Panellists at the Bonn Symposium 2012 (f.l.t.r.): Najat Rochdi (UNDP), Conny Czymoch (moderator), Roberto Bissio (Social Watch Network).
Photo: © Development and Peace Foundation

Progress made with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was given a critical review by Roberto Bissio, Coordinator of the Social Watch Network, at the Bonn Symposium 2012 in Germany.

Based in Montevideo, Uruguay, Social Watch is a network of civil society organisations in more than 80 countries that reports on how governments and international organisations implement their commitments on poverty eradication and gender equity. Social Watch measures the world’s poverty situation with the Basic Capabilities Index (BCI), an alternative to assessing poverty as a monetary phenomenon. The BCI is based on key human capabilities indispensable to survival and human dignity. Its indicators – mortality among children under five, maternal-child health, and education – can also be found among the indicators measuring MDG progress.

At the Bonn Symposium 2012, Roberto Bissio, Coordinator of the Social Watch Network, gave a word of caution on statistics referring to success with the MDGs. The Final Draft for the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action, for example, mentioned “over one billion people” living in poverty. Just six weeks later, ministers and representatives of organisations at the meeting issued a statement speaking of 1.4 billion poor – indeed huge a difference. Second, the most substantial contribution to poverty reduction been made by the East Asia/Pacific region, notably with China’s poor dropping from 60.2 per cent of the population in 1990 to 13.1 per cent in 2010. Third, most of the improvements in poverty reduction had occurred before the MDG process was underway. 

Bissio maintained that the MDGs had not really accelerated poverty reduction. In terms of the Global Hunger Index, adopted and elaborated by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Welthungerhilfe, the most rapid decline in poverty had been from 1990-1996. Although world trade increased more than fivefold from 2000-2010 and even per capita income more than doubled in that period, the BCI had remained constant from 1990 to 2011.

“The pie grew, but the slice of the pie for the poor didn’t,” Bissio concluded. He also demonstrated the increasing discrepancy between wealthier and poorer countries regarding the correlation between CO2 levels and life expectancy. Countries like China and, in particular, the USA, were enjoying much better life expectancy levels while creating huge amounts of CO2, whereas poor countries were showing very low emission levels and low life expectancy levels.

Bissio criticised the MDGs for “having no teeth” in that they lacked sufficient monitoring and accountability. He said that both the MDGs and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed at Rio+20 as a successor framework to the MDGs after 2015 ought to be regarded as entitlements within a broader Human Rights framework, especially since they were, in essence, already included in the 1948 Human Rights Declaration. 

Bissio also noted that the impact of the financial crisis on poverty had not yet fully set in. “The crisis is not over,” he warned. “There have been no changes in the financial sector. The high African growth rates are bound to collapse.”

The Bonn Symposium 2012, held at “Deutsche Welle” and “Haus der Geschichte” in Germany’s former capital, was attended by around 80 development and environment specialists. It was organised by the Development and Peace Foundation in collaboration with the United Nations Association of Germany and Global Policy Forum Europe.

More information 

Related articles:

Global hunger Index 2012  

Where are we with the MDGs?

Author: Mike Gardner, journalist, Bonn/Germany

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