Fall 2010, Issue#24
-BROCHURE (inside)
An Overview On:
The Millennium Development Goals

Although the man with the hoe still carries burdens imposed by the comfortable of the world,
the possibility remains that he may awaken to hope.

by James T. DETTE

james_t_dette • The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)respond to the world's main development challenges and were drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration adopted by 189 nations and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000. The target for achieving them is 2015.
• 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
• 2: Achieve universal primary education
• 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
• 4: Reduce child mortality
• 5: Improve maternal health
• 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
• 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
• 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

The Man With The Hoe

Bowed by the weight of the centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes at the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes?

- Edwin Markham, 1899

One reads with some regularity that half the world population survives on less than two dollars a day and nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. Those who have spent time in the developing world have some sense of what that means. However, even when the statistics are illustrated by photographs of women and children (who should be in school) scavenging material from mountains of garbage, for most who do not experience it personally it is difficult to come to grips with world poverty. The fact that these garbage pickers also dwell on the planet we all call home will at best elicit a donation to the organization that provided the photograph with their begging letter.

What else can one do about this? Actively support the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of the United Nations (UN).

In September of 2000, 147 heads of state and government met in New York and adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration. The purpose of the declaration was to "reaffirm our faith in the Organization and its Charter as indispensable foundations of a more peaceful, prosperous and just world." These leaders recognized that they had a "collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity . . . to all the world's people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs." Eight Millennium Development Goals were established to be achieved by the year 2015(see sidebar).

Goals, as worthy as they are, soon become empty promises without the wherewithal to achieve them. Confronting this challenge, the heads of state and government gathered again in Monterrey, Mexico, in March of 2002 and reached a consensus on Financing for Development. Actions pledged included mobilizing domestic and international resources for development, meaningfully liberalizing world trade, and most importantly, increasing international financial and technical cooperation for development. To achieve this last goal, the developed countries were urged to pledge a target of 0.7 percent of their gross national product (GNP) as official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries. Relief from external debt was also recognized as an important step; it would liberate resources that could then be directed toward sustainable growth and development. The signatory nations pledged to stay engaged in the process by enlisting the UN, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization in coordinating and monitoring progress.

As a followup to the adoption of the Millennium Declaration in 2000, a World Summit was held in September 2005. In addition to reviewing progress toward achieving the MDGs, the agenda included terrorism, human rights, and UN reform. Before the 2005 meeting, serious concerns arose that it would be overshadowed by the war in Iraq, and by the "Oil for Food" scandal and calls for reform that had hit the United Nations. Secretary General Kofi Annan had wanted the reform issues to be resolved before the Summit, but this did not happen; instead the conference was thrown into turmoil. On the one hand, the poorer, unaligned nations held that preliminary drafts of the 2005 conference statement had failed to take their concerns into account. On the other, the United States wanted to do away with most of the text, even the Millennium Development Goals themselves. As the Washington Post reported (August 24, 2005), "the Bush administration has thrown the proceedings in turmoil with a call for drastic renegotiation" of the draft agreement. The proposed changes, submitted by controversial U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, touched on "virtually every aspect of UN affairs and provided a detailed look at U.S. concerns about the world body’s future."

As a result, the conference failed to achieve a meaningful review of the MDGs. The concerns of the poorer nations were realized in a weak final document that was at best ambiguous. There were some positive results--the creation of a Peace Building Commission and a Human Rights Council, a stronger antigenocide statement, and recognition of the need too achieve MDGs and debt relief. But apart from these conference statements, nothing new or substantial emerged. The developing countries continue their struggle for "human dignity, equality and equity" with mixed results.

The condition of the world's poor is personally disconcerting for me because I worked with trade unions in Ecuador in the mid-sixties, during a time of hope for Latin America. The seeds of a more liberal society were being sown. A lot of activity began among the people I worked with and others who were suffering oppression--an optimism, a naiveté that life could be better. The operating policy of the Alliance for Progress (the USAID program in Latin America) was to provide technical assistance to developing nations in exchange for land reform, tax reform, and the establishment of democratic institutions such as cooperatives and trade unions (a modest sixties version of the MDGs.)

My sense of the situation at that time is supported by data offered by William Finnegan in “The Economics of Empire: Notes on the Washington Consensus”(Harper's Magazine, May 2003), in which he reports, "In Latin America, during the 1960s and 1970s--the decades preceding the great trade boom of globalization--per capita income rose 73 percent. During the last two decades [the 1980s and 1990s], with trade expanding rapidly under neoliberalism, per capita income rose less than 6 percent."
Per capita income stagnated in spite of the neoliberalism-inspired trade boom because the anticipated trickledown effects were never realized. In addition, the oligarchies and their supporters had already begun reacting to economic gains and political freedoms being realized; its intensity varied from country to country. The extremes were visible in the CIA-abetted overthrow of a freely elected president in Chile, followed by massive repression from which the country has only recently recovered, and in the bloody civil wars in Guatemala (1960 - 1996) and El Salvador (1980 – 1992), abetted by the United States support of repressive governments, but also in the mostly peaceable but still unrealized struggle of the people of Ecuador for universal social justice.

For reasons beyond the scope of this paper we have lost the incentive for altruistic approaches to alleviating the burden of the man with the hoe. But to do nothing is to surrender to the self-interested, empire-building approach to development.

The Millennium Development Goals still provide the best hope for change, and despite the setbacks, there is some basis for optimism. Though systematically taken from them by the exploitation of the natural resources by former colonial powers, the wealth of the poor nations resides in their native ecosystems. A latent source of wealth also lies in the youth of developing countries. While the developed world is aging, the working-age population of the developing countries is growing, providing the energy to reap the benefits of their natural resources. This has its challenges, including the need to realize goals 2, 3, and 7 (see sidebar). These three goals can only be accomplished by the efforts of the developing countries themselves, and progress has been achieved on goals 2 and 3.

In the Millennium Development Goals Report, 2010, of the United Nations, Secretary General, Ban Ki moon is optimistic that “. . .the Goals are achievable when nationally owned development strategies, policies and programmes are supported by international development partners.” He ends, stating, “Billions of people are looking to the international community to realize the great vision embodied in the Millennium Declaration. Let us keep that promise.” Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang, makes the observation, “The Millennium Declaration represents the most important promise ever made to the world’s most vulnerable people.. . .The Millennium Development Goals are still attainable. The critical question today is how to transform the pace of change from what we have seen over the last decade into dramatically faster progress.”

Many nongovernmental organizations are affiliated with the UN Department of Public Information (DPI). These organizations must make their support of the MDGs a priority in their work with the UN.

Although the man with the hoe still carries burdens imposed by the comfortable of the world, the possibility remains that he may awaken to hope.

- United Nations Millennium Declaration. UN DPI/2163 September 2000
- Financing for Development. UNDPI 2329 October 2003
“The Economics of Empire: Notes on the Washington Consensus” William Finnegan, Harper's Magazine, May03
- Millennium Development Goals Report, 2010, United Nations

Brief Biography of JAMES DETTE:
James Dette is a retired partner of an international consulting firm in applied earth and environmental sciences. He was secretary/Treasurer of Global Education Associates, an international network of people and organizations responding creatively to the crises and opportunities of an interdependent world with emphasis on ecological integrity, peace, human rights, economic and social well being for all, with care to include the poor and marginalized peoples. GEA had consultative status to ECOSOC until June 2009, when the organization closed.

James Dette lives in Weehawken, New Jersey, with his wife, Evelyn. He is the father of three daughters and one son.


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