Renewing our pledge to help poorest nations raise living standards

Shanghai Daily, China, September 17, 2010

By Pradeep S Mehta

A FEW days from now world leaders will gather in New York to renew their pledge toward attaining the Millennium Development Goals.

MDGs, as they are known collectively, are as much about reducing income poverty as removing other types and forms of deprivation such as hunger, illiteracy and the lack of drinking water and proper sanitation facilities. The rationale for the differentiated approach adopted by the MDGs is sound: income poverty is not only highly correlated with the other mentioned forms of deprivation but often the alleviation of the former can only be facilitated on a sustainable basis if there is a concerted and direct attack on the latter.

While it is almost certain that targets for the year 2015 in regard to pursuit of MDGs will not be attained, mere finger pointing at the international political leadership is not going to help matters. Rather it is time to reflect on how recent successes in the sphere of MDGs can be leveraged for future benefits, and inadequacies identified and remedied.

Such a review should start off by noting that the MDGs not only specify targets in terms of outcomes but also the means for attaining these outcomes: while seven of the eight MDGs are directly related to poverty reduction, the eighth goal or MDG-8, which calls for the development of a Global Partnership for Development (GPD), specifies the channel for attainment of these goals.

This partnership should ideally involve, among others, the governments of the developing as well as developed world. Attention Unfortunately, the GPD has not got the deserved attention and consequently the pursuit of the other MDGs has also lacked the needed focus.

When MDGs were adopted in the year 2000, the world was witnessing an unprecedented level of economic growth. But the current situation is different – the world is trying to emerge from the shadows of an economic recession. As developed country governments try to make do with reduced GDPs and therefore budgets, the prospects for significant growth in aid from the developed world seem bleak.

Recognition by global corporations of their “enlightened self-interest” in alleviating deprivation and creating new sources of human capital as well as demand for goods and services, as urged by Mukesh Ambani quite some time back, becomes even more relevant in these times.

Mukesh is now a member of the UN SG’s Advocacy Group on MDGs.But mere enhancement of aid provision is not enough. Progress in the pursuit of MDG-8 has been dogged by different stakeholders adopting different definitions of the GPD to suit their political purpose.

The GPD is best defined as a multi-stakeholder partnership, involving state as well as non-state actors, to address significant challenges in regard to the attainment of global public goods (GPGs). GPGs in turn may be operationally defined as values/facilities/institutions that enhance welfare for populations all over the globe.

Thus, security, democracy, aid, disaster management, alleviation of climate change, food safety, trade and investment have all been referred to as GPGs.

Coordination While the promotion of trade and aid as well as the alleviation of indebtedness are included in the existing agenda of MDG-8, these issues have not been addressed in a coherent and cogent manner.

It is not that institutions that deal with these GPGs do not exist – for example, the WTO does a fair job in regulating international trade; the IMF pays attention to macroeconomic stability and indebtedness – but the lack of coordination among these institutions is palpable.

The G-20, a club of nations which has recently attained the status of a principal mover on the world stage after its largely unheralded emergence in the 90s in response to the East Asian economic crisis, can provide the much-needed coordination among the diverse providers of GPGs.

While people might point to the limited number of its members as implying a lack of representativeness, it deserves to be noted that these members account for 65 percent of the world’s population and more than 85 percent of the world’s GDP.

The author is secretary general of CUTS International (Consumer Unity and Trust society). He can be reached at: The views are his own. Shanghai Daily condensed the article.)

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