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'We are moving rapidly in the right direction'

There are two years left to reach the targets set for achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. DW spoke to UN Under-Secretary General David Malone about the progess made so far.

Dr. David Malone, Under-Secretary Secretary General of the UN and Rector of the UN University; Copyright: UNU***Pressebild nur für die aktuelle, themengebundene Berichterstattung

Dr. David Malone

Deutsche Welle: The big question is: will the Millennium Development Goals be reached by 2015?

David Malone: Some of them have already been achieved. For example the notion of cutting poverty in half, extreme poverty in half, a dollar a day poverty in half, but others are very hard to reach.

Some have been reached with startling success. For example, the fight against certain diseases, particularly Aids, which was highlighted in 2000. It has been remarkably successful because of the focus on Aids, malaria and tuberculosis that the Millennium Development Goals helped to develop.

But others are changing, mutating over time. With regards to education, we used to worry about getting as many children in school as possible and that was a very important goal. Now, we have most children in school. Perhaps 60 million globally are not in school and that's often for geographic or social reasons within the country. The big issue now for developing countries is the quality of what is taught in schools. Probably, the next goal on education needs to focus as much on quality as quantity, as the high-level panel on the Millennium Development Goals, led by Prime Minister Cameron of Britain, President Yudhoyono of Indonesia and President Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia, suggested earlier this year.

National budgets for aid from all kinds of donors have declined in many industrialized countries over the past few years, due to the financial crisis and fiscal austerity measures in the EU, for example. What impact does that have on reaching the MDGs in time for the deadline 2015, two years from now?

Well, I'm a bit of an iconoclast on aid. I actually think it's extremely useful in some areas, including helping developing countries figure out what strategies would work best for them. But it's important and humbling to remember that China became a huge economic growth success without any significant aid internationally. So I'm not sure aid is at the center of achieving Millennium Development Goals. I think that what is at the center is that governments actually believe in these goals and that civil society is in favor of achievingt these goals, holding the feet of politicians to the fire, so to speak, on the goals which I saw work in India when I was living there. So, aid is helpful, but it is not decisive. What's decisive is national commitment to these goals. Even very poor countries with a strong national commitment have progressed significantly.

What role should and will emerging economies, like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, play in some of these countries; for example, India still has a very high poverty rate. So, what role will they play in the post 2015 development agenda?

You are so right that India does still has a very high poverty rate, but that is looking at the glass half empty. Another way would be to say that in the last 15 years they have cut more than half of their poverty level so actually I am an optimist on development. I think the developing world is actually developing. It may not be developing as fast as the countries who are involved would like, or we would like, but we are moving quite rapidly in the right direction. So I think that is really important to accept because otherwise we become nay-sayers. Everything is not a disaster. A great deal of progress has been made and we need to recognize that as the starting point for the next goals. The success of the developing world compared to the industrialized world over the last ten years is striking.

Are UN member countries taking the drive to end poverty seriously enough?

Very seriously, and the quality of leadership in much of the developing world - in Latin America, in Africa notably, and elsewhere - is so much stronger than it used to be. I have been alive long enough to have known several generations of leaders in our part of the world and also in the developing world and what is striking is that the achievement of the goals is actually very important to most of the world leaders that I meet and they are on top of what needs to be done to reach the goals, or at least to progress on them.

What kind of changes need to be made in terms of global cooperation if we are to achieve what the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called "a global partnership for development"?

I think we are well on the way to the global partnership for development because I think the developing countries have increasingly assumed their own responsibilities for development.

The sort of partnership that we had in the past was that we'll develop if you give us money. That is no longer viable because the developing countries are functioning as a whole better than they have in the past without, in real terms, as much aid as they were getting a few years ago. So, targeted aid, particularly in the fields of research that can lead to better policies in the developing world and research in the developing world, can be extremely helpful. But, the idea of a partnership where the West pays and the developing countries do things is insulting to both. It suggests the West's aid buys development. It doesn't and it suggests that the developing countries are not doing anything with or without aid. In fact, they are doing a great deal on their own.

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