Promises make no history

Roberto Bissio Coordinator, Social Watch International Secretariat

According to the World Bank, in January 2010 there were 1.5 billion people living in extreme poverty. Thus, the goal of reducing poverty and hunger to half by 2015 — the first of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — will be impossible. Furthermore, the lack of significant progress on trade, debt, aid and technology transfer (goal 8) prevents the creation of an adequate environment to achieve the objectives 1 to 6. In this context, the UN report “Rethinking Poverty”, published in January, is an important contribution to the discussions toward the MDG Summit that will be hold in New York in September 2010. Social Watch will be participating in that event, and its national groups are already writing about their own experiences. 

 In the year 2000, the heads of State and government of the world promised in the Millennium Declaration that “we will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected.”  The first of the MDGs, extracted from that declaration promises, precisely, to reduce poverty and hunger to half by 2015.

*   In September 2008, the Accra Action Agenda on aid efficiency, approved at ministerial, states that “however, 1.4 billion people — most of them women and girls — still live in extreme poverty ...”

*   In January 2010, the World Bank, announced that “an estimated 64 million more people may be living in extreme poverty by the end of 2010 due to the crisis. “

If there are 1.5 billion people in extreme poverty in January 2010 (1.4 in 2008 plus 64 millions added by the crisis in 2009), there is no way that the first MDG can be met in the coming five years, when in fact it has grown in the last decade!

Goal 8 of the MDGs promised “global partnerships” around trade, aid, debt cancellation and technology transfer. It is the only one dealing with the “enabling environment” that countries needed to achieve goals 1 to 6. In none of those areas has there been substantial process.

A “development round” of trade negotiations was started in Doha in September 2001, but the negotiations are still far from being concluded and the development component of the round is insignificant.

In the area of debt, some bilateral and multilateral debt cancellations for the poorest countries did occur, but a “global partnership” in terms of an agreed workout mechanism to assist countries with debt problems is not even in the blueprints. Technology transfer does not happen, unless you pay for it, since all forms of technological knowledge are protected as private intellectual property. Aid, finally, was 0.31 per cent of the donor countries gross domestic product in 1992, went down to 0.23% in 1998 and up again to 0.31% in 2008. Not much in the way of progress.

The Report on the World Social Situation 2010 published last January by the United Nations under the title of “Rethinking Poverty” agrees with Social Watch on the need of understanding and measuring poverty in a way that is not exclusively based on income. And it clearly concludes that the focalized policies on the “bottom billion” so closely associated with the MDGs need to be rediscussed:

“A commitment to eradicating poverty and to enhancing equity and social integration requires persistent actions directed towards sustainable economic growth, productive employment creation and social development, entailing an integrated approach to economic and social policies for the benefit of all citizens. Moreover, it calls for more developmentally oriented and progressive State activism and universalism—as opposed to selectivity—in the approach to social policy”.

This is a welcomed report and an important contribution to the debate towards the “MDG Summit” that will happen in New York in September this year. Social Watch will be participating in the preparations towards that event and the national groups around the world are at this moment writing on their own national experiences in this first decade of the new Millennium.  Poverty, financial crisis, food crisis and climate change have converged in a way that does not admit any more “business as usual” as the answer.