In the year 2000, every United Nations member state agreed to adopt the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight global targets to be reached by 2015 that would tackle world poverty, infant and child mortality, lack of free education and gender oppression.
What has ensued is almost 15 years of mixed results, with real progress being made on some goals in some countries.
An official followup plan for the next period of time is now in the planning stages to fill in the gaps identified in the original MDGs and to address new issues that have become prominent.
Over the 20-year period of 1990 to 2010, deaths of children under five years of age from poverty-related causes has incredibly dropped from 12 million annually to seven million. This figure reflects huge gains in some regions, but there has been none in others.
Another example: 56 million more children are now going to school compared to before the MDGs came into effect, but grave concerns remain about the quality of that education, as many school classes are conducted outdoors, and many children have no equipment or supplies, such as desks and chairs, texts, paper or pencils.
An overarching concern of critics of the MDGs is that they were conceived and promoted by leaders in the developed world with not enough input and commitment from the Global South.
While podium speakers at recent conferences, meeting to rework the MDGs for the future, have come from the rich world, too often "Southern" representatives have been out in the audience listening. Politicians from Europe and North America have made bold commitments to alleviate global poverty but have not always followed through on delivery.
Meanwhile, they have continued with "business as usual," meaning that our trade regulations and debt repayment schedules have kept developing countries poor. At the same time, the MDGs to their credit appear to have reversed one negative trend.
Aid to Third World countries noticeably declined after the Cold War came to an end in 1990, but has picked up thanks to the MDGs. Of course, one of the key motives behind western aid programs had been to compete against the Communist Bloc for the geopolitical support and growing markets of developing countries.
British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has adopted the campaign initiated almost a decade ago by his Labour Party counterparts to champion the MDGs. His watchwords are to create a "more responsible capitalism," yet he will allow the corporate world to continue to extract Third World resources in ways that create conflict, harm the environment and keep people poor.
Cameron, currently chair of the G8, assigns the blame for corruption, lawlessness and inequality solely to the developing world, and is blind to the connection to how western countries do business.
Preparations for the new MDGs began as early as 2010 and Cameron, along with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Indonesian President Susilo Yudhoyono are the co-chairs of a high-level panel of advisers, appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The Nigerian president, Okonjo-Iweala, has spoken out, arguing that Africa needs an emphasis on infrastructure development to meet its future goals. Better access to electricity, the building of roads and the provision of water and sanitation facilities, especially in growing and crowded urban areas, are extremely important, but the cost of accomplishing this is daunting — as much as $100 billion.
His example is that with electricity, health centres, workers of both sexes and children in school can all meet their needs. While Cameron tries to drum up enthusiasm in the West to finance the next set of goals, Sirleaf-Johnson worries that in the current economic climate, western countries will continue to not meet their longstanding-but-never-reached pledge of 0.7 per cent of GNP toward official development assistance.
In case governments don’t jump into the mix to the extent needed, effort is also being made to create partnerships with the corporate world. Thus, for example, the CEOs of Unilever and of the Kenyan Manufacturing Association are also on the panel.
With 60 per cent of the African population under 30 years of age and unemployment extremely high, the co-operation of job-creating companies is important.
Someone who has been close to the MDG negotiations in the past and in planning for the future says that it is time for "external" voices to take a back seat to the aspirations of Third World people themselves. We need to see that it is morally reprehensible to have extreme poverty and lack of opportunity in an affluent world. We need to listen to the voices of the poor and be careful not to be hypocritical in saying that their poverty is just their fault.
» Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations active in our province.