Economic and food crises threaten recent development gains – UN report

6 July 2009

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on rich and poor nations to boost efforts to fight poverty and hunger after a new United Nations report shows that recent advances are being threatened by the global economic and food crises.

The report, launched today in Geneva by Mr. Ban, warns that, despite many successes, overall progress has been too slow for most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the globally agreed targets to halve poverty, hunger and a host of other social and economic ills – to be achieved by the target date of 2015.

“This year’s Millennium Development Goals Report delivers a message that should not surprise us but which we must take to heart: the current economic environment makes achieving the goals even more difficult,” Mr. Ban told the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

The Secretary-General noted that higher food prices in 2008 have reversed the nearly two-decade trend in reducing hunger. In addition, momentum to reduce overall poverty in the developing world is slowing; tens of millions of people have been pushed into joblessness and greater vulnerability; and some countries stand to miss their poverty reduction goals.

Further, the target for eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005 has already been missed, he noted. Meanwhile, 1.4 billion people must gain access to improved sanitation by 2015 in order to achieve the sanitation target.

“We have been moving too slowly to meet our goals,” said Mr. Ban. “Yet the report also shows that when we have the right policies, backed by adequate funding and strong political commitment, actions can yield impressive results.”

The new publication, based on data from over 20 organizations both within and outside the UN system, is considered the most comprehensive global MDG assessment to date. It finds, among other things, that the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day decreased from 1.8 billion to 1.4 billion in the period from 1990 to 2005.

However, major gains in the fight against extreme poverty are likely to stall, indicators show, although data are not yet available to reveal the full impact of the recent economic downturn. In

2009, an estimated 55 million to 90 million more people will be living in extreme poverty than anticipated before the crisis.

At the same time, the Secretary-General noted that the report does show some progress. Fewer people today are dying of AIDS and many countries are implementing proven strategies to combat malaria and measles, two major killers of children.

“We are edging closer to universal primary education. We are well on our way to meeting the safe drinking water target,” he said. “We can and must build on these foundations.

“In Africa and across the developing world, we have abundant evidence that aid can help transform lives. But delays in delivering aid, combined with the financial crisis and climate change, are slowing progress,” he stated.

Mr. Ban recalled that the Group of Eight (G8) and Group of 20 (G20) nations have made specific commitments to increase financial and technical support to developing countries by 2010 to achieve the MDGs.

“Those commitments include raising annual aid flows to Africa, yet aid remains at least $20 billion below the Gleneagles targets,” he noted. “I urge the G8 to set out, country by country, how donors will scale up aid to Africa over the next year.”

The Secretary-General also urged donor countries to meet existing pledges on aid for trade, a crucial component in improving trade competitiveness of developing country producers and exporters.

Speaking at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Second Global Review on Aid for Trade, also in Geneva, he noted that the aid for trade initiative has made good progress in the three years since its launch. The April G20 Summit pledge of $250 billion for trade financing could lead to a significant increase in the $25 billion that aid for trade received in 2007.

However, the global financial and economic crisis has had a severe impact on demand, and it is now widely predicted that global trade will decline by 10 per cent this year, he added. “Unless the direction of the crisis is reversed soon, it will further unravel the progress that developing countries have made over the past two decades in reducing poverty.”


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