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Fighting for a better world

Heimo Fischer /aiSeptember 26, 2013

The UN set an ambitious plan for itself back in 2000: Cut the number of poor in half and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015. In New York, the General Assembly looks at the progress of the Millennium Development Goals.

Two boys smile at the camera Poto: Jens Ressing +++(c) dpa - Report+++
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

There's no contest as to what issues top the agenda at the UN General Assembly. They are the war in Syria and Iran's nuclear ambitions. But at the same time, there's another issue the delegates from some 193 countries will be discussing in their meetings: The eight Millennium Development Goals the UN agreed on back in 2000, which setting targets for the developing world to be reached by 2015.

The aim included reducing the number of poor by 50 percent, providing a primary school education for every child, cutting the death rate of children under five by two thirds and to halve the number of people without access clean drinking water. The money for implement the goals was to come from development aid.

Limited success so far

When it comes to what has been reached so far, UN Under-Secretary General David Malone drew a divided conclusion.

While it would be difficult to reach all the goals by 2015, he told DW, some would have been reached, such as the fight against extreme poverty. The number of people who have to live on less than $1.25 a day has indeed been halved according to Malone.

David M. Malone
Malone says the focus has to shift from merely education to the quality of educationImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Aid organizations, though, have a slightly different take on the progress made. The reason for the improvements was the economic upswing in Asia, said Wolfgang Jamann, head of the World Hunger Help. "In sub-Saharan Africa, the situation is still very dramatic. The divide between poor and rich is rather increasing here," Jamann told German public radio. There are still some 900 million people suffering from hunger - that's one seventh of the world's population.

Malone said he sees further positive development in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The goal was to curb the spread of the illness by 2015. Although there are currently fewer people being infected with HIV than in the past, it's doubtful whether the UN will reach its original target.

With regards to education, the UN also sees itself on the right track. The under secretary general admitted though that a lot still needs to be done. The majority of kids are now going to school, but there are still some 60 million who don't.

AIDS activists (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)
HIV is spreading more slowly, but it is still spreadingImage: AP

Malone said it's not enough to make it easier to go to primary school. The focus should in the future also be on the actual quality of the education. It's an urgent problem. Studies in sub-Saharan Africa show that in many countries in the region, sixth graders still do not have basic math skills.

Clean drinking water target reached

One of the most important of the MDGs was, according to the UN, to give people access to clean water. More than 6 billion people, more than 90 percent of the globe's population, have by now access to clean water - 2 billion more than in 1990.

This achievement came thanks to progress in Asia rather than via successful development aid. As cities in Asia become more modern and cleaner, the hygienic situation improves without help from abroad.

According to Malone it's time to reconsider the basics of classic aid. "This aid is helpful, but it's not decisive," he said. What counts is that the countries agree on trying to achieve the MDGs - and there is growing agreement worldwide that this is necessary.

Horst Köhler (photo: Daniel Bockwoldt/dpa)
Köhler called for a new approach to development aidImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The end of classic development aid?

It's a view shared also by former German President Horst Köhler. Bilateral development was not out of date, but needed to be liberated from old concepts, Köhler told DW.

He's co-author of an experts' report that promotes finding ways to continue the MDGs after 2015. The General Assembly agreed on Wednesday to hold talks on this issue in September 2014.

The new agenda should not only look at social indicators like poverty, illness or education, Köhler said. It should also to pursue a more comprehensive approach including trade and financial systems, and climate politics to tackle climate change. Companies and business leaders are to be won over as supporters of the new approach.

Köhler added, however, that it is important not to underestimate the importance of social security around the globe. In the period until 2030, there would be another 400 million young people who would demand income and work. In light of what's happening in northern Africa, Köhler said, "If we fail to give them perspectives, they will rebel."