Ministers urged to deal with regional issues

Tony Hotland

Activists from some Asian countries began a two-day discussion on Monday ahead of the Regional Ministerial Meeting on Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in Asia and the Pacific, which is scheduled to commence on Wednesday here, in the hope of pressing state leaders to produce concrete policies.

Coordinator of the Civil Society Network for MDG in Indonesia, Titik Hartini, said the upcoming meeting was crucial to ensure that the real issues faced by the people at the grassroots level are discussed.

"We don't want issues that are not the main problems faced by Asian countries to dominate during the meeting, such as security. Sure it's important, but our real problems are poverty, poor education, access to health services," she said on Monday.

She said countries like the U.S., Australia, China and Japan might try to convert the meeting into a discussion on subjects close to their own hearts, which would be different to those of interest to most poor Asian countries.

"They need to go back to the root of the issue, which is the eradication of poverty and the creation of a fairer world," she said.

The MDG were agreed upon during a UN conference held in September 2000 and oblige the 189 signatory nations to achieve specific goals by 2015 in the fields of poverty eradication, basic education, gender equality, infant and maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, environmental conservation, and the forging of global partnerships.

The countries are expected to deliver their reports on their progress in respect of the MDG programs in September during the World Summit.

The Indonesian government published its first report in February last year, to the criticism of activists for its failure to truthfully depict the real conditions at the local level.

"A quick look shows that we are indeed well on the right track to achieving the targets, but the figures are the macro indicators. You can't imagine the wide disparities between regions here, which the report didn't reveal at all," said Titik.

Averaging growth and poverty eradication figures between more prosperous and heavily populated regions, such as Jakarta, and underdeveloped ones like Papua or Maluku was inappropriate and unfair.

"So the question is, are we really achieving the targets or just fooling the world with our national figures?" she asked.

A similar situation is also taking place in the Philippines and other countries, where improvements in one field are made at the expense of other fields.

Isagani Serrano from the Philippines Social Watch group said most reports by Asian governments had failed to address the issue of sustainable development.

"Will it be sustainable if we create industries to reduce poverty by destroying forests and contaminating the environment? Or improve the condition in one area but leave others behind, thus widening the disparity?" he asked.

These, said Serrano, were the questions that this week's ministerial meeting had to provide the answers to.