Any Hope for Millennium Development Goals?

Interview With Justin Kilcullen of Caritas Ireland

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By Traci Osuna

NEW YORK, SEPT. 29, 2010 (Zenit.org).- There is hope for the U.N. millennium development goals, but governments need to put their money where their mouths are, says the director of Caritas Ireland.

The MDGs are now in their 10th year. They take on critical issues such as ending hunger, making education available, gender equality, lowering both child and maternal mortality rates, providing healthcare for the poor, combating HIV/AIDS, achieving environmental sustainability and creating a global partnership that allows open and non-discriminatory economic practices.

But with the 2015 deadline quickly approaching, world leaders again gathered in New York last week for a three-day «progress check.» The summit was not only an evaluation of advances toward the goals, but also a chance to reaffirm international commitment to eradicate poverty in the least developed countries.  

Justin Kilcullen, director of Trocaire, Caritas Ireland, and president of Concord, the European Confederation of Development Agencies, attended the summit and shared with ZENIT his views on the conference, the progress being made, and what goals still need the attention of world leaders.

ZENIT: Since the MDGs were set 10 years ago, what have been the major accomplishments? With the end date set for 2015, why are the goals still struggling or in danger of not becoming reality?

Kilcullen: For the first time development has been a key focus of governments at the international level. The goals helped governments set shared targets and commit to the finance necessary to deliver on them. Where there has been consistent targeted finance and technical expertise real progress has been made. For instance, there has been a decrease in child mortality and an increase in the number of children attending primary school. In Kenya, all the goals have been achieved except goal one relating to hunger and poverty. But in Uganda, much more needs to be done to achieve the goals.

With five years to go, governments must commit to a radical shift in approach to deliver the goals by the deadline of 2015. They must find new ways of financing development — for example a financial transaction tax of just 0.05% could generate up to $400 million annually to tackle poverty. Alongside this, governments must keep their commitments on overseas aid and spend 0.7% of national income on aid by 2015.

Governments must also look at the reasons why people are poor. This means a new approach to trade, debt and facing up to our shared responsibility on climate change. It means changing the role of women so they can participate equally with men. It means investment in sustainable agriculture, dealing with HIV and other diseases like malaria. If the political will is not present at the highest levels of government the goals won’t be achieved.

ZENIT: In your opinion, does meeting the goals mainly mean rich countries giving more money to poor countries? Or is the money question secondary to policy questions?

Kilcullen: Combating hunger and poverty requires more than aid. Governments must resolve the trade issue. MDG 8 resolved to restructure global trade to the benefit of developing countries. Trade negotiations began in 2001 on the «development round»; they are not yet complete. Developing countries can benefit hugely by just trade relations with the developed world that enable them to raise revenue to implement policies to meet the goals.

Governments must also generate new, innovative forms of finance for development. For years, wealthy countries have resisted implementing a financial transaction tax. It is estimated that a tax of just 0.05% applied to organized financial exchanges between international markets would raise more than US $400 billion annually, or three times the current aid levels.

Leaders must work to end the debt problem. The reduction in debt to sustainable levels in 25 of the 40 poorest countries has resulted in marked progress towards meeting the development goals at a national level. In Mozambique, for instance, expenditure on poverty eradication has trebled to over US $2 billion annually as a result of debt reductions.

We must all face up to our responsibilities on climate change. The failure to agree to a climate change deal in Copenhagen last December had far reaching consequences for the world’s poorest billion people. Dramatically changing weather patterns have impacted seriously on the planet’s ability to feed itself. Now it seems that talks due in Mexico this December will not produce the required deal. We cannot afford to wait. We need a political commitment to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and provide additional finance to poor countries to cope with the impact of climate change.

Governments must also strengthen the focus on women. For developing countries a corresponding commitment to respect human rights is a prerequisite for success. Where good governance and political accountability prevail progress has been greatest. Central to this is the issue of gender equality. Women are the developing world’s farmers, yet are often denied the right to own or inherit land. In hard times girls are the first to be withdrawn from school. Yet we know children born to mothers without formal education are more likely to be malnourished or die before the age of five. Redressing the balance of power to establish equity between men and women is essential for sustainable development.

ZENIT: Back in 2000, when the heads of state met to establish the eight goals that were intended to bring the least developed countries (LDC) out of poverty, the world was a very different place. Do you think these goals were too ambitious to accomplish in the 15-year time frame?

Kilcullen: The goals were criticized in some quarters for not being ambitious enough. But they provided a good framework for governments to set targets and measure progress. We need clarity on what comes post-2015. We are in a very different climate now internationally. But we can’t solve our financial and economic crisis on the backs of the world’s poor.

ZENIT: In light of the world’s economic problems, how do you feel the representatives from the various nations received your message of helping bring the LDCs out of poverty and trying to put them on equal footing with the more developed countries?

Kilcullen: Many governments are facing budget cuts at home and cutting aid budgets as a result. Trocaire welcomes the reaffirming this week by world leaders of their determination to reach the goals. Now they need to put their money where their mouths are.

ZENIT: Caritas Internationalis Representative, Senegal Secretary-General Abbe Ambroise Tine, spoke at the summit, saying: “It is not simply a question of more money. We need political leaders to regard all people as human beings, whose dignity, freedom and rights to better living conditions are deemed sacred and inviolable.” Many of these LDC are ruled by dictators who do not respect human liberties; how does that affect your efforts to help their people?

Kilcullen: Trocaire has a large program of work around governance and human rights. We work to empower people all over the world, so they know what their rights are and how to enjoy them. We help them build their capacity to hold their governments to account and to claim their legal and human rights. All governments must respect the right of their citizens to live in peace and dignity. We work with justice and peace commissions and through church structures worldwide to deliver social justice, to help the marginalized and the vulnerable, whatever the cause.

There was a sense of real promise last week at the New York summit, but Caritas will be lobbying governments across the world to make sure they keep their word and deliver change that will transform the lives of the world’s poorest.

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