UN′s well-intentioned Millennium Development Goals go unmet | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 16.10.2009
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UN's well-intentioned Millennium Development Goals go unmet

With its Millennium Development Goals, the UN aims to halve poverty by the year 2015. As funds are diverted due to the global finance crisis, it's clear that will remain nothing more than a good intention.

boy sits in an abandoned house in the Martissant neighborhood of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince

The number of people under the poverty line has fallen slightly since last year, but there's still a long way to go

According to the United Nations, anyone who lives on less than $1.25 a day lives in extreme poverty. The good news is, the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C calculated that the number of people under the poverty level worldwide has dropped by 0.6 percent this year, compared to last year.

But it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that beating hunger continues to be a major struggle.

"We know that we won't achieve the UN Millennium Goals, especially not cutting the number of starving people by half," said Baerbel Dieckmann, president of the Germany-based aid organization Welthungerhilfe

While the international community's promise may have been well intended in 2000, it has not yet fulfilled its promises to halve the number of people in poverty, reduce mother and child mortality and provide universal primary school education.

Despite a few encouraging examples here and there, the overall outlook is gloomy. Resources that could have gone toward alleviating poverty have been diverted to corporate the victims of the finance crisis.

The international relief organization Oxfam estimates that, as a consequence of the global financial crises, an additional 100 people per minute are slipping under the poverty line each day.

Improved commitment to agriculture

Baerbel Dieckmann

Dieckmann said the Millennium Goals would not be reached

Poverty is most prevalent in rural areas. Seventy percent of those who live in poverty are peasants or famers who don't own their own land. For decades, agricultural had been severely neglected in developing countries, though that has changed in recent years, said Dieckmann.

"Organizations like Welthungerhilfe and other non-government organizations were very glad that US President Obama said at the G8 meeting in Italy that the United States would invest more in agricultural development," she added. "That's a good sign."

And good signs for agriculture are desperately needed. Even now, the effects of climate change on agriculture have already become apparent. Continuous droughts and devastating floods are destroying harvests. The price of fertilizer and seed is increasing, as is the price of food.

As costs rise, the famers' income is falling - and that's a global and not just a regional proble.

"If we don't manage to come a step closer to achieving the Millennium Goals - ensuring people have access to food, water, education and health care - soon we won't just have a problem in developing countries, but everywhere in the world," said Dieckmann.

A global, not a local problem

The financial crisis has shown that no country or government can manage alone. As a result of globalization, states have become dependent on each other for better or for worse. If the financial market in the US crashes, then the global financial market crashes.

The same is true of food prices. The global demand for food has risen, in part because more crops are needed for the production of biofuel. In addition, staples are increasingly being traded on the stock market. When food prices spiked, hundreds of thousands of people in the world's poorest countries took to the streets in protest.

Food being distributed in Srinagar, India

Just 0.7 percent of countries' GNP would be enough to reduce poverty, said Sachs

Neither developing nor industrialized nations can afford the subsequent political instability, says American economist Jeffrey Sachs, author of the book "The End of Poverty." Rich countries should invest in the UN Millennium Goals, not simply for ethical reasons but also out of self-interest, he argues.

Sachs is one of the brains behind the plan, and stresses that we have the technical possibility to make those changes.

"We already have a global framework," said Sachs. "We have the treaties which are actually our laws, we have promises that we've made. We don't have to keep agonizing, we actually have to implement and what we need is our leadership saying 'We will honor what we've said we would do.'"

This could be achieved funneling only 0.7 of a percent of the world's gross national product (GNP) towards the Millennium Development Goals - a proposal that's been on the table for the past 30 years already. It's a question of political will, even in times of economic crisis, said Sachs.

Currently Germany contributes around 0.28 percent of its GNP to the Millennium Goals, but plans to increase that to 0.7 percent by 2015, together with other EU member countries.

Author: Helle Jeppesen (cn)

Editor: Kate Bowen

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