Time to make good on your promises!

We know that summits don’t always deliver. Declarations are filled with vague promises and half-hearted ambitions, and it’s all too clear that world leaders are attempting to talk the talk but have no intention of walking the walk.

But some of them have been different. At the G8 meetings in Cologne and Gleneagles the leaders of the world’s richest countries agreed historic action to cancel debt and give $50 billion extra overseas development aid a year. And at the UN summit in 2000, world leaders agreed the eight concrete and tangible targets to tackle world poverty that we now know as the Millennium Development Goals.  
While it's clear that some of the promises have not been delivered and that progress has been far too slow, in the last decade millions more children have gone to school and lived to see their fifth birthday. More mothers now survive childbirth than ever. Africa has grown economically and corruption has been exposed. 

So at this vitally important UN summit, 10 years on from the signing of the Millennium Declaration, we should recognize the progress that has been made; it shows what’s possible with strong political will and a common purpose. But the international community must build on this and accelerate its efforts. The danger is that just when the world is beginning to make some progress – albeit too slow and uneven – governments will pull the rug on everything that has been achieved as resources are cut and energy is diverted by other priorities.

Public pressure through Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History helped achieve these big breakthroughs. Millions of people were mobilized to speak out and the world’s leaders were forced to listen and act. It is unclear whether in these straightened times this will ever happen on quite the same scale again.
It will be interesting to see whether this proves to be another disappointing summit, or whether, despite all the challenges, it fulfils its potential and becomes another key moment in the fight against poverty.

Our last chance

When the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were agreed by world leaders in 2000, they were unprecedented in their scope and ambition.

And the progress that has been made over the past ten years to tackle extreme poverty, provide clean water, immunise children and fight diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS has proven that the goals were indeed a catalyst in mobilising global efforts to improve the life chances of the poorest people in the world.

It has also highlighted what is possible when the world comes together for a common cause.

Figures published yesterday by the World Health Organization and other agencies show that the number of women dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth decreased by one third between 1990 and 2008. The fact that nearly 200,000 more women now survive every year is something to be celebrated.

But while the progress is indisputable, it is also clear that, as things stand, the vast majority of goals will not be met by the 2015 deadline.

The MDGs Summit in New York on 20-22 September is seen by many as the last chance to renew the global drive to tackle poverty and injustice, and in doing so improve the life chances of hundreds of millions of people across the globe.

But if there is to be any hope of reaching the goals, progress must be massively accelerated. In the context of rising food prices, climate change and the effects of the financial crisis this is going to be a challenge that some will see as insurmountable. The increasingly acrimonious debate about the effectiveness of aid threatens to derail the process yet further.

With all these challenges it is hard to be sure of the outcome.

What is guaranteed, though, is that the campaigners will keep fighting to secure commitment to the goals, while the naysayers go to great lengths to prove that the efforts of donor countries are being wasted.

It’ll be interesting to see whose voices are louder.

Will the world leaders find the right answer?

There can be no doubt that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) aim high both in ambition and scope.

With five years to go until the deadline for meeting the goals, world leaders are coming together in New York later this month to assess progress and look at what needs to be done to maximise the chances of achieving the successes they are aspiring to.

However, it is becoming clear that there is a flaw in the way the MDGs are measured.

Take the fourth MDG, to reduce by two thirds the proportion of children dying before their fifth birthday.

Despite headline figures showing that a 28 per cent reduction has been achieved since 1990, research published today by Save the Children shows that a failure to focus on the poorest people in some countries has led to an additional four million child deaths over 10 years.

Similar research by UNICEF, also published today, has found that targeting the poorest and most disadvantaged children could save more lives per $1 million spent than the current path.

‘Our findings challenge the traditional thinking that focusing on the poorest and most disadvantaged children is not cost-effective. An equity-focused strategy will yield not only a moral victory – right in principle – but an even more exciting one: right in practice,’ said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director.

Save the Children’s report also highlights that it’s not necessarily the wealthiest countries that are having the most success in reducing the child mortality rate.

Some of the world’s poorest countries, including Ghana and Bolivia, have managed to reduce child mortality dramatically by focusing on helping the poorest.

But in India, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, the poorest children are up to three times more likely to die than the richest children.

This gives world leaders yet another question to answer at the summit this month: how can they ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable people aren’t left behind in the race to achieve the goals?

There are millions of people across the world whose very survival depends on them finding the right answer.