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Interview

“Hunger can be halved by 2015”

by Dirk Niebel
“Emerging-market countries are home to more than half the  people in the world who are living in absolute poverty”: School meals in India, financed by Welthungerhilfe

“Emerging-market countries are home to more than half the people in the world who are living in absolute poverty”: School meals in India, financed by Welthungerhilfe

Dirk Niebel, federal minister for economic cooperation and development, has tasked his officials to formulate a follow-up strategy for the MDGs for the years to 2030. He also intends to make future cooperation with the emerging-market nations more strategically oriented. [ Interview with Federal Minister Dirk Niebel ]

The MDG agenda has had a major influence on the development debate. What needs to be done to achieve a maximum result by 2015?
The Millennium Declaration and the MDGs are the frame of reference for international and German development policy alike. Five years before we reach the target date, much has been achieved, even though we still face major challenges. The successes include a reduction in the poverty rate, more children – girls and boys in almost equal numbers – receiving primary school education, and a significant improvement in drinking water supply. On the downside, unfortunately we still have a very high number of children who die of preventable diseases before their fifth birthday, a high maternal mortality rate, and major deficits in the sanitation sector.

What does this mean for your policy?
In the run-up to the MDG Summit at the United Nations in September, we argued that in the five years which remain, a stronger emphasis should be placed on respect for human rights, good governance, partner country ownership and private sector and civil society participation. Achieving the MDGs will be based on sustainable, inclusive and ecologically sound growth that creates opportunities for all to lift themselves out of poverty. That’s why it is important to create enabling frameworks both in developing countries and globally that will facilitate this kind of growth.

Points 1 to 6 of the MDG agenda list social indicators. Point 7 talks about ecological targets, while point 8 refers to a number of global agreements. Private-sector development is not mentioned. Is that a flaw?
As liberals, we see sustainable and inclusive economic development in developing countries, driven by a dynamic private sector, as a key prerequisite for poverty reduction. We also believe that this helps to solve other urgent challenges, in the environmental, health and education sectors for instance. I welcome the fact that the low initial profile of the private sector in the MDG agenda has since undergone significant corrections. The outcome document of the MDG Summit included important items on sustainable economic growth, the role of the private sector and the contributions made by private businesses.

Toward the end of this decade the number of hungry and malnourished people rose once again. What needs to be done to make sure that we still achieve MDG 1?
Despite falling slightly in 2010, the number of people whose lives are blighted by hunger and food insecurity – 925 million – remains scandalously high. In Africa, Asia and Latin America we do see a number of encouraging initiatives and projects that are moving in the right direction. So we insist on the fact that Millennium Development Goal 1 is still achievable and that hunger can be halved by 2015. To achieve this, though, we need new priorities and new actors. We need concerted action to strengthen social protection systems, and boost public and private investment in agriculture, in infrastructure, in agricultural extension services and in agricultural research. The governments concerned must lead the way and take the initiative. The private sector has a crucial role to play, for instance in integrating small farmers into sustainable value chains and innovative business models, in order to raise their long-term productivity and agricultural income, without destroying the natural resources on which the lives of the poorest depend. Farmers’ orga­nisations in the South, and civil society organisations in the North and South, must be involved, and the individual and collective land rights of small farmers must be protected. The key to fighting global food insecurity is the promotion of rural regions.

That has been neglected for a long time.
Yes it has, which is why we have once again made rural development and food security the focus of our efforts. Under the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, for instance, the German government has pledged to invest three billion dollars in food security by 2012. We stand by that pledge, and plan to reach our annual target in 2010.

The MDGs aim to fight absolute poverty. Typically, conflict and postconflict states will not achieve them. Do we need to do more for these countries?
Today, around half of BMZ’s partner countries belong to the group of conflict and postconflict countries. I am well aware of how important these states are for achieving the international targets for poverty reduction, as well as good governance and the creation of enabling economic frameworks. They are important not only in terms of their own development as nation states, but also because of the potential knock-on effects that these negative situations can have on neighbouring countries and the region. That’s why Germany is currently among the world’s three largest donors of ODA to fragile states.

Do you have reliable partners there?
It is important to strengthen ownership by our partner countries, even where conditions are difficult. In this context, I believe the current International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, supported by the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), is important. This dialogue, conducted between donors and partner countries that for the first time classify themselves as fragile states, seeks to ascertain what we need to aim for in order to jointly reduce poverty, prevent conflicts and improve people’s lives in the countries concerned. BMZ is providing financial and human resources to support this process.

Many developing countries that are not rocked by violence have made major progress. Is development cooperation with them still necessary?
I prefer to discuss the issues of where development cooperation is appropriate and necessary, and which priorities we set with our partners, in the context of specific countries. With all our partner countries, our main goal is to make our development cooperation so effective that it soon becomes no longer necessary. Then we can pass on the baton for cooperation to other ministries – such as the Federal Economics Ministry for economic and technological cooperation, the Federal Education Ministry for academic exchange, or the Federal Environment Ministry for cooperation in the fields of biodiversity or climate change mitigation.

Do we need new goals beyond 2015?
The political strategy of the MDGs is a great success. With this frame of reference we have succeeded in mobilising support for development policy, and
making results measurable and comparable. Thanks to our engagement, it was already agreed in the outcome document that a special event will be held in 2013 to follow up on efforts made to achieve the MDGs. The document also requests the secretary-general to recommend further appropriate steps to advance the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015. Because one thing is clear: even if the partner countries do achieve all the MDGs with our support, we will still face major challenges in 2015. Around a quarter of humankind will then still be living in extreme poverty. We will still need to continue improving the education, training and health of children, youth and adults. And in view of growing urbanisation, we will need to redouble our efforts in the water supply and sanitation sector.

Does that mean we will extend the MDGs and carry on with business as usual?
No it doesn’t, because we’ll be facing new challenges, the impacts of which can already be felt. To be specific, I’m talking about the protection of global commons. Top of the list is climate change, which is already having a major impact on sustainable development, food security, health, and natural resource management. At the same time, though, peace and security, global epidemics and a stable financial system will also have a growing influence on development. The follow-up model to the MDGs will need to respond to these challenges in some way or other. We will be actively involved in preparing an agenda for an MDG follow-up model beyond 2015. We will aim to preserve and further develop the qualities of the MDGs in an equally compact or even more compact framework, while also including the other elements of the Millennium Declaration, as well as global commons and new challenges. Our working title for this is ‘Global Development Goals to 2030’.

When the MDGs were adopted, it was assumed that there would be a global agreement to fight climate change. Today that looks less likely. What are the development-policy implications?
As long as there is no comprehensive global agreement, it becomes more important to contain climate change through regional and bilateral initiatives. For development policy, this means promoting projects for tropical forest protection and sustainable energy supply. We must also support the poorest developing countries, the small island states and Africa in adapting to the impacts of climate change, for instance in the context of coastal protection, water supply and agriculture.

This year, extreme weather events have already destroyed crops in Russia and Pakistan.
Yes, climate change is creating another hurdle for MDG achievement. Hunger and malnutrition may rise again soon. The most severe impacts will not be felt until after 2015, though, presumably around 2050. It is still possible to avert the worst if we act with foresight. Germany made environmental protection and climate change mitigation a priority area of its development policy long ago. The recently published OECD-DAC Peer Review rather tellingly underlined this strength once again. Today, many development projects already generate twin benefits – by helping mitigate climate change and reduce poverty. We intend to further strengthen this link, for instance by introducing an extended Joint Environment and Climate Assessment for all BMZ projects in January 2011.

MDG 8 envisages a development-friendly global order. Do you see progress?
I am pleased to see that a large number of developing countries are now represented at the World Trade Organization and that their concerns are taking centre stage in the Doha Round. We now need to bring things to a swift, pro-development conclusion. The MDG 8 target of providing access to affordable essential drugs can only be achieved in cooperation with the local private sector in developing countries. So I support the development of pharmaceutical production at those locations where patients need it, and where the local private sector is willing to invest in high-quality production. So far we have committed over sixty million euros to this, prompting private investment in Africa worth many times that – for instance in Ethiopia, Cameroon, Tanzania and Kenya – as well as in Bangladesh. Over the next few years we intend to expand this successful German government-funded programme together with our existing partners and with other countries, mainly through bilateral cooperation.

In recent years the major emerging-market countries – most notably China and India – have grown enormously in terms of influence. What does this mean for development policy?
The rapid development of countries such as Brazil or India over the last few years has indeed been remarkable. I’m not just talking about their impressive economic progress. I’m also referring to their increased political clout, as reflected in their membership of the G20 for instance. But: emerging-market countries are home to more than half of the people in the world who are living in absolute poverty. Or consider the impacts on the global climate generated by the sharp increase in energy consumption by these large developing countries. This is where development policy also has a contribution to make, as we seek solutions for global sustainable development together with these countries. We should not, though, be under any illusion that we always start out with the same values and interests.

How do you tackle this challenge?
My ministry is working on a strategy for development cooperation with the emerging countries. We will be focusing on climate change mitigation and environmental protection, sustainable economic development and global agendas for development. Our aim will be to support the structural change in these countries – this is also in our own interest. We will address these issues in various arenas of cooperation: in the emerging countries themselves, together with them in other developing regions of the world, such as Africa, or in the manifold forums of the United Nations, the G20, the OECD-DAC, and the Bretton Woods institutions. This means that cooperation with the emerging countries in the future will be even more strategically oriented. And it goes without saying that we will also involve the German and local private sectors, and civil society, more closely than before.

In 2008, the global financial crisis put an end to the upswing in the world economy – but developing and emerging countries have recovered relatively quickly. How do feel about that?
First of all I feel pleased and relieved that the worst fears for our partner countries when the crisis began did not materialise. This meant that we did not suffer any huge setbacks regarding MDG achievement. Since on this occasion the causes of the crisis were clearly to be found in the rich countries, it is first and foremost those countries that must also take appropriate regulatory and budgetary policy action. One regrettable effect on development policy is that it has become considerably more difficult to increase ODA on the scale we had envisaged. This means that one of my priorities has become all the more important: mobilising private investors and the private sector for investment in developing and emerging countries. The gratifyingly swift recovery made by these countries should give the business community and private investors further good reason to understand why investment in those countries will be a profitable undertaking. BMZ is ready to provide constructive support for this engagement.

Questions by Hans Dembowski.