U.N. Leaders Assess Global Poverty-Reduction Goals

World leaders are gathered at the United Nations to take stock of the goals they set 10 years ago to fight global poverty and improve health care and education. They have five more years to go to reach these so-called millennium development goals. So far, the record is mixed.

As he opened the summit Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the eight millennium development goals as achievable if member nations stay true to their commitments.

"Being true means supporting the vulnerable despite the economic crisis," he said. "We should not balance budgets on the backs of the poor."

Ban is calling on countries to renew their commitment to the millennium development goals. Advocates gathered in New York for the summit don't want just lofty rhetoric; they want financial commitments.

U.S. Criticized

Jeffrey Sachs, who runs Columbia University's Earth Institute and advises the U.N. secretary-general on this issue, is already working the halls of the U.N.

"It's the action plan that we really need," Sachs said. "That's the work in the corridors here. That's where I hope to hear from governments that yes, we will scale up the global fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria.

"Yes, we will scale up the new global fund to help small farmers. Yes, we will pool our money to ensure all children are in primary school."

Sachs has been particularly critical of the United States, questioning whether the Obama administration has its priorities right.

"We are spending $100 billion in Afghanistan this year and only $10 billion for all 800 million people in Africa," Sachs said.

Sachs says he failed to persuade the Obama administration to tax the bonuses of Wall Street bankers who received bailouts in order to raise more money for development aid. So he is hoping the U.S. will find other ways to fund programs to help countries reach their millennium development goals by 2015.

"They are realistic in the sense that there is absolutely no reason for almost 9 million children under the age of 5 to be dying every year of diseases that are utterly preventable and utterly treatable," Sachs says. "And the only reason the children die is that they don't have access to the most basic things, like an anti-malaria bed net or a plastic suction tube in the hands of a trained village worker to resuscitate a newborn.

"In other words, the things that are needed to achieve the millennium development goals are practical."

High Expectations

The goals are also interrelated, says Gregory Adams of Oxfam America.

"If you don't have access to clean water, it is difficult to get children to school — because children are often the water gatherers of the family, particularly girls," Adams says. "If you don't have access to school, it is difficult to get health outcomes because you miss opportunities to get people basic education about health.

"So they are all interrelated, and so a lack of progress on one goal makes progress on the other goals that much harder and that much more fragile."

He says there has been progress toward the goal of cutting in half global poverty and hunger by 2015, but the countries are lagging behind on other efforts to improve maternal and child health, and promote gender equality and environmental sustainability. Adams has high expectations for Obama's speech this week.

"We are really looking for President Obama to give a barnburner of a speech on Wednesday; as a global leader who has repeatedly stressed his commitment to achieving the MDGs from the time he was on the campaign and as the child of development professionals, we know he gets this stuff," Adams says.

But Adams says the administration has to fix policies in Washington as well, updating Cold War-era laws that govern U.S. foreign assistance and making sure trade policies don't hurt the very countries the U.S. wants to help.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.