Global Policy Forum

Bridging the Chasm Between Rhetoric and Reality

Civil society is skeptical when it comes to governments' will and ability to fulfill the MDGs. Several NGO's, like Amnesty International and Social Watch, argue that there is a great gap between leaders' talk and action. A new report from Social Watch points out that in 2008 only 5, 7% of the European Commission aid was distributed to basic health and education. The authors ask: where did the rest go? Also, the MDGs focus too much on money instead of the root causes of poverty and power structures in the global economy. Many NGOs are calling for a rights-based approach to the MDG's. 

By Aprille Muscara

September 18, 2010

On the eve of Monday's highly-anticipated U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit in which world leaders will gather here to reaffirm their commitment to the eight goals, civil society remains deeply sceptical.

"The summit demonstrates an overwhelming gap between rhetoric and reality," Mirjam van Reisen told IPS. Reisen is the director of Europe External Policy Advisors and one of the authors of a new Social Watch publication released Friday.

The Sep. 20-22 summit seeks to accelerate progress toward achieving the MDGs by the 2015 deadline, but "in what realistic way can that happen?" asked Roberto Bissio, executive director of the Third World Institute and another author of the Social Watch publication.

"If anybody is serious about achieving the MDGs, it's not by doing business as usual," Bissio added.

Progress in social indicators has actually slowed since the MDGs were launched in 2000, reveals the publication, titled "After the Fall: Time for a New Deal", which compiles thematic essays, indices for measuring progress and over 60 national reports from throughout the world.

"Put people first - there's no mistake of what the report's message is," Bissio said at a panel discussion for its launch. The publication calls for "more equitable, gender- sensitive and pro-poor policies" in tackling the MDGs.

He also explained that two worrisome trends emerged from the country reports: inequality has been rising, despite economic growth in some places, and aid is increasingly being instrumentalised for military purposes.

In 2008, only 5.7 percent of all European Commission aid was allocated to basic health and education - a reduction from 11 percent in 2005, according to the report.

"This raises some very troubling questions," van Reisen said. "Where is the rest of the money going, if not on the MDGs?"

On Monday, the first day of the summit, European Commission president Jose Barroso is expected to announce one billion dollars of aid money for the goals.

"The quantity of the aid package is irrelevant," van Reisen told IPS. "[Barroso's pledge] is meaningless as it comprises of recycled aid; there is no new money on the table."

The World Bank is also expected to pledge 750 million dollars for basic education on Monday, and Tuesday an announcement is expected for a replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

"Obviously the focus [of the summit] is on money," Pollyanna Truscott of Amnesty International told IPS. "But money alone is not going to tackle the root causes of poverty, which are tied to human rights abuses."

Indeed, Amnesty International, Social Watch and other non- governmental organisations (NGOs) have over the years pushed for a rights-based approach to addressing poverty and hunger, universal education, gender equality, child and maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, environmental sustainability and global partnership - the eight goals.

An outcome document to be adopted on the last day of the summit that outlines an "Action Agenda" for how to achieve the MDGs by 2015 includes the recognition that human rights are fundamental to eradicating poverty and economic and social development - a meaningful gain praised by these groups.

But they see the rest of the document, which has been negotiated contentiously for months and is intended to be the ultimate global blueprint for the next five years, as a letdown.

"When you look at this document, you can only be truly disappointed," Barbara Adams, senior fellow at the Global Policy Forum and Social Watch board member said at the panel discussion. "There are no new commitments whatsoever."

Truscott echoed these sentiments, disparaging what she called the "Inaction Agenda" for its lack of concrete measures or mechanisms for ensuring accountability.

"It's pathetic," Truscott told IPS. "In effect, world leaders are saying, 'trust us'... but frankly, we just don't trust them because we know there was so much in-fighting during the negotiations about the inclusion of human rights language - and it's the poor who are paying the price."

At a press conference last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that although the outcome document has been finalised, it could change during the summit if world leaders have additional inputs or make new commitments.

But NGOs worry that next week will only be the same "business-as-usual" warned against by Bissio.

"This is what happens at summits," Truscott told IPS. "There's a lot of talk and no action."


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