic, trade, environmental and development policies are aligned to deliver real change for the poor within a human rights framework. Unless Ireland and the donor countries take these tough decisions, the inevitable failure to reach the MDGs by 2015 will be seen as an indictment of rich countries and their unwillingness to transform the quality of life for millions. World leaders should grasp this chance to offer justice by dealing with the structural causes of poverty; not merely its symptoms.

Justin Kilcullen is director of Trócaire