TOPICS : Can MDGs be achieved without civil society?

Global civil society leaders called on NGOs last Thursday to use both international channels and their muscle on the ground for applying pressure on governments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Civil Society Development Forum also heard that the global picture for progress towards the MDGs is uneven, with sub-Saharan Africa and western Asia set to miss most of the targets.

All regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, are on track to achieve full primary school enrolment (goal two). But sub-Saharan Africa will, on average, not be able to halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day, or halve the number suffering from hunger by 2015, said Nikhil Seth, director of the division for support and co-ordination at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In western Asia poverty rates have doubled over the past few years, while half the population of the whole of the developing world still has no access to sanitation. Inequality both within and between countries is growing, stressed Salil Shetty, director of the UN Millennium Campaign. Certain countries have shown progress, however, with Tanzania, Rwanda, Mozambique and Bangladesh set to meet many of the goals.

Some 500 delegates from NGOs from across the world have gathered in Geneva for the Civil Society Development Forum which has been arranged by CONGO, or the Conference of Non-governmental Organisations in Consultative Relationship with the UN. The results of the forum will be conveyed to the annual high-level meeting of ECOSOC taking place later this year. The focus of the forum is also to mobilise NGOs to promote goals one and eight. Goal one concerns eradicating poverty and hunger, and goal eight creating a global partnership for development. “Without civil society as the driving force behind the MDGs, the chances are very slim that we will reach the MDGs,” said CONGO President Renate Bloem.

NGOs should also use the offices of the UN based in their own countries to advocate for issues of concern, said Kumi Naidoo, secretary general of CIVICUS, a global NGO representing civil society. Part of the problem is the lack of political will, which is especially important when it comes to financing, said Sergei Ordzhonikidze, director general of the UN office in Geneva. Speakers emphasised that enough money is available globally to finance the MDG processes. The current global expenditure of $1.2 trillion on arms far exceeds the global spending on development, Ordzhonikidze said.

Economic growth has globally been the highest ever in the past 50 years, so there is a question about where the resulting wealth is going, said Roberto Bissio, executive director of the NGO Social Watch. There are some 12 million individuals who each have more than one million dollars in offshore investments, totalling $12 trillion. If the interest on this money was taxed even at a minimal level, more money could be raised than was necessary to fund the achievement of the MDGs, said Bissio.— IPS