The MDG Summit Outcome : What Next?

Intervention by Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch in The Post MDG Summit,  assessment and discussion on next steps
Monday 4 October 2010, 3pm-6pm, Room XXVI, Palais des Nations, Geneva

It is really very interesting to see the program to this debate starting with the phrase “We can end Poverty by 2015” which was highlighted around the UN building during the summit. The “we can” was probably a way of welcoming US president Barack Obama, one of the key speakers in the summit.  In a way this slogan is raising the bar because the actual promise of the MDG’s was to halve poverty by 2015 and not ending it, so we welcome this increased aspiration, of course.

But the bad news is that we are not getting there, not even near and actually one of the shortcomings of the Summit was that it departed from a not very honest analysis of where we actually are, by using the metaphor of the “glass half full, glass half empty”, instead of actually measuring and assessing progress...or lack of it.

We shouldn’t be taking this kind of approach, precisely because the MDGs were supposed to be time bound and measurable targets. Yes there is some water in the glass… but at the UN we should be saying if that is 10%, 20% or 80% of where we should be, with only five years to go to the target date of 2015.

And the fact is that poverty in the world, even if we accept the one-dollar-a-day way of measuring (with which we at Social Watch do not quite agree) is not going down as envisaged. According to the World Bank, if you take China out, poverty in the world has actually increased. And there is increasing evidence, emanating for example from the work by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, who was the former editor of the UNDP Human Development Report, and of some of the preparatory research for this year’s Human Development Report, and our own research of the basic indicators, that progress on social indicators has actually slowed down after the year 2000.

This means, that yes, indicators on global averages, on infant mortality, maternal mortality, schooling and others, continue to improve but they do so at a slower pace in the decade that is ending than in the last decade of the XXth century, which was not any marvel by any standards. We are progressing slower than before.

This summit calls for acceleration of progress which is very welcomed, because actually that acceleration would be badly needed if we hope to achieve in five years, and in five years of economic crises, what we haven’t even started to do in 10 years of economic prosperity.

But the summit doesn´t give us a hint on how that acceleration is going to take place.  Now how on earth can we think that we are going to accelerate in the middle of the worse economic crisis in decades? If we look at MDG goal eight, which was the commitment to enable developing countries to meet the other goals, it talks about aid, it talks about trade, it talks about debt, it talks about technology. And all of us know that aid is going down, either because it is being affected by budget cuts or just because even by keeping the commitments, since the economy of so many of the donor countries is shrinking, the percentage devoted to aid is shrinking with it, in the best of scenarios. Trade, well there has been no progress in this decade, you know it better than me here in Geneva, so I will not talk any more about that. Debt is now a problem not just for developing countries but also in many of the developed economies. But the hope that an orderly debt workout mechanism could finally be agreed upon is fading out since basically Europe opted for finding its own solution to the problem, and not pursuing a global systemic solution.

Finally, technology transfer of course has been made basically expensive and impossible by the trade agreements that we have in place. Our own analysis is that the goal that is really lagging behind of the MDGs is Goal Eight, but instead developing countries are taking the blame for not achieving the other seven goals particularly the first six ones.

In that context, if we want to assess beyond the final document, which was agreed before the Summit, well, this is a very complex thing, with so many heads of State, so many bilateral meetings happening at once, so many smaller summits overlapping, which makes it very hard to grasp what is really going on and each one only has a very partial picture.

But maybe impressions, even partial, are valid evidence. I was there, for example, as a civil society speaker in the roundtable on partnerships. I thought this would be the really hot one!  Partnership is what this is all about...

Yet, from the very start the roundtable of partnership had a low profile, so much that it was impossible to find an African president willing to co-chair the roundtable. All the other roundtables had two co-chairs, but this one had only one, basically because nobody volunteered for that particular place, that was reserved for the African continent.

Once the debate started, not a single member of the G20 countries spoke. And, as you know, that includes most of the major donors and many of the bigger and most influential developing countries. Well, they just didn’t speak. Romania and Croacia were the only European countries to speak in the roundtable on partnership. And the only international agencies that spoke in that roundtable of partnerships were Interpol, the UN Centre on Drugs and Crime, based in Vienna, and the World Bank.  The roundtable ended one hour earlier than envisaged for lack of speakers and of course all of us from civil society that were on the list got a chance to speak because nobody else was doing so.

Meanwhile, the enthusiasm and the press was around the celebrities, and so were most Ministers, attending parallel events, courting private donors and promoting different parallel initiatives that were announced, basically using recycled money and not new resources, in the same way that the outcome document was recycling promises and using previously agreed texts.

We are very happy with the references in the outcome document to a “minimum social floor”, and with the references to equity, to universal social services and to decent work. Those are all languages that we like much more than the previous emphasis on “safety nets”, but there is not a single action, not a single commitment that relates that language with any kind of concrete implementation.

And when the NGOs asked a key European donor country what was making them happy about this summit, its representatives were basically saying “we got a major role for the private sector now recognized in an explicit way, better than before, and the problem of fragile states and areas suffering from terrorism is now underlined and properly recognized”

During many years us NGOS have been telling the countries “you should put your money where your mouth is”. The reply we got from the Summit in essence translates as “we are going to put our money where our troops are”.