World Bank says MDGs could be

Julio Godoy

PARIS, Jun 17 (IPS) -- A focus on the Millennium Development Goals can be counterproductive, a senior World Bank economist told IPS in an interview last Thursday.

Intense measures to meet some of the goals may not be sustainable, Kirk Hamilton said.

"Imagine a country launching an intensive agricultural policy to eradicate poverty and hunger by 2015. Would such a policy be sustainable? Experience suggests that the answer is no." Economic growth is essential to reducing poverty, and therefore to reaching the millennium development goals (MDGs) by 2015, Hamilton said. "But growth at any cost is not sustainable. Responsible growth is needed to sustain the coming increases in human welfare, in consumption, health, human skills, and social equality."

Forests are an example, Hamilton said. "If one focuses only on environmental protection, one certainly misses opportunities for poverty reduction." Logging, and harvesting and marketing of forest products such as fruits, fuel wood and medicinal products adds up to enormous economic activity, he said. "There is an inherent difficulty in protecting forests that are in high demand for a range of uses by competing groups within society," Hamilton said. "Consequently, a dual approach covering both protection and productive use is essential for sustainable development," he said.

The goal of improving health is another example, Hamilton said. "Ten million children die every year in developing countries. About half of that number of deaths is due to diseases such as diarrhoea which could be prevented if a sound water policy were in place." Hamilton is co-author of a World Bank report released Wednesday that argues how implementation of long-term sustainable development policies is more important than meeting the MDGs. The report 'Responsible Growth for the New Millennium' was released in Paris by Ian Johnson, the World Bank's vice-president for sustainable development.

Johnson cited the study to say that meeting the MDGs can go against the goals of reaching sustainable development. "That's why the new World Bank publication focuses on long-term development policies, setting the year 2050 as a horizon for our analysis." The publication proposes several lines of action in areas it considers central to sustainable development such as agriculture, energy, water management, the environment, and trade. "It draws upon the effort to achieve the Millennium Goals by 2015," Johnson said. "But it looks beyond to 2050, to envision a future that is far more prosperous and more equitable than today."

The World Bank report says substantial poverty reduction is possible even though the world population is expected to rise from the present 6 billion to 9 billion by 2050.

The gross domestic product (GDP) in low and middle income countries could rise more than three percent a year, repeating the rates of growth reached during the 1960s and 1970s, the Bank report says. Given those figures, "world income would be more than 135 trillion U.S. dollars by the year 2050. Forty percent of that growth would be in low and middle income countries, twice their share of 20 percent today," the study says.

Those GDP growth rates would make the average per capita income 6,300 dollars a year by 2050. "With such an income, basic human needs for shelter, food, and clothing could be more than met, and people would be healthier and more skilled." The study anticipates strong population growth in cities in the low and middle income countries. "The world of 2050 will have more than 65 percent of the population in urban areas." Infrastructure will have to grow accordingly, the report says. Such growth is a huge environmental challenge but also a great opportunity, the report says. "With most of these investments still to be designed, they could contribute to environmentally sustainable urban development." But income distribution must change radically to render society more equitable, Johnson said. "The present break up of 20 percent of the world population taking 80 percent of world income is not sustainable."