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Boldly Going for the Millennium Goals

Proposals Aim to Help Developing Nations

NEW YORK, JAN. 23, 2005 (Zenit) - Last Monday an advisory group handed in a report to U.N. officials on how to help developing nations overcome poverty. The hefty, 3,000-page document is the work of the U.N. Millennium Project, which was commissioned to develop a global plan for achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

The MDGs are a series of targets for reducing poverty, hunger, disease and lack of infrastructure. The report, "Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals," was produced by a team of more than 250 experts, under the direction of Harvard professor Jeffrey Sachs.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a news conference that the report would enable world leaders to "engage in very serious in-depth discussions on some of the most important issues and dilemmas facing the international community," while they prepare for a U.N. summit on development in September. Annan said he hoped the meeting would produce "bold and far-reaching decisions" and all could "work together to put in place the building blocks for a safer, more prosperous world."

Quick winners?

The report called upon wealthy countries to increase aid for development, from 0.25% of their gross national product (the 2003 level) to around 0.44% in 2006 and then rising to the 0.7% target by 2015. It also renewed the plea for debt relief and called for "strengthening governance, promoting human rights, engaging civil society, and promoting the private sector."

One of the most innovative elements in the report is what it calls "Quick Win actions," designed to rapidly save and improve millions of lives and to promote economic growth. Among the measures proposed under this heading are:

-- free mass distribution of malaria bed-nets and effective anti-malaria medicines for all children in regions at risk, by the end of 2007.

-- ending user fees for primary schools and essential health services, no later than the end of 2006. Increased donor aid would compensate for these fees, as necessary.

-- successful completion of the "3-by-5" campaign to bring 3 million AIDS patients in developing countries onto anti-retroviral treatment by the end of 2005.

-- expansion of school meal-programs to cover all children in hunger hot-spots, by no later than the end of 2006. The programs would use locally produced foods.

-- a massive replenishment of soil nutrients for smallholder farmers on lands with nutrient-depleted soils, through free or subsidized distribution of chemical fertilizers and agroforestry, by no later than the end of 2006.

-- training large numbers of community-based workers to ensure adequate expertise in health, education, agriculture, nutrition, infrastructure, water supply and sanitation, and environmental management.

Among other recommendations the report also called upon high-income nations to open their markets to developing country exports and to help increase export competitiveness through investments in trade-related infrastructure such as electricity, roads and ports.

It also made an appeal to international donors to mobilize support for an increase in scientific research and development that will address the special needs of the poor in areas of health, agriculture, natural resource and environmental management.

What is at stake

"How will the world look in 2015 if the Goals are achieved?" asked the report. Fulfilling them would mean lifting more than 500 million people out of extreme poverty. As well, more than 300 million would no longer suffer from hunger. Child health would also dramatically improve, saving the lives of more than 30 million children under 5 years of age.

The MDGs also call for providing safe drinking water for 350 million people and ensuring basic sanitation for 650 million. Hundreds of millions more women and girls will also be able to attend school, and enjoy greater economic and political opportunities.

The report did admit that many countries are on track to achieve at least some of the goals by 2015. Worldwide, between 1990 and 2002 average overall incomes increased by about 21%, and the number of people in extreme poverty declined by an estimated 130 million. Moreover, child mortality rates have fallen and an additional 8% of the developing world's people received access to water, with 15% also achieving access to improved sanitation services.

Sub-Saharan Africa, however, is another story. The region is in a dramatic situation, "in a downward spiral of AIDS, resurgent malaria, falling food output per person, deteriorating shelter conditions, and environmental degradation." An infant born today in this region has only a one-third chance of reaching 65 years ...

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