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A double espresso

by Tobias Kahler


High-level hand shake: Ban Ki-moon and Barack Obama

High-level hand shake: Ban Ki-moon and Barack Obama

At the UN’s MDG summit, a lot of intelligent things were said about how to fight poverty. Action must follow, says Tobias Kahler who was part of the ONE delegation in New York. [ By Tobias Kahler ]

For New Yorkers, the MDG summit meant even worse traffic jams than normal. Cars stood still all around the UN. Security, police officers and secret-service staff tested the patience of a city known for its high stress levels.

Many summit participants also felt things were not moving ahead fast enough. Emotions swing up and down in regard to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The huge backlog is frustrating, but the progress made stimulates hope, nonetheless.

It is too early to assess the summit’s worth: it remains to be seen whether good words are followed up by adequate action. In any case the event was stimulating like a double espresso. For a few days, top leaders discussed poverty, activists networked with scholars and politicians, and the media reported. Whether all this energised activity will lead to satisfying results is an altogether different question.

UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s new initiative points in the right direction by focussing on women’s and children’s health. It is generally agreed that women must be given more influence in business, politics and society – and doing so will obviously depend on their own health as well as their families’ health.

Ban’s plan, moreover, reflects an encouraging partnership: developing and industrialised nations teamed up to fund it. Forty billion dollars were pledged – and old questions immediately arose anew: How much of it is fresh money? And when will it be disbursed?

Far too often, past pledges were not fulfilled or merely amounted to old pledges cast in a new light. The international community certainly needs more transparency. In New York, this was something US President Barack Obama demanded from donors. Hopefully his administration will henceforth set a good example.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited to a panel discussion on output based aid, highlighting that while money matters, results matter more. The delegations from Britain and Norway strongly supported this point. Still, this important initiative must not distract from the fact that Germany is not fulfilling its EU and G8 pledges on official develoment assistance (ODA). Britain lives up to its commitments and Norway has been fulfilling the decades-old pledge of 0,7 % for a long time.

Leaders from rich nations emphasised that good governance is essential, whereas leaders from poor countries emphasised that donors must coordinate their engagement better. Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s prime minister, stressed that multilateral approaches serve this purpose in a fundamental sense: many governments of developing countries feel overburdened by having to discuss policies again and again with various bilateral partners.

The summit discussed corruption. Civil servants from Sierra Leone and Rwanda presented their countries’ convincing legislation. US President Obama promised to assume leadership in the fight for public accountability and announced that, in the future, US-based corporations active in extractive industries will have to publicly declare all payments they make to governments.

ONE is in favour of introducing that kind of obligation in the EU too. A few numbers suffice to prove the relevance of this matter. In 2008, Africa got $ 44 billion in ODA and $ 38 billion in agro-export revenues. According to ONE statistics, however, the sales of extractive industries were worth 393 $ billion and capital flight amounted to $ 148 billion.

In New York, several countries pledged money to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. France, Japan, Canada and Norway will all raise their contributions by at least 25 %. Chancellor Merkel promised that Germany’s contribution will remain “at a high level”. Ahead of the MDG summit, civil-society organisations in Germany had criticised government plans to reduce such spending. In October, the Global Fund’s replenishing conference will provide the first occasion to check real-world action after the fine rhetoric of the MDG summit.