Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The United Nations Global Anti-Poverty Goals

We are at the halfway mark of the United Nations anti-poverty program called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These eight goals developed by the international community through the United Nations were intially scheduled to be achieved by the year 2015.

The goals were drawn from the actions and targets contained in the Millennium Declaration that was adopted by 189 nations-and signed by 147 heads of state and governments during the U.N. Millennium Summit in September 2000. The basic premise of the Goals, was to slash poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy by the year 2015.

The reason for this ambitious global United Nations initiative is due to the fact that the statistics on worldwide poverty are sobering. Consider that:

Each year more than 8 million people around the world die because of poverty.
1 billion people (1 in 6 people around the world) live in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1 a day.
More than 800 million go hungry each day.
Over 100 million primary school-age children cannot go to school
Almost half the world (over three billion people) live on less than $2.50 a day
At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day
According to UNICEF, 26,500-30,000 children die each day due to poverty
Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names
Water problems affect half of humanity: Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.

So, how is the world doing in its objective to end global poverty, at the half way mark of the program? The progress so far is decidedly mixed.

In the latest United Nations Ministerial Review, the overall picture showed uneven progress across and within countries. The strategy for achieving the development agenda was working, but not nearly on the scale required.

Indeed, there were positive results. Some countries were demonstrating progress toward the Millennium Goals when strong Government leadership, good policies and healthy institutions were combined with adequate financial and technical support from the international community.

However, this result is not very surprising to anyone that has looked at the long term history of poverty and foreign aid. In fact, studies by Peter Boone of the London School of Economics and the Center of Economic Performance in 1994 reviewed the experience of one hundred nations. Those studies concluded that "Long term aid is not a means to create growth." He found no evidence "that aid transfers will allow countries to escape from a poverty trap."

History shows that sound domestic policies and good government not just foreign aid are what generate economic growth and eliminate poverty. This is how Europe escaped poverty, with markets that were allowed to operate freely, a protection of private property and with a rule of law that permitted economic competition. The truth is that it is not realistic to eliminate poverty in a country without sound government leadership. Research shows that money alone does not solve the problem.

The world is currently experiencing an economic downturn and future international assistance to eliminate global poverty may be much more difficult to obtain.

So, in the final seven years of its program, the United Nations should increase assistance to the nations that are serious about its anti-poverty goals, at the expense of those nations that are not. Reward the government that seeks a better way for its people. Money will only be wasted on those governments that do not.

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