This week world leaders have been meeting in New York for UN talks on the future of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  With just five years to go until 2015 – the deadline world leaders set for halving global poverty  – progress so far has been inconsistent, with many of the goals lagging or off track. So can the MDGs be achieved, and what should the outcome of the UN talks be?              

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, addressing the leaders during the opening session on Monday, said,  “We have much more to do but the goal can be met.”     

Ranchos de Caracas

MAKING A DIFFERENCE? Los Ranchos de Caracas in Venezuela where thousands of people live, many of them  without basic services as water, sewage or electricity. PICTURE: Luis Brito (www.sxc.hu)

 

"Let us be honest. Donor countries have made commitments that they have not honoured."

- Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, who represented Australia at the summit, also used the opportunity to call on Australia and the international community to increase their efforts to see the MDGs to be achieved.                       

“Let us be honest. Donor countries have made commitments that they have not honoured,” said Mr Rudd.  “(But) if we strengthen our collective commitment, and work hard to accelerate progress where it is lagging, the goals lie within our reach” he said.          

However, not everyone at the summit has been so optimistic as debate arose about whether the MDGs are still the best vehicle for reducing global poverty. Questions were also raised about whether rich countries, in the wake of the global financial crisis, will be able to meet the aid commitments required to achieve the MDGs.       

Mr Rudd wasn’t making any excuses though, stating that rich countries like Australia must “do that which we say we will do. To honour our commitments. Even when the global economic environment is hard. Because, for the poorest of the poor, it is even harder.”                          

“We should simply begin by doing that which we say. We in Australia want to do just that. To play our part in bringing these Millennium Development Goals into reality. To make a real difference for the world's poor.”              

A number of promising new ideas have emerged during the summit.                

New technologies are being developed that will help farmers find information on markets, provide education resources to students and allow doctors to connect with patients in remote locations. French President, Nicolas Sarkozy highlighted the potential to introduce a small tax on financial transactions, similar to the Robin Hood Tax which development and advocacy groups, including Micah Challenge, have been campaigning for.             

The most important outcome from the summit was the establishment of the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. With pledges of more than $US40 billion over the five years, this fund has the potential to save the lives of more than 16 million women and children, and improve the lives of more than 200 million more. This is welcome news for supporters of Micah Challenge Australia who have been campaigning for maternal and child health for the past three years.              

 Yet in spite of all the rousing speeches and ‘new ideas’, it must be noted that the prenegotiated ‘Outcomes Document’ from the summit was all but signed and sealed prior to the event and it is less than inspiring. Ultimately, the document recaps some of the successes and challenges in reaching the MDGs, along with some vague and non-committal pledges to do more in the future.   

As Mr Rudd stated, the world’s poorest need and deserve something better: “Poverty is degrading. Poverty is dehumanising. Poverty destroys human dignity...we cannot stand idly by while 70 million children are unable to attend school. We cannot stand idly by when hundreds of thousands of women die through childbirth...Nor can we stand idly by while infectious diseases cut a swathe of devastation through the communities of the poor,” he said.            

“The governments of the world cannot disappoint the children of the world. The need is clear. The goals are clear. The policies are clear. And the timetable is clear. All that remains unclear is whether the governments of the world actually mean what we say.”              

At Micah Challenge Australia we believe that, while there is more work to be done in the coming years, there is reason to hope. We will continue to work with Australian Christian aid agencies, churches, groups and individuals to speak out for those suffering the injustice of poverty. With a newly formed government and a new foreign minister who has shown tremendous support for the campaign, we are being presented with an unprecedented opportunity to be a prophetic voice for justice to our leaders. It is an opportunity we must not miss.              

Matthew Darvas in an intern (political engagement) at Micah Challenge Australia.

Micah Challenge AustraliaMicah Challenge Australia is part of a global coalition of aid and development agencies, churches, groups and individuals that aims to mobilise Christians to speak out against poverty and injustice and influence world leaders to meet their commitment to the MDGs.  For more information and to find out how you can get involved, see www.micahchallenge.org.au.

For more from the UN summit, see www.un.org/en/mdg/summit2010/