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MDG midpoint: Too little progress? - The UN MDGs Report 2007

Time (GMT +01) 12:00 13:30

Guido Schmidt-Traub
, Team Leader, MDG Support Unit, Poverty Group, UNDP
Prof Sir Richard Jolly, Honorary Professor and Research Associate, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex and Member, UNA-UK Expert Advisory Panel
Salil Shetty, Director, Millennium Campaign, United Nations
Simon Maxwell, Director, ODI


Hugh Bayley MP, APGOOD

1. Hugh Bayley MP, in the chair, opened the meeting with a brief overview of the 2007 UN MDGs Report, followed by a formal introduction of each of the four speakers.

2. Guido Shmidt-Traub began by highlighting the key messages of the report:
(i.) The MDGs have been a success story. They have provided a paradigm for global economic development. Major progress has been made in much of the developing world as a result of the adoption of the targets, especially in South and East Asia. Sub-Saharan Africa however, is off track.
(ii.) Inequality is on the rise in Asia, particularly in China.
(iii.) Maternal mortality rates are dropping, but not quickly enough.
(iv.) Climate change is hurting developing countries, especially in Africa, affecting everything from agriculture to water access.

3. Shmidt-Traub emphasised that no country in Sub-Saharan Africa is on track to meet the MDG goals yet, however there are examples of positive progress in several African countries that cannot be overlooked:
(i.) Secondary education is now free and accessible to all in Tanzania and Ghana.
(ii.) Niger has made much progress in combating malaria.
(iii.) With the help of the Department for International Development, Malawi has doubled its agricultural production.

4. Next, he highlighted the importance of aid and trade:
(i.) Trade is not a panacea for eliminating poverty. Liberalising trade in a developing country is a lengthy process, and must be accompanied by generous investment in infrastructure, public heath and educational institutions, otherwise the benefits will not filter down to the rest of the population.
(ii.) No government in Sub-Saharan Africa presently has enough resources to adequately invest in infrastructure, public health, or education. It is incorrect to assume that progress towards the MDGs will be possible in Sub-Saharan Africa without substantially increased aid and investment from international institutions.

5. The main message of the report, Shmidt-Traub emphasised, is that problems which afflict developing countries are not insurmountable. Real and measurable progress has been made in Asia, and has the potential to be made in Africa. The real concern is with formulating coherent policy, as well as prioritising resources to meet the needs of individual countries.

6. Next, Salil Shetty opened his presentation by offering some explanations for why certain countries are on track to meet the MDG targets whilst others are not:
(i.) Leadership from the top.
(ii.) Concentrated focus on improved delivery mechanisms.
(iii.) Greater accountability and transparency at all levels.
(iv.) Increased citizen engagement.
(v.) Increased involvement of the media and public debate about the targets.

7. Shetty then recommended specific actions to be taken during the second half of the MDG project:
(i.) Focus on the world’s poorest people, regardless of country.
(ii.) Ensure that G-8 countries meet their promises on aid, both quantity and quality.
(iii.) Concentrate on the UK’s role in climate change negotiations, balancing North-South priorities.

8. Hugh Bayley MP then introduced Prof Sir Richard Jolly who pledged support for the MDGs, citing many examples of their effectiveness. He did however, recommend some procedural changes:
(i.) Too much emphasis is placed on GDP, more should be placed on the structure of growth, and whether the benefits of growth are being shared.
(ii.) Macro-level pro-poor growth needs to be promoted more vigorously.
(iii.) Progress reports on Africa should be broken down regionally. Statistics covering the whole continent of Africa water down the progress that is being made in certain regions.
(iv.) The key to success, he concluded, was for measurable progress in development. Targets are useful, but sometimes not practical.

9. Simon Maxwell began his presentation stating that there is both an easy and a more difficult response to the current state of progress with regard to the MDGs:
(i.) The easy response is a collective, “Let’s do it!” attitude as expressed by the international community. The MDGs are an effective way to mobilise support, grab media attention, and keep people engaged with the process.
(ii.) The hard response involves a rigid and literal approach to the numerical MDG targets. Target-driven management can be extremely difficult, and sometimes dangerous. Also, there are now new issues that were not included in the original MDGs, but need to be incorporated into future MDG efforts (see point iii).
(iii.) Climate change is an issue which was not included in the original MDGs, but must be included in the MDG process. Besides its ecological impact, climate change is significant because it demands different infrastructural needs. For example, developing economies have very limited access to clean coal technology and other “green goods”.

10. Because of issues like climate change which were not initially included, the MDGs must be taken seriously, but not literally. Maxwell also cautioned against using a “Henry Ford” approach to economic development, which concentrates too much on meeting quotas rather than focusing on social justice.


Points and questions raised during the discussion included:

• As very few countries are on track to fulfil the targets, would the adoption of a more holistic approach help? The panel replied that the goals are closely intertwined and the MDGs are one package – indeed progress towards one goal will help progress towards others. Good governance is necessary for achieving all the goals. Simon Maxwell emphasized the importance of mobilising political will.

• The issue of resource management - even countries with good governance often require the injection of external resources, though at times the question has been not how to achieve the goals, but how to use the resources available. Guido Schmidt-Traub stated that there are not always enough resources available, so improved resource management may not necessarily solve the problem on its own.

• Climate change, especially with regard to goal seven (to ensure environmental sustainability), is somewhat neglected in the report. The panel agreed that both the MDGs and the fight against climate change are necessary; it is not a case of one versus the other. Furthermore, crises such as those in Niger and Darfur are essentially ecologically based, thus tackling climate change and achieving the MDGs in these contexts complement each other.

• The 0.7 percent of GNP commitment by developed countries. Guido Schmidt-Traub explained that although 0.5 percent would be sufficient, 0.7 percent was necessary to meet the targets. Prof Sir Richard Jolly urged that we should keep 0.7 percent as the focus for NGOs and governments.

• The interrelation between the UN and the MDGs, and the IMF and World Bank - the latter two organisations do not sufficiently take account of the MDGs, and the Washington Consensus should be challenged to enable better coordination with the UN. Mr Shetty added that Gordon Brown had an important role to play in re-shaping institutions as such, and encouraged unilateral action by the UK.

• The importance of women, and the gross neglect of poor farmers. Prof Sir Richard Jolly praised the gender budgeting of 40 countries, and though this is inadequate it is a positive start. Similarly, the significance of legislation dictating that women should constitute at least one-third of a national parliament cannot be under-estimated.

• Attitudes to development amongst developed country publics. The UK was not alone in its enthusiasm for the ‘Make Poverty History' campaign and interest in the G8 conferences. Mr Schmidt-Traub challenged the view of the US as reluctant to enforce the MDG agenda, claiming Americans were particularly keen on practical solutions, and adding that certain European countries prefer to simply commission another study. He encouraged the development of practical solutions.

Hugh Bayley MP concluded the meeting with some remarks about US involvement in the development agenda. He said that t may be necessary to carry the debate to America rather than wait for the Americans to partake in it elsewhere, and that we may begin to see a post-New Orleans shift towards a more constructive US development policy.


Halfway to their 2015 deadline, some clear progress has been made towards implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but a recently published progress report from the United Nations has found that their overall success is still far from assured, and will depend in large part on whether developed countries deliver on their aid commitments.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the launch of the report:

"We will have time to reach the Millennium Development Goals – worldwide and in most, or even all, individual countries – but only if we break with business as usual. We cannot win overnight. Success will require sustained action across the entire decade between now and the deadline. It takes time to train the teachers, nurses and engineers; to build the roads, schools and hospitals; to grow the small and large businesses able to create the jobs and income needed. So we must start now. And we must more than double global development assistance over the next few years. Nothing less will help to achieve the Goals."

At this ODI, APGOOD, UNDP and UNA-UK event, Guido Schmidt-Traub from UNDP presented the findings of the report, and Salil Shetty, Prof Sir Richard Jolly and Simon Maxwell offered their thoughts on the report itself, as well as the future of the MDGs and development efforts more widely.

Boothroyd Room