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Environment

Millennium Goals reset state's role in fighting poverty, official says

The UN released a report on poverty and the global economic crisis, one of a number of events leading up to September's Millennium Development Goals summit. DW spoke with the campaign's Africa director.

A wood hut in China

There has been some success in fighting poverty but much work remains

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a report on the recovery from the global economic crisis from the perspective of the poor. Releasing the Global Pulse report, Ban said there was still a lot of suffering in developing countries. He added that adjustments made at the national and international level to deal with the crisis have been paid for at the household level in those countries.

Meanwhile, civic society groups and NGOs also stepped up calls this week for governments around the world to show the political will to reach the anti-poverty targets by the 2015 deadline.

DW spoke to Charles Abugre, the UN Millennium Campaign's Deputy Director for Africa, about the progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

Deutsche Welle: Is the sense of urgency expressed by NGOs and campaigners being reflected at the United Nations? What are the critics asking for, really?

Charles Abugre

The MDGs need to remain a priority - even in hard economic times, Abugre said

Charles Abugre: I think they are asking for the following things: First, that governments - both in the north and south - rededicate to the Millennium Development Goals and ensure that they achieve them.

Secondly that governments in the south treat the MDGs as part of their responsibility to their citizens, and as human rights issues - to situate them within the human rights framework.

People have the right to education. It's not because you signed a contract somewhere in the UN that you will provide them education. People have a right to life, and not just because you signed a contract. Within that context, MDGs will become more integrated into the human-rights framework of each country.

And to the rich countries, they are saying that, quite honestly, they haven’t delivered on their commitments. It is impossible for poor countries to deliver and sustain their MDGs with their economies undeveloped, and if rich countries don't deliver - especially on their trade and investment agenda.

What do you think about people who say that wealthier countries are now having more trouble funding the achievement of the millennium development goals due to the triple crises in food, fuel, and finance? Have those crises set the whole process back?

A Nigerien woman cooks millet paste as children eat breakfast from a shared bowl

Developing countries didn't create the trio of crises affecting them

Yes. In Africa, the food, fuel and finance crises came to a head in 2008 and 2009, and that led to quite a dramatic reduction in economic growth. In Africa the growth had picked up economically around 5 percent or 6 percent before the triple crisis converged. Then in 2009 growth fell remarkably, it was a serious contraction.

One piece of research said that, but for those crises, all of Africa would have reached the income poverty target, not by 2015 but by 2017. That means the estimates were just a little off.

But with the financial, food and fuel crises - which are all triggered by a lack of regulatory responsibility of rich countries - developing countries have been pulled back quite badly.

Less than five years away from the deadline, we are talking about failures and obstacles all the time. But apparently there are success stories as well. Like keeping millions of people away from slums, or actually getting them out of there. Is that just a rare example?

There are a lot of successes. ... There is no doubt there has been improvement, even on the poorest continents, like Africa. But these things need to be sustained, and they can only be sustained when these economies grow. These economies cannot grow when there is global instability, which is a responsibility of the north. The north has a responsibility to all the poor countries, as compensation for the volatility.

Secondly, they cannot grow if the trade system is unjust. That is why the resolution of the Doha round of WTO negotiations, in a way that puts development at the center of that trade agreement, is also crucial. They need to enable these countries to industrialize, to create value addition to their products, and to be able to earn some income from international trade and get out of poverty.

They are making progress, but that progress cannot grow and sustain unless the broader conditions are addressed.

So we agree there are little successes: the abolition of primary school fees leading to more enrollment, as well as in India, the National Rural Employment Initiative having provided a lot of new jobs or creating space for new jobs. Are these just minor feel-good stories, or do you think they represent substantial progress?

A pharmacist restocks AIDS drugs in a storeroom of the Princess Mariba hospital in Gaborone

More people are receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS

The rural employment scheme in India is not a small, little project. It is a big government thing financed by taxation. It is an important domestic transfer issue . I think if they sustain it in India and manage to address the indebtedness of small farmers, they would have made a fundamental contribution. But they have to do so alongside the issue of land rights for indigenous people. But it's in the right direction. It is a fundamental social change that is happening.

(Look at) containing the HIV pandemic over the years …this is a major, major success case. You have to remember that 10 years ago, the story about HIV/AIDS in Africa was just: doom. (Now the disease) is being contained. There are still new infections, and a lot more people have had access to drugs.

But the fact is: unless they deal with nutrition, food and things like that, the drugs alone won't help people to survive. The progress that's been made is not small, and it needs to be sustained.

You have said the MDGs are taking us back to very basics - things that are seriously wrong with how things are working in society. It is still such a struggle to give it a human rights context and push for these goals, isn't it?

Yes. Even the right of people to have health, education, and things like that, is competing with a very recent ideology that has pervaded most of these countries over the last 20 years. And that is: the government doesn't have the responsibility to give you a job or put your child in school, or give you health services. The government's responsibility is to create an enabling environment.

For a long time, the state was seen as having direct responsibility, of being the duty bearer. But the state doesn't have responsibility to give you anything. The state just has the responsibility to create an enabling environment.

The MDGs have been very useful in changing back the discourse about the role of state. It says we should measure the responsibility and effectiveness of state by how it is able to deliver, through its governance of society and the economy, things like health care, education, water, and so on and so forth.

It is a struggle to reverse an old ideology, but if that gets done then we have redefined the fundamental role of the state for many decades to come.

It gives you a basis to continue to expect incremental performance by the state toward its citizens. And you build democracy on the back of the relationship between state and citizens, and the upholding of rights.

Interview: Ranjitha Balasubramanyam (jen)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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