Five Years to the MDG’s: what can the European Union and Ireland do to speed up progress?
Trócaire High Level Roundtable on the MDGs
Five Years to the MDG’s: what can the European Union and Ireland do to speed up progress?
Keynote address by Minister of State Peter Power TD
Ireland’s contribution to the MDGs and our priorities for the UN Summit in September
I want to thank Trócaire for your initiative, in cooperation with the European Commission, to host this high level development roundtable on the Millennium Development Goals. I greatly value the opportunity to discuss Ireland’s contribution to the achievement of the MDGs and my priorities for the Review Summit in September.
This meeting is very timely. Just yesterday I returned from Washington and New York where I had a series of meetings with key players to prepare Ireland for this important event. At meetings with the US State Department and the heads of Multilateral Organisations, including the World Bank, I discussed a range of issues, some of which I would like to address this morning. Similarly, it is my hope that today’s important event will also inform the Government’s position at the Summit.
At the outset can I say that since the year 2000, the Millennium Development Goals have been a powerful force in driving our global development efforts over the past decade. After two years of global economic turmoil, and with just five years to go until the target date for achievement of the Goals, the September Summit is a vital moment for the international community. It will undoubtedly represent a test of commitment to the world’s poorest people in the face of increased hardship in many developing countries, accentuated by rising population, combined with increased pressure on all aid budgets across the developing world.
Today, however, let us first reflect for a moment on the moral power and force of the MDGs. Not only have they provided the focus for addressing global poverty, hunger and inequality, they speak to a broad range of people – from politicians to the public – and they provide key messages on equity, social justice and human rights which are understandable to ordinary citizens, outside the Development Community, on whose continuing goodwill our Programme depends.
As with any review, we should recognise the progress being made. But it is crucial that we examine openly the uneven nature of that progress - the great variation among regions, as well as within population groups.
In my meeting on Wednesday with Helen Clarke, former New Zealand Prime Minister, and head of the United Nations Development Programme, she was very clear of the necessity to articulate clearly to the public how the MDGs have been a success in many areas and how they can be a powerful catalyst for change for poor and hungry people; in other words we need to galvanise public support about many of the good things that have happened arising directly from the MDGs. I share her assessment.
A number of countries have achieved major successes in combating extreme poverty and hunger, and in improving school enrolment and child health. There has been huge progress, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, in increasing enrolment in primary schools. In Uganda, one of our partner countries, the number of children in school increased from 3.1 million in 1996 to 7.6 million in 2003 - thanks to the investment in Universal Primary Education. That is a staggering achievement.
That said there are more than 72 million children in the world, of primary school age, are not at school.
We can be proud of Ireland’s contribution to the global progress on HIV treatment. With the fall in prices in life saving drugs, today over
2 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, including many in Lesotho and Mozambique with Ireland’s support, are on anti-retroviral therapy, when in 2000 there were practically none. Last month in the mountains of Lesotho I saw this excellent work at first hand.
But overall, I regret to say that the uncomfortable reality is the numbers of people suffering extreme poverty and hunger in our world continue to increase. And without coordinated additional efforts, several of the MDGs will be missed in many countries and regions. Sub-Saharan Africa, the focus of Ireland’s aid programme, is one of these regions. It must remain at the forefront of our deliberations as we prepare for the Summit. This week I have advocated for such a focus to the key player who will shape the outcome of the summit.
Another uncomfortable reality, which I discussed in my meeting with Thoraya Obaid, the head of the UN Population Fund, is the increasing pressure that a growing global population is putting on meeting our commitments to reduce poverty and hunger. Let’s be very candid – in many areas we are running just to stand still, in the face of rapidly rising populations.
Where does Ireland stand on the MDGs?
The MDGs are at the heart of Ireland’s development cooperation programme. We focus on Least Developed Countries, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa. We have taken a leadership role on the global hunger crisis. We focus clearly on the social sectors – health, education, HIV and AIDS. Our commitment is to the poorest and to addressing the structural causes of poverty and vulnerability. These are not just words – any analysis of where Irish Aid funding goes, and how we work, bears this out.
You are by now all familiar with last year’s OECD DAC peer review of Ireland’s aid programme. It stated that we have a cutting edge programme focused on the very poorest countries. Unlike virtually all of our international partners our aid is untied. We are recognised for concentrating over 80% of our aid on Africa, and especially on the poorest people and communities. We also have a strong reputation for ensuring that our aid is effective, and that development actors work together more effectively. This is even more important at a time when both developing and developed countries struggle to cope with the challenges presented by the global financial and economic crisis – it is imperative that we deliver our aid as efficiently and effectively as possible to where it is most needed. And that we all – Government, NGOs, multilateral agencies including the European Union – focus more clearly on the achievement of development results.
I do not cite this praise of Ireland’s focus on the very poorest countries for any reason other than to underline the credibility of Ireland’s voice in helping shape the outcome of the Summit in New York, and the path to 2015. My meetings in New York especially this week have convinced me of the strength of our voice relative to our size.
That said I would like to make another important point. That is, effective development cooperation, which transforms lives, societies and systems, is about more than aiming for an ODA/GNP target.
I have become more and more convinced of the need for developing countries to develop their economies, their productive capacity, and their international trade to complete the realisation of the MGDs. It is very interesting to note this week that the World Bank President, Bob Zellick, said that the global economic recovery for the rich North is dependent on growth in Africa; that our economic interdependence is increasing all the time, and that trade and aid go hand in hand. I share this view. Ireland’s progress from being the poorest country in the E.E.C is real analogy. Developing countries need to leverage their economic competitive advantage. Strong national leadership and ownership driving good governance is essential for development progress. Regrettably, that is lacking all too often.
Nonetheless, the global 0.7% of GNP target has been vital in channelling international resources to development. The Government is committed to achieving this target. But as I have said before that will only make a lasting contribution to the realisation of the MDGs if it is in the context of a strong robust economy here at home.
We have had to deal with an exceptionally difficult budgetary and exchequer situation over the past two years. In these times of unprecedented national crisis and fragility we have had to take drastic action to restore sustainability to the public finances. Action which, I should say, some EU countries have yet to take.
Yes, our development budgets have been reduced, and we regret that this was necessary. But let us remember that Ireland was last year the world’s 7th most generous donor in per capita terms. We will again this year be ahead of most of our EU partners in making progress towards the 2015 target. And we are committed to resuming the growth of our programme once we get our public finances right. One depends on the other.
Allow me to be very direct on this point. The governments’ decisions, much criticised, and made with the greatest of reluctance, were the right ones. Recent events in Europe vindicate this position. Had those decisions not been made; at best Ireland’s ability to maintain the aid programme would be compromised. At worst, like Greece, there may not even be an aid programme, but rather we would be the ones looking for financial aid.
So where do we stand now?
In my view the Irish people can be proud of what our aid programme has achieved these past few years. We have invested over €4 billion of public funding in development cooperation since the Millennium Summit in 2000. The OECD notes that about a quarter of our assistance has been channelled through NGOs, a larger proportion than virtually any other international donor.
The NGO sector is so strong in Ireland because of the Irish people’s commitment to working to help improve the lives of those living in more difficult circumstances than ourselves, even at times of economic hardship at home. This impulse owes much to the work of generations of missionaries in the past.
Organisations such as Trócaire, Concern and Goal receive very significant funding from Irish Aid, because of the impact they are making internationally in the fight to end poverty and hunger. As part of our national effort to outline Ireland’s contribution to progress on the MDGs, I believe we need to work together more closely to assess the results we are achieving across all areas of our development effort.
I would invite our NGO partners to document their contribution to each of the MDGs in advance of September. Strong evidence on what has worked must be the basis for our decisions on what is required to achieve the MDGs by 2015.
I am a strong advocate of the results based approach in Irish Aid – employing modern concepts of results based management with a focus on demonstrating development outcomes. I would like in New York to be able to cite our collective national contribution to the MDGs, to changing the lives of the poorest people in sub-Saharan Africa.
What will be the role of the European Union in New York?
Ireland will voice a strong re-commitment to the MDGs at the Summit in September. However, as the largest single provider of development assistance worldwide, the EU has a central role in the effort to accelerate progress on all the MDGs by 2015.
I am working with my Development Ministerial colleagues to prepare the Union’s position for the Summit. In February, at the first meeting of the Development Ministers under the Spanish Presidency, I stressed the importance of a clear and concise EU position for New York.
I emphasised the need for a strong focus on the MDGs where least progress has been made, giving particular attention to the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Europe needs to exert its authority on the Summit.
Eradication of extreme poverty and hunger
I know that there is agreement around this table on the scandal of world hunger. The first goal is in real trouble. It is simply unacceptable that there are today over 1 billion people in the world suffering from hunger, and that this number has risen since the Government’s Hunger Task Force challenged the world to meet in New York in September 2008 to give Hunger the absolute priority it deserves.
And it is unacceptable that there are 92 million more people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa today than there were in 1990. These are not just statistics – they represent individual human lives dominated by pain, suffering, destitution and hopelessness.
The Government has taken a lead on the hunger crisis internationally. I have personally argued strongly - at the EU, at the UN, in Washington, and in Africa - that if we can concentrate on a comprehensive approach to this crisis, we can generate greater progress not only on hunger but on a range of other MDGs including infant and maternal mortality, gender equality, HIV and AIDS, and employment and especially education. The importance of focusing on addressing nutrition, and maternal and child nutrition in particular, was highlighted as a critical issue in my meeting this week with UNICEF and one that needs to be at the heart of our interventions at the Summit. A young child stunted physically and intellectually due to poor nutrition can never themselves as individuals, realise the full potential of the Millennium Development Goals.
Ireland advocates that smallholder agriculture is the essential and missing link to addressing hunger and income poverty. I will be pushing for a strong focus not only on meeting the immediate needs of those most vulnerable but also in supporting investments by smallholder farmers to increase the resilience of their livelihoods. Increasing access by smallholder farmers to markets is a crucial component to increasing their livelihood security.
In all of this I will be promoting a particular focus on the vulnerability of women and children to hunger and food insecurity. We strongly support the L’Aquila objectives in this respect.
In my meeting with the World Bank Executive Director, Samy Watson, on Friday last, I advocated for greater World Bank investments in rural infrastructure and investment in value added food processing.
I believe further investment in research and innovation for better technologies is urgently needed. Ireland is pleased to be one of the main donors to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research – a group that is increasingly making a substantial contribution to agricultural productivity and natural resource management. In a world of rapidly increasing population the future ability to feed an additional 3 billion people will depend on technology and innovation as much as anything else.
We are committed to spending 20% of our aid budget on actions to fight hunger by 2012. We will meet that target, and I am determined that it will inform funding and programming decisions across the board in Irish Aid.
Over the last 12 months, I am pleased to say that we have been working closely with the Obama administration and Secretary of State Clinton on food security issues.
And today I want to announce a special event which will take place at the MDG Summit in September. Ireland will co-host, with the US, a high level political event on the global hunger crisis. The event will highlight the importance of linking agriculture, food security and nutrition programming in order to provide realistic and sustainable solutions to this crisis. I met with the Chief of Staff of Secretary of State Clinton when in Washington last week to discuss the details of this significant event. In hosting this event our intention is to push hunger and food security to the centre of the Summit agenda. If we achieve that, Ireland will have made a significant contribution to the Summit outcome.
Accelerating progress in lagging regions and countries
The second issue that I will be prioritising and encouraging the EU to take on board is the need to accelerate progress in lagging regions and countries. We need an action plan from the Summit on this. The MDGs can only be achieved universally – this means everywhere and not just on an aggregate global level.
Progress in one country or region cannot be seen as compensating for continuing or increasing poverty in another. We need to agree at the Summit that the priority for the remaining time to 2015 is to accelerate progress towards the MDGs in those countries and regions that are making least progress. In plain terms, that means focusing on those countries where Ireland has been and is working. Let’s briefly examine some concrete examples:-
The challenges are most severe in the least developed countries, with countries in or emerging from conflict more likely to be poor and face greater constraints.
Despite the hopeful conclusion of the recent Lancet article, that, investments in the correct interventions can lead to improvements in maternal health, the appalling truth is that we have not made progress on maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. And that poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is double the overall developing country rate. I had detailed discussions on this issue with Thoraya Obaid, the Head of the UN Population Fund.
So how can we support regions and groups making the least progress? We will need to prioritise, and to increase the proportion of global ODA going to sub-Saharan Africa and LDCs. The UN Secretary General has stated clearly: African aid lags far behind commitments and far behind needs. Forthcoming country reports from UNDP, with support from the UK, will present analysis of what more needs to be done to support those countries making the least progress. In my view, we should not finalise our Summit positions until after this important report.
Social protection measures to support the most vulnerable
communities and countries are essential to reversing
marginalisation. We have to recognise the importance of social
protection programmes and support our government partners to
develop and implement them.
Protecting and consolidating progress already achieved
Our third priority is protecting and consolidating progress already achieved, recognising that the MDGs are only achievable as a collective set. For instance, we must consolidate gains in education by focusing on the quality of education, which will bring added value to the investments already made and help achieve the retention and literacy rates integral to MDG2.
In addition to the above priorities I would like to highlight two key points about the way we work:
Let me close by reiterating my own personal commitment, and that of the Government, to the ideals, aspirations and specific targets set out so clearly ten years ago in the Millennium Development Goals.
As I will regrettably have to depart shortly I look forward to reading a report from my officials on your deliberations and hope it can form part of our National and European position in September.
I have not hidden from you the difficulties we face as a Government and as a global community as we seek to meet our commitments to the poorest people in the world. But I am convinced that through a focused, coherent and collaborative approach Ireland and Europe can make a significant contribution to this important Summit.