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'We can't live in institutions of post world war'

Apr 14, 2009

Acknowledging the impact of financial crisis on the world’s poor, the recently concluded G20 summit pledged to commit more resources for MDGs. Minar Pimple, Deputy Director Asia, UN Millennium Campaign speaks on the need to monitor the utilisation of funds through inclusive global governance.

In 2000, world leaders from United Nations member states envisioned a new world for the third millennium and charted what came to be known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In a candid interview, Minar Pimple, Deputy Director Asia, UN Millennium Campaign, speaks to journalist Shriya Mohan about the significance of the 2009 G20 Summit and if the decisions taken will impact global poverty in these times of global economic slowdown.

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Excerpts from the interview:

Shriya Mohan: What are the MDGs? Who bears the onus of these goals?

Minar Pimple: The MDGs are not the goals of the United Nations. They are the goals of world leaders, the vision of the world they wanted to create for the third millennium, by taking steps toward a more just and peaceful world. These are concretely achievable commitments made by member states of the UN, on behalf of their citizens.

Apart from allocating funds, the MDG does the following. First, a costing exercise, where we help assess how much it will cost to achieve the MDGs domestically or via ODAs (overseas development aid). Second, technical assistance is provided in designing processes. Third, we facilitate legal policy budgetary interventions by governments in domestic resource mobilisation. And, fourth, we mobilise the international community in support of that country’s aid program towards achievement of MDG. 

SM: With the global food crisis, climate change and now, the global economic downturn, are the MDGs realistically achievable and how? Please cite an India specific example.

MP: Although the world leaders signed the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) declaration in the year 2000, by the time the MDGs were articulated in targets and goals, it was 2003. If you see the number of achievements in six years, it is quite significant. At a global level, the target of reducing absolute poverty by half is within reach, except for Sub-Saharan Africa. There has been more than 90% enrolment in primary schooling. The gender parity in education at primary and secondary level has improved drastically.

Further, the number of deaths caused by HIV/AIDS has fallen from 2.2 to 2 million. More than 300,000 now have access to medical care. Tuberculosis is in the phase of being reversed in most of the world. From 2002 – 2008 there are a number of achievements one can see. In regions like South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, except for issues such as infant and maternal mortality, most of the goals have been achievable.

The real issue changes when you start disaggregating on the basis of gender and social groups – ethnic and religious minorities and geographies forming the population of the poorest of the poor. But globally, despite the food, fuel, climate and financial crisis, most goals are achievable, I’m still optimistic. 

In the Indian context, the challenge is of inefficient delivery mechanisms – corruption, slippages, and leakages. Many states return central grants of health and education because they are unutilised. Indian states like Jharkhand return 60% of the budget unutilised and there are other such states that are often ranked the worst in terms of health and education in MDG indicators. 

SM: In earlier interviews before the G20, you talked about $5 trillion being given to bail out financial institutions, while the GDP loss amongst developing countries, which amounted to $ 300 billion, wasn't being talked about. Now with $ 1.1 trillion being given to bail out economies, walk us through what this means to emerging economies like India, China and Brazil. Is it a debt trap for developing countries?

MP: This will surely halt and hopefully reverse the slowdown by 2010 and should globally add two percent to GDP increase. Countries like India, which is now seeing 5.5%, may see 7.5% growth rate by the end of 2010. Secondly, this will stimulate demand and free up credit. It is expected to reduce job losses, and, stimulate exports. Commodity prices that have dipped drastically, a source of income for many developing economies, will slowly come up. These are the few things expected. 

According to the communiqué issued at G20, they have agreed to triple resources available to IMF, which is from $250 to $750 billion. MDG’s stand on the debt is that this should not add to the existing burden of the highly indebted countries waiting for debt cancellation. There are countries in the world which require grants in aid and not loans. In some other countries, they themselves don’t want debt cancellation because they don’t want their credit ratings to dip, and don’t want to pay a higher rate of interest the next time they get a loan. 

SM: How is the bail out going to help achieve the MDG's? 

MP: There are two clear provisions – $50 billion for social protection and $6 billion for the poorest countries. Those are welcome commitments to get social sustenance, in order to avoid impact on people sliding back to deeper poverty. It won’t have any impact on domestic resource mobilisation and so the government can continue or even enhance their social sector expenses – health, education, water and sanitation.

The G20 communiqué needs to be welcomed by MDGs in terms of its political commitment. There are a few other factors, which don’t come out clearly. This is the first time there is a commitment on the whole issue of tax havens. In India itself there are estimates of billions of dollars that are stashed away in tax havens. This is an opportunity for developing countries to get back stolen money which would give them another boost of resources to spend on the MDGs. In a way, it is halting the flight of capital.  

SM: India has expressed its concerns over the 'protectionism' policies of developed countries that is already severely affecting its IT and BPO sectors. Are things unlikely to change? Tell us your views on G20's open trade and investment policies that were discussed at the summit.

MP: Britsh Prime Minister Gordon Brown, at his press briefing after the summit, mentioned that they would name and shame those countries raising trade barriers or wanting to follow financial protectionism. This is very strong language in terms of avoiding trade protectionism. It is very clear that trade protectionism will not help in the long run at all. An example is the auto industry in the US and Japan. You have many more Japanese cars on US roads and now, when GM and Chrysler are going down, it does create domestic pressure on the administration which gets played up politically.

But if you look at the IT sector, the banks are going down, either cancelling or rescheduling their projects of large-scale software development, hence, the IT sector has been impacted. BPO sectors however, would be more directly affected. There will be tightening and contracting.

If all countries work together you’ll have a situation where ODA and debt cancellation pledges are maintained, domestic resource mobilisation will be heightened, with an added possibility of getting back lost resources through tax havens. The key challenge is to see that all this money is spent on MDGs, and the commitment is translated into action.  

SM: The end of poverty campaign 2015 is six years away from reaching its deadline set for itself. How is world poverty changing? Is it taking new forms like the global food crisis?

MP: The duty of MDGs is to cater to all aspects of poverty, including the lack of access to nutrition, water and sanitation, health, etc. and, building basic human capabilities and opportunities for growth. I don’t think there is going to be a fundamental change in the poverty profile. 

Due to the food price escalation earlier, 100 million more are going into the poverty trap. But food and fuel prices and inflation since then are under control. In the developing world, the inflation trend has eased out. Hunger still remains a major cause of concern in both Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. 

What we see now is the emergence of ‘new poor’; the people who were connected to ancillary industries or tourism, who have no other skill sets, will be thrown back into a jobless situation. In countries, which are highly remittance dependant, the people who are coming back are increasing pressure on the job market, depressing the wages further.

The ‘new poor’ context will emerge in some parts. The target of halving the proportion of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa living on less than a dollar a day will not be achieved. One quarter of children in the world are malnourished, this is a challenge. In India, the resources are well chalked out.

The concept of universalisation of the mid-day meal program and nutrition supplements for pregnant and lactating women are useful, and such measures would halt the problem. The challenge is also reaching out to where it should be. Just to conclude, in the last six years, if there have been so many achievements, the next six years can be seen as an important period. 

SM: So what are the things you hope to achieve over the next six years?

MP: The MDGs are the responsibility of the national government and the commitment to their citizens. So, the first critical challenge is how national governments can increase social sector investments, irrespective of the financial crisis. Second is the efficient and effective delivery of services on the ground by creating mechanisms to check corruption and leakages using tools such as conducting social audits, the Right to Information Act etc. There is an innate ability in India to mobilise its people towards achieving the MDGs.

Another commitment from the G20 was to complete the charter of the Doha development round. A sticky point in the Doha development round is the agriculture subsidy in the US and the EU. Can you imagine that a European cow gets a subsidy of $3 a day; while the international readjusted poverty line is $ 1.24? That’s like saying that a human being can live a dignified life at 1.24 dollars while a European cow needs no less than three dollars.

The inequities of trade are affecting a lot of countries from getting resources for achieving MDGs and that’s a challenge. Another goal is to make global economic and financial governance more inclusive. We cannot live in institutions of post world war now.

The world has seen growing prosperity and growing inequity. In India, the top 20% have become richer and bottom 20% have become poorer in the last decade. If pro poor and pro environment policies are focused on, and resources are allocated accordingly, achieving MDGs could be possible in the largest way, save for a few exceptions like maternal and infant mortality rate in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Source : Tehelka
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