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MDG Summit - Review


World leaders have gone home, the news is back to covering local stories, and the traffic in New York has returned to its usual crawl after last week’s MDG Review Summit.

After all the fanfare, the reports, the receptions and the endless speeches, we wanted to take a step back and ask – where are we at with the MDGs?

There are two big trends that we’ve pulled out and will focus on here:

  • Good, but not fast enough
  • It’s about more than aid

Good but not fast enough
Time and again, leaders took to their feet to declare the possibility that the MDGs can be achieved, but that we needed to work harder, faster, smarter, better . On education, on gender equality, on child and maternal mortality, on sanitation. And, although there’s no denying our potential to do each of these things, we need to take a step back and work out why we’re off-track on many MDGs.

To take the detail of just one example - child mortality has fallen to the still devastating figure of 22,000 children a day, down from 36,000 a day back in 1990. We’re off track on this goal largely because we made very little progress between the baseline year of 1990, and the actual setting of the MDGs in 2000.

In 1990, child mortality was 89 per 1000 live births. Fast forward to 2000, and it’s 77 per 1000 live births. Today, it’s 60. That’s a drop of 12 in the first 10 years, and 17 in the next 9. To quote UNICEF, “The annual rate of decline in under-five mortality has accelerated from 1.4 percent over the 1990s to 2.8 percent over 2000–2009.”

In the case of child health, what we’re doing now is working. Being off-track is a consequence of poor early progress, not failed interventions in recent years.

It’s in that context that the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, announced a new Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, a $40b pitch to reach our goals on child and maternal health. It’s an ambitious strategy that brings together governments of both rich and poor countries, foundations and business.

It’s well worth a read as a summary of the things that we know work, and how we can continue to make progress. But, it’s also worth noting that there’s nothing much new in there – either in terms of policy or financing. We know what to do, what’s missing is the ongoing political will and resources to ensure that promises are followed through on.

It’s about more than aid
Perhaps it was because the rich countries are a little strapped for cash at the moment, but for the first time in almost a decade, leaders were keen to talk about the non-aid elements of development.

President Obama was the most strident in this respect, outlining a new Global Development Strategy for the US, arguing that,

“First, we’re changing how we define development. For too long, we’ve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines that we delivered. But aid alone is not development. Development is helping nations to actually develop -- moving from poverty to prosperity. And we need more than just aid to unleash that change. We need to harness all the tools at our disposal -- from our diplomacy to our trade policies to our investment policies.”

“the purpose of development -- what’s needed most right now -- is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed. So we will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people. We will seek development that is sustainable.”

We wholeheartedly agree with the President’s statement here, and for anyone who’s seen the 1.4 Billion presentation, we talk about governance, aid and trade as essential ingredients to drive development.

Yet, despite the rhetoric moving beyond aid, there are as yet few signs that rich countries will follow with action. The US maintains massive subsidies on cotton, undercutting poor country farmers and keeping millions poor. The EU’s common agricultural policy prices out dairy farmers in places like Kenya, and the weak regulation of financial institutions around the world enables corrupt monies to be transferred without scrutiny.

As we work towards the MDGs, we need to recognise the sprit and implications of the eighth goal, a global partnership for development. It’s about more than just giving aid, it’s about changing the things that keep people poor.

Ten years into the promise, we’re seeing that change is possible, it’s happening, but it’s going to take more than just kind words and a small bump in aid. It’s going to take aid programs that are really focused on the poorest, it’s going to take trade and foreign policy that creates a fair playing field, and it’s going to take changes from every one of us to ensure that we hold our leaders to account whilst taking personal action in support of the world’s poorest.

Posted by Simon Moss - GPP General Manager in Poverty, Aid for column Millennium Development Goals on Sep 28th 2010, 17:18

Obama's Speech at the UN - Bullet Point Summary


If you missed Obama's speech at the United Nations High Level Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), here is a bullet point summary. 

Please note that all annotations in bold are my additions. This summary is not verbatim. It is an interpreted summary.  

-       Obama started his speech discussing historic significance of the Human Rights Charter, etc.

-       Development in one nation is tied with another. Development in any nation also also serves our interests [as American’s].

-       Progress towards the MDGs has occurred.

o   But, progress on some goals (e.g. MDGs 4 and 5) hasn’t gone far enough

o   If we continue to keep on the same trajectory we wont succeed and achieve the MDGs.

-       It is hard work, but progress is possible.

-       US has rebuilt multilateral engagement. Rebuilding USAID. To make sure USA will be global leader in aid/development. 

-       New global development policy by USA-

o   USA is changing the way we define development.

§  Poverty à prosperity.

§  Trade policies [the USA currently subsidizes sugar, cotton and milk and other tropical commodities]

o   Polio funding [polio is over 95% eradicated. This investment is crucial]

o   Funding for global fund to combat HIV/AIDs/Malaria and other diseases.

o   The USA will lead in times of crisis- Haiti and Pakistan.

o   The USA will be "Creating conditions in which assistance is no longer needed”

-       The US will partner with countries that are willing to take the lead.

-       New emphasis on "Broad Based Economic Growth."

o   Used the analogy of South Korea as an example. 

o   Keep pushing for a Doha Round that is balanced

o   Leading global effort to combat corruption.

§  Disclosure of payments to foreign governments by corporations is now mandatory in the USA.

§  USA will focus on Tanzania because he considers it to be transparent. 

-       Focus on investment in women and women entrepreneurs.

-       Final Message to developed countries: Let’s honor our commitments. Resolve to put an end to hollow promises that are not kept. Focus not on money but on results.

-       Final message to developing countries: your leadership is crucial. Only you and your people can make the sustainable investments of your people. We can be partners, but you must take the lead.

-       Closing statement: No one nation can do everything and do it everywhere. Just as this work cannot be done by one government. Business, NGOs etc are crucial. Division of labor is crucial.

Update: You can see the full text of Obama's comments on the Whitehouse site.

Posted by Hugh Evans- GPP CEO in Poverty for column Millennium Development Goals on Sep 23rd 2010, 01:15

Eliminating poverty in our lifetime


This guest piece was originally published on ABC The Drum on the 22nd September at

Kevin Rudd delivered his first address as Foreign Minister last week. He talked of his plans to attend the United Nations MDG Summit.

"The MD wha...?" came the response from the press gallery. Rudd was referring to this week's United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The deafening sound of bewilderment should come as no surprise considering only six per cent of Australians have actually heard of the MDGs, according to a poll conducted by anti-poverty agency ActionAid. This research left the development sector crying OMG. It is with this in mind that it is necessary to illuminate WTF the MDGs are.

The MDGs are a set of eight goals agreed upon by world leaders at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000, committing nations to a global partnership and a framework for action for states, NGOs, corporations and civil society to reduce extreme poverty.

Extreme poverty is defined by the World Bank as living off less than US$1.25 per day. The Global Poverty Project, a group who conduct community education presentations on extreme poverty, say that this is enough to buy two basic meals with ten cents left over for everything else: health care, transport, education, shelter and clothes. This is what life looks like for around one billion people on the planet right now. Extreme poverty is poverty that kills and kills for unnecessary reasons such as preventable and treatable disease as well as access to affordable food and healthcare. The bottom line is that extreme poverty ought not to be the reality for anyone anywhere in 2010, but is found in countries such as Malawi in Sub-Saharan Africa, and closer to home, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

The main objective of the MDGs is to see extreme poverty halved by 2015. This week's summit will see 140 heads of state and governments in New York to reflect on how the world is tracking, ten years on. There are eight goals and 21 targets to measure progress. Here are the goals along with some key targets:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
• Halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

2. Achieve universal primary education
• All children to complete a full course of primary schooling

3. Promote gender equality and empower women
• Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education

4. Reduce child mortality
• Reduce by two thirds the under-five mortality rate

5. Improve maternal health
• Reduce the maternal mortality ratio by two thirds and achieve universal access to reproductive health

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
• Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases

7. Ensure environmental sustainability
• Halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015, and achieve a significant improvement for 100 million slum dwellers by 2020

8. Develop a global partnership for development
• Develop a non-discriminatory trading and financial system, deal with countries' debt and work with the private sector to make available new technologies for poor nations

The MDGs provide quite a grand and welcome vision. Yet, the project is also quite the coordination effort. Economic, political and cultural shifts must occur within and between both recipient and donor nations. Cooperation is absolutely necessary between a range of actors.

Ten years after the goals were agreed upon, how are we faring? There have been many positive changes. 400 million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2005. Examples of positive progress include Vietnam, where extreme poverty has fallen from 63 per cent in 1993 to 21 per cent in 2006. Bangladesh has halved maternal mortality rates since the 1980s and reduced the total fertility rate from seven children per woman in 1978 to two in 2008. In Malawi, the under-five mortality rate fell from 209 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 111 in 2007. Ghana, South Korea, Egypt and Nepal offer even more encouraging examples of improvement.

Despite the many successes, there are three major challenges that must be overcome in order to fully realise the MDGs.

1. Gender equality

When the goals were formulated, it was with the understanding that gender equality is paramount to achieve real change. More and more NGOs and governments are realising the importance of women to alleviate poverty. Yet the disparity between men and women in developing countries impedes progress. Access to healthcare and education for women is proving to be difficult, but is central to eradicating extreme poverty. However, gender equality must not simply be seen as an instrument to achieving the MDGs, but rather ought to be understood as intrinsic to eliminating extreme poverty and therefore be prevalent in each of the goals and targets. The New York Times journalist Nick Kristof and his best-selling book, Half the Sky, as well as The Girl Effect movement, further illuminate the central importance of women. There are signs of improvement, for instance in Sierra Leone, which historically has the worst maternal health records, yet has just introduced free health care for pregnant women.

2. Achieving the Growth/Governance Balance

Economic growth remains central to achieving the MDGs. This has been the case for India and China where growth has been the key to lifting millions out of poverty. Similarly, Vietnam has seen average growth rates of 7.4% per year between 1990 and 2008. However, it is problematic to simply assume that economic growth is all that is required to alleviating poverty. A paper put out by the Overseas Development Institute in the UK states that while economic growth is important, the distribution of services such as education and healthcare is vital to ensure that a nation's poorest benefit from the provision of these public services and goods. Good governance and political processes are essential to guarantee service delivery for those in extreme poverty. It has been argued that there has been too much emphasis on economic growth and that more concentrated efforts on governance is required. Anti-corruption group Transparency International issued a report that demonstrates how anti-corruption mechanisms directly amount to progress on the MDGs. The introduction of community notice boards to increase transparency in Kenya provides a terrific example of where progress has been made in this area, and many more opportunities exist for similar models in other locations.

3. Ongoing challenges: Conflict, mass people movement, and the GFC

42 million people are currently uprooted and in 2009, developing nations hosted four fifths of the world's displaced people. Conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan are a major challenge to ending poverty. The Enough Project is an arm of the Centre for American Progress working towards ending genocide and crimes against humanity and implores the international community to ramp up law enforcement and step up diplomacy in order to reduce conflicts. Again, there have been positive steps taken such as the Obama Administration choosing to adopt some of Enough's recommendations in places like Sudan. Secondly, the GFC resulted in an estimated 64 million people who fell back into extreme poverty and saw rising food costs. In the years prior to the GFC, low-income countries enjoyed the longest economic expansion in modern times including record growth rates. To recover from the economic crisis, John Lipsky from the International Monetary Fund says there must be a speedy return to rapid, pro-poor and inclusive growth.

Australia is playing an important role in achieving the MDGs. This year's federal budget allocated $4.3billion to our foreign aid program. This large amount of funding places foreign aid in the top ten government expenditure items. However, this is still short of the 0.7 per cent pledged in 2000. Australia gives just 0.34 per cent of our gross national income (GNI) and has pledged to make this 0.5 per cent by 2015.

Further to increasing aid, we need to ensure that our aid is spent more efficiently. Mechanisms such as an independent AusAID as well as a Minister for International Development Assistance would ensure better use of our aid money. However, the former Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Bob McMullen, retired a few weeks ago and the role has not been re-created. This means that Kevin Rudd will have full management of our aid portfolio and will work alongside Robert Marles, the new Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Duncan Kerr, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific.

It cannot be denied that the formulation of the MDGs and the improvement in human development has been an example of the fact that international cooperation is possible between various actors and provides us with hope of other challenges that can be achieved when the world comes together with a common goal. ActionAid found that even though only six per cent of Australians had heard of the MDGs, 70 per cent would strongly support a framework to catalyse the eradication of extreme poverty.

The political will is overwhelmingly there and the MDGs provide the action plan. Progress is being made and this week's summit will provide the opportunity for the world to re-focus our efforts. It is heartening to know that eradication of extreme poverty is entirely possibly within our lifetime. FTW*.

*FTW: For the win

**Correction: Richard Marles is the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs. Duncan Kerr has retired.

MDG 8: M-Pesa mobile banking


I‘ve always taken my bank for granted. Sure, they annoy me from time to time, but it’s only because I expect to be able to get to the little money I have 24 hours a day, 365 days a week without having to carry it around with me all the time.

But, according to UN figures, having a bank account is rare across Africa, as 80% of the population remains unbanked and in Kenya this figure hits a staggering 90%. This means that most people in Africa have nowhere to deposit their vital savings and are left to keep their assets in the form of cows and chickens that are prone to sickness or accidents. They’re left unable to ever get a loan or credit in times of need or to invest in property or their business.

It’s for this reason that we need to see access to banks and savings as a part of the fight against poverty.

As can be seen from the video above M-Pesa from Safaricom has provided an innovative solution. The system is simple: the user visits an M-Pesa agent and deposits cash; they receive an e-float on their mobile which can then be transferred to another user’s mobile; the user at the other end can visit their local agent and withdraw the cash. The system also works by providing a rudimentary savings account for the users, as money can be stored in their M-Pesa account.

For many people in developing countries their mobile is their lifeline to information, and so has become a vital trusted asset to them, so the power of integrating this system on a wider scale is immense as it will give people a way to manage their money without having to make lengthy and often costly trips to find a bank.

The benefit this will provide to the sphere of microfinance is a good example of how this technology can help end extreme poverty. Users can receive the loan into their M-Pesa account and visit the local agent to withdraw the money. Then, rather than having to stop working in order to make trips to the bank to repay the loan this can be done via few button presses on their mobile phone, and they can continue their work, increasing their amount of time to earn money.

Clearly this technology is a great tool towards the achievement of MDG 8 and the end of extreme poverty overall, and its wider adoption across the developing world is something to be encouraged.

Posted by Guy Kirkpatrick - GPP Intern in Technology for column Millennium Development Goals on Sep 20th 2010, 06:00

MDG 8: The importance of broadband for the MDGs


In a recent interview with the BBC, Dr Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) spoke about the importance of access to affordable broadband technology as a tool for achieving the Millenium Development Goals. I must admit that when I first read about this I dismissed its importance as paling in comparison to issues such as access to clean water and food and maternal mortality despite the fact that internet use does form part of MDG8. However, when one considers the benefits that ready access to broadband can bring, its importance becomes apparent.

As outlined in the video above the effects of global access to broadband extend into many areas, all of which can promote development in countries. We have seen from examples such as South Korea that through effective use of trade a country can transform itself and e-commerce is an important tool for promoting trade. E-government both provides savings to the government in service delivery through increased efficiency, and allows ordinary citizens better and easier access to information. Telemedicine is becoming an increasingly important tool for bringing access to medicine to rural communities, by providing vital links to expertise around the world (a detailed analysis of the benefits of telemedicine in the developing world can be found here), but without access to broadband technology the whole system stagnates as can been seen from the analysis in the report Rural Telemedicine for Primary Healthcare in Developing Countries (Andrés Martínez, Valentín Villarroel, Joaquín Seoane, And Francisco Del Pozo, available at here).

Through those three points outlined above and many more besides , it can be seen that access to broadband can bring many benefits and be a tool to facilitate development, but the bar at the minute is the cost of this access with prices far exceeding 100% of average monthly income in many developing countries according to ITU statistics, and so without major investment in the development of broadband communications systems it will remain unattainable. Whether or not investment in broadband communications systems ought to be a major focus for development or not is a debatable topic, but the far reaching benefits of its implementation are plain to see, and as stated by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development:

In the same way that the construction of electricity grids and transport links spurred innovation far beyond the dreams of their builders, high-speed broadband networks stimulate greater efficiency and the creation of new businesses. For society as a whole, they are a platform for progress.

Posted by Guy Kirkpatrick - GPP Intern in Technology for column Millennium Development Goals on Sep 16th 2010, 06:00