At a time when $700 billion can be found overnight to bail out the richest bankers in the world and $1000 billion can be spent on one single “war,” when sovereign wealth funds in a few rich countries alone are at $2500 billion and growing, it stretches credulity when we are told that the world can’t find an extra $18 billion a year to save the lives of millions of children and women and meet the basic needs of the majority of the world’s population.
Eight years ago, world leaders agreed at the U.N. on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), 8 Goals to significantly reduce extreme poverty, disease and illiteracy by 2015. World leaders met in New York on 25 September to take stock of progress at the mid-point. The first seven years have seen some important successes at the aggregate level, including in India — 40 million more children are in school, hundreds of millions of people have come out of extreme poverty, some deadly diseases like tuberculosis and measles have been contained, and fewer people are dying from HIV/AIDS. But the U.N. Secretary-General warned that if the world has to meet the MDGs by 2015, the speed of implementation needs to be substantially accelerated. Paradoxically, foreign aid levels have actually fallen in the last two years and some of the richest countries are cutting back even further.
It is no surprise then that virtually every leader from a developing country spoke in New York last week about rich countries breaking their aid promises to the poor with the consequence being schools and health centres left without staff and equipment.
But turn your attention to the street conversation from Lagos to Luanda, from Dakar to Delhi, from Manila to Mexico City and you will hear a different discourse on why the MDGs are not being met. For the poorest people living in rural Africa or Asia or the sprawling slums of Latin American cities, their daily experience is of being powerless in the face of being denied basic public services. The economic boom that many countries in the developing world are yet to translate into MDGs for the poor. Whether it is privatisation of basic services, social exclusion, or plain inefficiency and corruption, the net effect is the same — more poverty, unemployment and deprivation for those at the bottom of the pile.
Those who can afford it have long since moved to private providers of health, education, water, power and even in many places policing. The expectations from the state have been reduced to almost nil. Evidence suggests that unchecked levels of corruption would add $50 billion to the cost of achieving the MDG on water and sanitation — or nearly half of annual global aid outlays. The Swiss Banking Association’s report on black money shows that India alone accounts for $1,456 billion worth of deposits. And the two regions where the majority of the world’s poor live, that is, Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia, has annual military expenditures of $40 billion. This figure is dwarfed if you add up the massive amounts of public expenditure that are not focussed on MDGs and the needs of the poor. How can such levels of misallocation and corruption be tolerated?
Despite more countries opting to become electoral democracies, citizens’ trust in government is at an all-time low. Clearly the abuse of power for personal gain, the siphoning off of public or common resources into private pockets is unacceptable in any situation but when this is public money gathered in the name of the poor, the criminality is repugnant.
The good news is that whether in Africa, Asia or Latin America, the poor are demanding action from their leaders to deliver on the promises they have already made. Ordinary citizens want to see real tangible results at the local level, and the poorest people want to not only be part of the planning and implementation, but also of monitoring performance on the MDGs. The media have also become much more watchful and in many countries, parliamentarians are starting to provide strict oversight through parliamentary MDG Committees.
The global movement in support of the MDGs is growing. This call for public accountability on the MDGs will be massively demonstrated from October 17-19, when millions of people around the world will “Stand Up and Take Action” to tell their leaders that they expect them to deliver on the concrete commitments made in 2000 and reiterated at the High Level Meeting at the U.N. just about two weeks ago. Last year, 43 million people stood up against poverty. This year, the number is to become even bigger.
(The writer is Director, U.N. Millennium Campaign. The views expressed by him are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
6 months ago