The Millennium Goals in Uruguay

On October 21st, 2003, the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations System and the United Nations Team in Uruguay launched the report entitled "Millennium Development Goals in Uruguay. A background paper for the national discussion".
The panelists in the event were Mr. Pedro Daniel Weinberg, Resident Coordinator a.i. of the United Nations in Uruguay; Mr. Roberto Bissio, Social Watch; Mr. Omar Sellanes, President of the National Association of Non Governmental Organizations for Development (ANONG); and Mr. Leonardo Costa, Pro-Secretary of the Presidency of the Republic.

In this context, Roberto Bissio made the following statement.

Gathered in Copenhagen in 1995 for the World Summit for Social Development, amidst the series of international conferences with which United Nations renewed the global social agenda in the post cold war period, the heads of State and of government of the entire planet solemnly committed themselves to eradicate world poverty. That same year the Beijing World Conference on Women reframed and transformed the goal to achieve gender equity and equality into a concrete action plan.

When considering poverty eradication, the world leaders very clearly said that, for the first time in the history of humanity, that goal was possible with the present resources, knowledge and technologies of humanity.

And if that is possible, the fact that it doesn’t happen is scandalous. For that reason, theCopenhagen document also states that poverty eradication is not only an ethical and moral imperative but also a political one, because the world system—as was lucidly anticipated even then—would not be able to support itself on the basis of huge inequalities.

Ten concrete and measurable commitments were established in Copenhagen. The Beijing platform for action also established a series of quantitative goals and deadlines to achieve them. Based on the inspiring nature of those commitments, many civil society organizations began the task of monitoring, observation and independent reporting on the progress of the different countries and at global level towards those goals.

"Social Watch" was born in that context. Today there are member organizations in 60 countries, which are independent citizen organizations, based on the very simple principle of citizen participation: "Here it is the promise of our governments and the promise of the international public system; therefore as citizens we are going to exercise the right to ask what has been done in regards to those goals and make our own evaluation on their progress." A simple idea that has had an enormous merit and motivating value.

Where in Copenhagen the goal of poverty eradication still did not have a definition and precise deadlines, in 2000 it was brought down to earth. A 2015 goal was established to halve the extreme poverty and, as the Resident Representative of United Nations in Uruguay just explained, another series of quite specific indicators at global level were also established. However—and let’s be very clear on this—they are minimal global goals. It is not the description of the world as we dreamed it.
It is—to use the comparison that has arisen in some discussions—a "minimum wage". Hardly sufficient, far from satisfactory, but the basis for achieving other issues. They are attainable goals. It is possible, it is technically viable, there are sufficient studies that show they can be reached in 2015; but it is not an obvious fact, something that will be achieved one way or another if simply the present trends are followed.

If we consider the poverty indicator of less than one dollar a day at global level and the present levels of economic growth in India and China, it is almost sure that this goal will be achieved long before 2015 if there are no great crises in any of these two countries. That is to say the goal could be considered already fulfilled, so, why worry? We can all go home and be happy that we achieved the goal simply because we put the measuring stick too low. But as it was said before, we are talking here about designing specific goals for each country and each different situation; these definitions on total extreme poverty in the world are just an indicator of how all the other definitions of poverty must be followed up and reduced by half by 2015 in each country of the world to then continue with those same rates of social development.

Perhaps there is also a problem of communication between the vision of what is obtainable and measurable and the inspiring vision. The inspiring vision is "we will eradicate poverty"; these data are the evaluation points, like in a rally, where it is necessary to pass through certain points in a certain time and that is going to tell us how we are doing. When the goals per se were presented to organizations that work in poor areas, those who are at the forefront of the struggle against poverty said: "If I explain that poverty will be reduced by half they are going to ask me: 'in which half am I?', in the half that is going to get out of poverty or in the one that will stay in it?” This is not saying that half of the world population will stay in poverty—it would be contradictory with human rights treaties—it is about asserting that there are measurable advances towards the progressive eradication.

As far as achieving eradication—speaking from the civil society and therefore less subject to diplomatic restrictions—when one considers the eight goals there are seven that basically should be carried out by our governments in developing countries and one that concerns the developed countries, the eighth goal: develop a favourable environment and solve the problems of debt, international trade, transfer of technology, financial volatility; all of which enormously condition the capacity of developing countries to achieve the other seven.

But while the first seven millennium goals have specific targets and deadlines for their achievement, goal eight does not have them. It is just a declaration of good intentions. For instance, it doesn’t say when the target of 0.7 percent of gross product of developed countries assigned to aid will be achieved. This target was formulated 30 years ago yet aid does not reach half that figure. The target is still effective and everybody can say: "Yes, we are committed to that target", but nobody knows when. The World Bank has estimated that additional 50 billion dollars of aid are needed annually to fulfil the millennium goals. Some NGOs consider that the aid needed should be twice as much. Anyway, these are very small numbers if we compare them with the costs of war and reconstruction of just one Middle East country. It cannot be argued that the plan is unattainable. Neither is established in the millennium goals when the agricultural subsidies are to be eliminated in developed countries, nor the debt or other mechanisms identified as obstacles for development, and whose modification depends to a great extent on the will of developed countries.

Here is the challenge and here is the opportunity. It is worth emphasizing the significant role that United Nations is playing, because it is about—let’s not use military terms such as "fighting battles"—advancing with both feet, in parallel, towards the achievement of goal eight with a real transformation of the international economic system. In order to achieve those changes we have the enormous moral and political force of the fact that developing countries are making advances towards the other seven goals, in an increasing framework of democracy and respect to human rights; with all the exceptions we know of, which are just exceptions in a wide range of advances that cannot help but being noticed.

Former Minister of International Cooperation of the Netherlands, Mrs. Eveline Herfkens, appointed as coordinator of the millennium goals campaign by Secretary General Kofi Annan, is concentrating her action, not in convincing the Southern countries of achieving those goals, but in visiting the developed powers to demand that they do their share. And that they should comply with goal eight, not in 2015 but in 2005 or 2010, because poor countries need time and space to achieve the millennium goals. This campaign is having repercussions; it had an important voice in Cancun by showing all the limitations and needs for change of the international trade system, and is also having an impact in other forums, such as Dubai, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund assembly, where it was pointed out and insisted on that the achievement of these goals at global level depends on these transformations and on the political will of those who have the power to change matters.

On the other hand, that is no excuse for not making all possible efforts at national level, many of which are not even new. It has been said: "We must lower the goals to the ground, even at national level and in each country", but in the case of Uruguay the goal is not universal primary education, but nine years of basic schooling.
That goal is enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic. So it is not an innovating concept to say: "We are going to set goals and judge the government by its advances towards them." If that goal is included in the Constitution it is because it is a goal to be achieved. Still our country does not have goals on child mortality, for instance. And, as a citizen, one wonders why can’t we have the same child mortality as in Costa Rica?

This timely report, from its title onwards, is introduced as a starting point for a national debate: based on these contributions, on this diagnosis, on this reminder of which the global goals are and how we are doing, which are the goals that the country will draw up at national level? No longer can it be a external definition, but a domestic debate in order to later launch the next instance: once the goal is drawn up, how do we reach it? This way, that other way, by such-and-such way; that discussion is no longer the scope of the United Nations system, not even of the citizen non-profit organizations, but clearly of politics and the politicians who will have the task of defining, agreeing on, and turning those goals into operative policies.

It seems to me that this is an excellent time for Uruguay, from now until the end of the year, before the politicians dive into the heat of the electoral campaign, to reflect and to decide on the country’s way to reach 2015; that is to say, not with this administration nor with the next one, but we won’t be able to arrive there if the first steps are not taken right now. If we manage to agree on inspiring goals, we will have an excellent motive to start walking.

Thank you very much.