MDGs give hope, but more needs to be done


 Recent global summit meetings, from Copenhagen to Toronto, have frankly been a bust, so the world, which may not know it yet, is overdue for a good multilateral confab — one that’s not just about the gabbing but about the doing.

The subject of the summit meeting at the United Nations this week is one whose monumental importance is matched only by its minuscule brand recognition: the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs). The MDGs are possibly the most visionary deal that most people have never heard of. In the run-up to the 21st century, a grand global bargain was negotiated at a series of summit meetings and then signed in 2000.
The UN Millennium Declaration pledged to “ensure that globalisation becomes a positive force for all the world’s people,” especially the most marginalised in developing countries.

It wasn’t a promise of rich nations to poor ones; it was a pact, a partnership, in which each side would meet obligations to its own citizens and to one another.

Of course, this is the sort of airy-fairy stuff that people at summit meetings tend to say and get away with because no one else can bear to pay attention. The 2000 gathering was different, though, because signatories agreed to specific goals on a specific timeline: cutting hunger and poverty in half, giving all girls and boys a basic education, reducing infant and maternal mortality by two-thirds and three-quarters respectively, and reversing the spread of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. All by 2015. Give it an A for Ambition.

So where are we now, 10 years on, with some ‘first-world’ economies looking as if they could go bang, and some second-and third-level economies looking as if they could be propping us up?

Tens of millions more kids are in school thanks to debt cancellation. Millions of lives have been saved through the battle against preventable disease, thanks especially to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The gains made by countries like Ghana show the progress the Millennium Goals have helped create.

Serious headwinds

At the same time, the struggles of places like Congo remind us of the distance left to travel. There are serious headwinds: 64 million people have been thrown back into poverty, and 150 million are hungry because of the food crisis. And extending the metaphor, there are storms on the horizon: the poor will be hit first — and worst — by climate change.

So there should be no champagne toasts at this year’s summit meeting. The 10th birthday of our millennium is, or ought to be, a purposeful affair, a redoubling of efforts. After all, there’s only five years before 2015, only five years to make all that Second Avenue gridlock worth it. With that in mind I’d like to offer three near-term tests of our commitment to MDGs.

1. Find what works and then expand on it.
2. Governance as an effect multiplier.
3. Demand clarity; measure inputs and outputs.

No leader scheduled to speak at the summit meeting is more painfully aware of this context than Obama, who one year ago pledged to put forth a global plan to reach the development goals. If promoting transparency and investing in what works is at the core of that strategy, he can assure Americans that their dollars are reinforcing their values, and their leadership in the world is undiminished.

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