The MDGs - most visionary yet unheard of goals

by Garry Selfridge | Humanitarian Futures Programme
Thursday, 23 September 2010 17:48 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Garry Selfridge is head of communications at the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King's College in London.

We can be cynical, even dismissive about the UN's Millennium Development Goals. They are perhaps the most visionary objectives never heard of by most people.

In Manhattan I suspect if you mention a summit, locals roll their eyes knowing it's nothing to do with crampons.

But consider the fact that world leaders today have set themselves big goals by which they'll be judged by generations tomorrow, and at least it's an example of aspiration backed by a real, practical framework to reduce vulnerability and increase human resilience.

This more collaborative and strategic approach - taking a longer-term perspective - has notched up significant successes as well as recording serious failures.

President Obama points to hundreds of millions being lifted out of extreme poverty, doors of education being opened to tens of millions of boys and girls due to debt cancellation and access to clean water being extended.

He admits to major failures such as the horrifically high death rate of hundreds of thousands of women in childbirth.

Let's hope Obama's message, that development isn't charity and is in the interest of the United States, is heard and believed.

He rejects cynicism that says some countries are condemned to perpetual poverty.

The World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, talks of a new multi-polar economy with a dynamic shift towards rapid growth in the Chinese and Indian economies. All the more reason for global collaboration to tackle humanitarian threats.

Clearly the financial crisis hindered progress towards the MDGs - it threw 64 million back into poverty and 150 million are starving because of food shortages.

But apart from fallout from market meltdown, economic growth in Africa has gathered pace - over 5 percent per year in the decade up to 2009 and poverty down by 1 percent a year from 1999 to 2005.

Surely the courage to set these goals is the right direction for the world to take?

So shouldn't humanitarian policymakers be taking a leaf out of the MDG book?

Look at gains such as millions of lives saved through reducing preventable disease, especially thanks to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Nick Clegg , Britain's Deputy Prime Minister, told the summit his country will lead the fight against malaria - one of the biggest killers of children - increasing its ï¾£150m a year to ï¾£500m by 2014.

At the same time, struggles in places such as Congo remind us just how momentous the challenge is. And to use a storm metaphor, greater clouds are on the horizon and the poor will be hit first, and worst, by climate change.

It seems so obvious that organisations with humanitarian roles or responsibilities must apply the same ambitious and very practical approaches which created the aspirational, though contentious, MDGs.

There are three practical features which can help the humanitarian sector face up to the trend of rising intensity, frequency and diversity of crises which the world will face over the next two decades.

The MDG initiative gives us a template for a more holistic and consistent approach to plan and prepare for future humanitarian needs.

* One: it shows the humanitarian sector it can set aspirational goals which are coherent and can be reduced to realistic, quantifiable objectives.

* Two: it shows we can create a framework for targeting the funding needed to prepare for crises on a global scale.

* Three: the MDG exercise provides a strategy which combines broad vision with a clear focus on longer-term complex crises that require urgent thinking now in order to prepare for and prevent the sorts of interconnected hazards we can anticipate will happen over the next 20 years.

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