There is nothing like a display of commitment by world leaders to reduce global poverty and hunger to turn the stomach. This is just to forewarn you that there’s another gathering taking place in New York this week.
Nick Clegg, who will be pleased the escape the simmering anger of delegates at the Lib Dem conference in Liverpool, will join others at the United Nations. The plan is to take stock of the progress – or more precisely, the lack of it – on eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted 10 years ago.
Surprise, surprise. A new UN report, The Global Partnership for Development at a Critical Juncture, finds “serious gaps” in the realisation of commitments only five years away from the deadline for achieving the MDGs. These are agreed targets that aim to reduce poverty, hunger, maternal and child deaths, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality and environmental degradation by 2015.
Remember Gleneagles, when the G8 group of major economies pledged in 2005 to increase official development assistance (ODA) by $50 billion and double aid to Africa by $25 billion? Presently, the funding gap on commitments to Africa alone is over $16 billion.
Some countries are suggesting that the shortfall is a result of the financial crash. But this is disputed by Jeffrey Sachs, an MDG adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. "One could say there was a certain lack of seriousness in this process from the start," he says. "In 2007 and 2008 I would say [to G8 officials], what about Gleneagles? You have a commitment, 2010 is very explicit. And very senior officials in the German government would say to me, 'Oh Professor Sachs, you don't think they're going to be honoured, do you?'"
The cynicism in these remarks is of no consolation to the world’s starving. Global hunger is on the rise since the adoption of the UN goals, with nearly a billion people now going without adequate food. And the number of women who die in childbirth every year is still in the hundreds of thousands, falling far short of the UN goal to cut maternal deaths by three quarters.
The UN reports that there has been no significant reduction in the tariffs imposed by developed countries on poorer countries, and average tariffs on key products from developing countries remain relatively high. This is because no developed capitalist country is going to give up a competitive edge to back up commitments with deeds.
Agricultural subsidies in developed countries still represent three times the present amount of ODA flows and remain high in absolute terms. “This continues to undermine prices and income opportunities for farmers in developing countries, affecting food security, most alarmingly, in places where hunger is widespread,” says the UN.
As for pledges of debt relief, 27 out of 39 low-income and small middle-income countries are in “debt distress” or at high risk of facing that condition. These nations can end up paying more in interest on loans than they receive in aid.
When it comes to access to medicines, the report find that the cost of many essential medicines has actually been rising, meaning that even the lowest priced generic medicines for both chronic and acute diseases remain unaffordable for many of the world’s poor. On average, in 2008, people in developing countries paid almost three to six times the international reference prices.
You can be sure that the usual pledges to help the world’s poor will be repeated in New York. You can also be certain that gross inequalities will persist so long as the world is run by major economic and financial corporations fronted up by tame politicians.