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'The crisis is an opportunity to assess the development paradigm'

Mar 16, 2009

The G 20 summit at London will be a test between rhetoric and reality, says Minar Pimple, Deputy Director Asia, UN Millennium Campaign. In an interview with OneWorld South Asia, he shares actions being planned to mobilise people and make governments accountable.

OneWorld South Asia: The global food crisis, climate change… and now the economic downturn. Isn’t it true that the present crisis has wiped out much of the progress on MDGs?

Minar Pimple: This question is partly true but not fully true. Let me clarify. Especially on Goal 1, in terms of the reduction of hunger and reduction of poverty, two things have happened. The first, the poverty benchmark – living on 1 dollar a day – has changed from 1 dollar to 1.25 dollar.

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And second, because of the food crisis, hunger in some regions of the world has grown. So the earlier achievement of Goal 1, especially the target of reducing poverty by 30%, which the world was on track because of rapid progress in poverty reduction measures in India and China mostly, is under challenge… I wouldn’t say wiped out.

The critical issue remains in terms of hunger as reflected in the growing malnourishment across the developing parts of the world. I wouldn’t say that it is wiping the progress on MDGs, but yes, almost another 100 million people will be pushed into poverty if the full-blown impact of the financial crisis over this and the coming year are not halted at this point of time. Also in terms of hunger itself, there is a substantial growth in the number of people going hungry.

OWSA: The G 20 London Summit next month intends to take up action to stabilise the world’s financial markets. How can trade here help reduce poverty in developing countries and make growth sustainable?

MP: One of the agreements among the G 20 in the November summit at Washington was that they will not initiate any protectionist measures that would in a way halt exports from developing countries and least developing countries to the rest of the developed market. And if that is actually seen in practice and reaffirmed in operational terms, that is, the countries do not go for local – 'buy local', 'buy national', or any of those slogans, then that would be helpful towards resource mobilization, which is a critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goals in the developing countries.

Also, a critical point that was agreed in the November summit is that none of this would affect the global financial ODA (official development assistance) flow – and rather this is the time to actually go back to much stronger ODAs and to keep the commitment of 0.7% strongly. Again in practice, one is not saying that is how it is unfolding. If then, these two are kept on track – the non-protectionist measures and the revival of the ODA flows to the developing countries – at least the backsliding of the progress on MDGs can be halted.

OWSA: Considering the fact that none of the working groups at the last G 20 summit in Washington focused on poverty reduction, what are your expectations from the London Summit on the MDGs?

MP: For me, all measures in terms of making the credit flows available, keeping the industry functioning, halting the employment laws that are being experienced in many countries in the formal sectors, and indirectly affecting the informal sectors…all those measures in a way are linked with ensuring that people have resources and money to buy their basic necessities and beyond, so that the market remains functioning. So in a way it is not necessary that you have a working group functioning on MDGs or poverty reduction per say. But all these measures, if built-in in the whole pro-poor agenda as part of the terms of reference, would fulfill the purpose.

The challenge is actually [to bridge] the difference between the rhetoric and the reality. For a simple comparison, you have almost more than 5 trillion dollars given as bailout to financial institutions and big corporations while the GDP loss among the developing countries is US$ 300 billion – as estimated by IMF itself, and confirmed by the Millennium Campaign – which will directly affect their national budgets. This is the minimum bailout for the poor. But nobody is talking about it. And if you compare two figures, there is a huge gap, a huge difference.

While the trillion dollars could be located in a period of 15 days to 2 months, the 300 billion dollars have not yet been located by the world leaders. So that is the nature of gap between the rhetoric and the reality that needs to be highlighted by the citizenry in the developed countries… so that they can apprise their leaders that one way out of this crisis is to bring people who are not in the market into the market, and bring them out of poverty so that they can reach the basic minimum consumption level required for human dignified living. So that’s the kind of approach we are taking in pushing this agenda – in a way, pushing the pro-poor agenda in the language of the market.

OWSA: Do you think the greater presence of Asian nations this year may influence the G 20 agenda on the MDGs?

MP: It’s not the issue of how many countries are present, and from which region. What is more important is the team which finally gets made, and how much that team is talking clearly about developed countries’ commitment to Goal 1 and ensuring developing countries are committing to domestic resources, national resources, and undertaking  resource mobilisation towards Goals 1-7.

I would then basically say it is the enlightened leadership provided from any part of the world, whether it’s south or north, whether developing or developed countries, towards looking at this crisis as an opportunity to actually push for reduction of poverty as one important constituent factor towards revival and expansion of the bottom pyramid – people who are out of the market – if that is achieved, then I would say the MDGs would firmly be on the agenda of the G 20.

OWSA: What action will the Campaign propose at the London Summit?

MP: It’s not just the Campaign… but the partners of the Millennium Campaign who are engaged in a range of actions, including symbolic ones, taking place in the participating countries.

For example, GCAP Italy is launching a whole campaign on ‘Building a pressure’ towards G 8 which will get launched at G 20 itself. Basically the campaign will create pressure on the Heads of the States by getting more and more citizens to join the campaign against poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals.

‘Heads’ here is used in a dual language… the physical heads and the Heads of State. And that kind of artwork, campaigning is going to be quite effective. In Asia, for example, Indonesia and India are at the same time going through the election process. Here the national actions are being driven by the election priorities and the demands of resource allocation towards fulfillment of MDGs. Both these countries have a strong domestic resource base which could be used for achieving the MDGs.

In Australia – one of the countries in G 20 – we are talking about aid effectiveness. A large forum of almost 1,000 people, including non-governmental organizations, academics and representatives from institutions, will debate how Australia can improve in its aid to developing countries. And that is the message that the citizens of Australia want to give to their leaders, to the Prime Minister of Australia, towards G 20.

And post-April summit in London the key challenge would be to really monitor the commitment in the communiqué back into the countries, to see how far they have been able to fulfill the commitments made. The Millennium Campaign is just doing the completing exercise and by 18th March, we would push this agenda from a public domain. We are looking very carefully at the November communiqué from the last G 20 meeting and where we are as of now, in terms of the commitments made then.

During the Summit there is a large mobilization taking place in London with some participation from the South. One of their core demands is, of course, saving jobs – core demand post-mobilization would be from England itself – but on the other hand, also achieving the Millennium Development Goals globally is on the agenda. So post-Summit, there would be action in terms of monitoring and holding the leaders accountable.

OWSA: And how do you plan to take these actions forward to the Millennium Summit, due in September 2010, ten years since the Millennium Declaration?

MP: For us the actions building from G 20 to G 8 in July in Italy, to the Stand Up and Take Action in October – all are part of building up towards the Millennium Summit. One of the new things we are trying to do with our partners is to undertake opinion polls and surveys in multiple constituencies in the countries that we are working in, so that we can have a kind of barometer of people’s exasperations or their aspirations with respect to MDGs in their respective countries, and to build a pressure on their leaders. That is the kind of action we would like to start to build from July onwards this year and lead up to July next year as preparation towards the Summit. This is critical to reminding our leaders that it is the people who elect them and it is the people to whom they are fundamentally and finally accountable.

OWSA: And finally, do you think the financial crisis will make global governance somewhat inclusive?

MP: I think the present financial crisis has opened up a lot of opportunity as well. The opportunity, one, is to make the global governance more transparent, more accountable, more inclusive, surely, at the same time there is the open opportunity to re-look at the existing paradigm of development itself, which is completely led by the unregulated market, sometimes called market fundamentalism. The hypothesis that the market has the ability to correct itself has come under a big challenge, and what is coming up very clearly is that the market also needs to be regulated in a more democratic, transparent way where people who are protected are also part of monitoring, or have a voice in monitoring the impact.

Today there is a culture of impunity that we can get away with whatever is happening and however much it impacts the most poor and the most vulnerable. That culture of impunity is also being questioned. So through this crisis there are many openings, which, in my opinion, will further democratize the global financial architecture, the global regulatory mechanism, and also enhance the influence of the developing world, and poor countries. So these are the kind of opportunities I see coming up.

And lastly, and importantly, a lot of this will be seen in light of civil society action. Wisdom and knowledge are not only in the hands of technocrats, bureaucrats, and political leaders, but the civil society voice also plays a very important role – and they should play an important role – in shaping financial and social policies, and I think this will gain much higher recognition than it has gotten before.   

Minar Pimple is Deputy Director of UN Millennium Campaign. He leads its work in Asia and the Pacific, working with civil society organisations, youth and student bodies, media, local authorities and parliamentarians, to facilitate their engagement to hold their governments to account towards fulfilment of MDGs.

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