Amid Scepticism, U.N. Trumpets Successes in Cutting Poverty

With 17 months before the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reach their targets by the December 2015 deadline, the United Nations is trumpeting its limited successes – but with guarded optimism.

“Global poverty has been halved five years ahead of the 2015 time frame,” says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the latest status report released Monday.

"Unfortunately, the trend in the U.N. secretary-general's office and many developed countries is to place hopes in private corporations and 'multi-stakeholder partnerships' that fudge the massive problems caused by many corporations." -- Yoke Ling Chee

In 1990, almost half of the population in developing regions lived on less than 1.25 dollars a day.

“This rate dropped to 22 percent by 2010, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty by 700 million,” the study claims.

Still, the overwhelming majority of people living in extreme poverty belong to two regions: Southern Asia and sub-Saharan African, according to the 56-page Millennium Development Goals Report 2014.

But some of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) closely tracking trends in social and economic development in the developing world are sceptical of the claims.

Roberto Bissio, director of the Uruguay-based Social Watch, told IPS the global average the United Nations celebrates is almost exclusively due to China – and most of that poverty reduction in China happened before the year 2000.

“Thus the MDGs are credited with outcomes that happened before they existed,” he said.

“This is because the target is defined as lowering to half the 1990 global poverty line, not the 2000 figure as the Millennium Declaration implies by talking in present,” Bissio added.

The study singles out the increased access to drinking water sources, an improvement in the lives of slum dwellers and the achievement of gender parity in primary schools.

“If trends continue,” says the report, “the world will surpass MDG targets on malaria, tuberculosis and access to HIV treatment (while) the hunger target looks within reach.”

Other targets, such as access to technologies, reduction of average tariffs, debt relief, and growing political participation by women, “show great progress.”

Over the past 20 years, the likelihood of a child dying before age five has been nearly cut in half, which means about 17,000 children are saved every day, according to the report.

Yoke Ling Chee of the Malaysia-based Third World Network told IPS the MDG report is “over optimistic”, and avoids the systemic obstacles that continue to deprive large parts of the world from their right to development.

“A much-needed orderly sovereign debt work-out mechanism is still rejected by rich countries and we see Argentina on the verge of another crisis because of the greed of ‘vulture funds,’” she said.

Failure to deal with structural barriers can negate any success made over the past two decades.

“Unfortunately,” she pointed out, “the trend in the U.N. Secretary-General’s office and many developed countries is to place hopes in private corporations and ‘multi-stakeholder partnerships’ that fudge the massive problems caused by many corporations.

“The vote on Jun. 26 at the Human Rights Council to start a process for a treaty to regulate transnational corporations is a clear signal that if we are to make development a reality, corporations cannot be the deliverer,” she added.

In a statement released Monday, the London-based WaterAid said the U.N. report is a reminder of a terrible truth: that there are still 2.5 billion people in the world without access to basic toilets.

Of the 2.5 billion, 644 million are in sub-Saharan Africa and more than 1.0 billion in South Asia.

“Going without this right is compromising the health, safety, security and dignity of billions of people,” said Fleur Anderson, global head of campaigns at WaterAid.

As the U.N. works on a renewed set of development goals, it is critical that sanitation be made a central priority in development, activists say.

For the first time in history, bringing safe water and basic sanitation to everyone, everywhere within a generation “is in our grasp”, Anderson stressed. “But it will require political will and dedication to get there. Without these basic building blocks, there is no effective way to address extreme poverty,” she added.

Bissio told IPS that by concentrating attention on extreme poverty, developed countries got off the hook and do not feel they have to report on their own commitments at home.

Poverty in developed countries is ignored and inequalities are ignored everywhere, resulting in this being the major constraint now to economic growth (apart from all other considerations) as recognised even by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he noted.

The study also points out that after two years of declines, official development assistance (ODA) hit a record high of 134.8 billion dollars in 2013.

“However, aid shifted away from the poorest countries where attainment of the MDGs often lags the most,” it said.

Eighty per cent of imports from developing countries entered developed countries duty-free, and tariffs remained at an all-time low.

The debt burden of developing countries remained stable at about 3.0 per cent of export revenue, which was a near 75 per cent drop since 2000, according to the report.

Despite considerable advancements in recent years, the report says reliable statistics for monitoring development remain inadequate in many countries, but better statistical reporting on the MDGs has led to real results.

Chee told IPS the explosion of transnational corporations (TNCs) suing national governments in developing countries over environmental and health regulations by invoking corporate rights under bilateral investment agreements is sucking billions of dollars from those countries, she added.

She also pointed out that developing countries that made some progress and continue to face huge challenges are increasingly excluded from the commitments of developed countries to provide climate finance, ensure access to affordable life saving medicines and transfer technologies for sustainable development.

This is because countries such as China and India are regarded as “competitors” by the U.S.

European corporations assert undue influence over their home governments’ development cooperation policies, which in turn undermines the key U.N. treaties on climate change and biodiversity, she said.

The ongoing negotiations at the U.N. on sustainable development goals are mired in debate because developed countries refuse to put the systemic economic issues at the centre of the next development partnership – which should be primarily about inter-state responsibilities and commitments, not unaccountable “partnerships,” Chee declared.

By Thalif Deen.

Source: IPS.