Poverty, hunger: Can they be solved by 2015?

Delegates attend the opening of the Millennium Development Goals summit in New York City.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: The United Nations General Assembly is meeting in New York this week. Among the high-priority topics of conversation are the Millennium Development Goals. Those are the targets, set 10 years ago, to cut poverty and hunger, get the AIDS epidemic under control and reduce infant and mother mortality rates worldwide among others. There are eight goals in all and just five years left to meet the UN's self-imposed deadline.

Marketplace's Stephen Beard is on the line with more on where the UN is with the goals and what is left to do. Hello Stephen.

Stephen Beard: Hello Kai.

Ryssdal: What progress have we seen so far in these Millennium Goals?

Beard: Progress has been patchy. There have been successes: Child mortality is coming down, rates of HIV/AIDS infection have stabilized in most regions. But on poverty and hunger -- this was the main goal -- it's not really a success story. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the number of people living on a dollar a day has gone up by 92 million. And globally, the number of hungry people had risen to more than a billion last year.

Ryssdal: These goals, though Stephen, were launched a decade ago with great fanfare. We are two-thirds of the way through the program, what happened?

Beard: Well, it's the abiding problem with all aid summits and donor conferences, I guess. It's very easy to pledge; it's much harder to deliver. In fact, in terms of the amount of aid that the rich countries have handed over, it's gone up. There is a record amount now flowing from the rich world to the developing world. Last year, it was $120 billion, but that is still $20 billion less than the rich countries promised. The problem, of course, has been the downturn and the deficits. It does become more difficult for governments to tell their taxpayers, "We're going to cut spending on health care and education at home, but we're going to increase spending on overseas aid."

Ryssdal: Are there people who are having second thoughts then, Stephen, about how this whole thing was handled and taken care of?

Beard: Well, some people are, yes. I mean, the whole point of this process was to have targets and to have deadlines. The targets and the deadlines were to give shape and urgency to the drive to help the developing world. As we've seen, there have been some successes, and there could be more before 2015. But overall, I think many people are concluding that the results have not been very encouraging. And it has been suggested that maybe a better way would've been to take one goal at a time. Spend a couple of years on it, do what we can to solve that particular problem, then move onto the next goal. But it's a bit late to abandon the eight-goal process. We're two-thirds of the way into the project, we have to press on.

Ryssdal: Stephen, we are talking about this today, because the United Nations is talking about it. But it does seem in the interim, in the absence of big high-profile discussions, these goals do fall by the wayside.

Beard: Yes, they do tend to get overlooked. There is, however, quite a lot of work going on behind the scenes and a lot of money, as we've seen $120 billion flowing to the developing world. It's worth noting that the two developing countries that have done most to cut their poverty are China and India. But that's been largely due to their own self-generated economic growth. It has nothing to do with the Millennium development goals. Economic growth, ultimately, of course, is the surest way to beating these problems of poverty, hunger and disease.

Ryssdal: Stephen Beard in London for us on the topic of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Stephen, thank you.

Beard: OK Kai.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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