The European Commission recently published a paper called "Millennium Development Goals at Midpoint: Where do we stand?" The paper was written by the UK's Department for International Development and DG Development of the European Commission. The paper will be used as a background paper for the forthcoming European Report on Development. When reviewing the paper on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) achievements, a word has to be said about the database. Getting a clear picture on progress toward meeting the MDGs is not an easy task. A vast majority of developing countries do not produce reliable figures on items such as water access or poverty. The poorest and most vulnerable countries do not report data on most MDGs. When they are available, data is often plagued with comparability problems, and MDGs indicators often come with considerable time lags. Most of the information from low-income countries is generated in donor-funded, data-gathering exercises, such as the LSMS (World Bank), DHS (US Aid) and MICS (UNICEF). Only a limited number of countries in Latin America, India, China, Indonesia, Thailand and South Africa are equipped with national statistical agencies, which are driving high-quality national survey programs, and provide the information necessary for the rigorous monitoring of MDGs. Extending such high-quality national data-gathering to more countries should be a central focus of the second half of the MDGs time frame and beyond. Reliable data and indicators are essential, not only to enable the international development community to follow progress on MDGs, but for individual countries to effectively manage their development strategies. Poverty eradication The Millennium Development Goals are the expression of universal development and poverty eradication made by the international community in the UN Millennium Declaration. They include halving world poverty and hunger by 2015, as well as reaching universal primary education, reducing under-five and maternal mortality by two-thirds and halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water. At the same time, the declaration called for a new partnership between the developed and the developing countries, determined "to create an environment - at the national and global levels alike - which is conducive to development and the elimination of poverty." The developed countries had to ease market access, lessen the debt burden, channel financial resources and provide development assistance to the developing world, which, on its side, had to improve governance and conduct effective development policies. A year and a half later, the international conference on "Financing for Development," held in Monterrey, Mexico, reiterated the need for such a partnership. With respect to Official Development Assistance (ODA) in particular, it established a compact between developed and developing countries: The former would increase the volume of aid and its quality - through better coordination; the latter would strive to make aid more effective - through improved governance and development management. Development strategies At the same time, the arrangement insisted on the need for development strategies to be fully owned by developing countries. In both the Millennium and the Monterrey Declarations, the focus was on low-income countries, with particular emphasis on those in sub-Saharan Africa. These commitments have since been reiterated on many occasions. Most recently, they were expressed by the main EU Council in June 2007. The Group of Eight (G8) also reiterated its strong commitments to the MDGs at its meeting in Hokkaido, Japan, last month. The UN secretary general has convened a "high-level event" that will take place in New York in September. The recently published paper is a contribution by European researchers to the current debate on the program of action on the MDGs. There has been much debate about the conceptual and methodological underpinnings of the MDGs and their predecessors, the International Development Targets. The Europeans claim that they are fully aware of these questions and have endeavored to address them. These obstacles should also be kept in mind when considering how to accelerate development and poverty reduction in the world. At the same time, the European Commission stipulates that the political impetus for development provided by the MDGs has been and remains strong. It is crucial to make MDGs action and policy as effective as possible, so as to maintain the political impetus. The European report asks, "What should Europe do?" To answer these questions, the paper makes clear, it is crucial to have a good understanding of the nature of the obstacles and constraints faced by different countries in designing and implementing MDGs strategies and to explore possible ways of overcoming them. Key messages The European claim to have done analysis and review of evidence points to the following key messages:
MDGs have been very useful in galvanizing international efforts on development and in mobilizing more resources, after the dramatic decline of aid and poor average-development performances in many countries during the 1990s.
Progress toward the MDGs has been surprisingly good on income poverty, when viewed globally. But this global progress hides an exceptional heterogeneity across countries. Many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have an especially large deficit to make up, and have made slow progress so far. Progress on other MDGs is much less impressive, in general, and also very heterogeneous.
The last few years have been good for development, as GDP per capita growth accelerated in the poorest countries. But the paper assumes that it is unlikely to last, as the global economy is slowing down while food and energy prices are likely to remain high. This makes effective development-oriented policies all the more necessary in developed and emerging countries.
Whether the acceleration of economic growth has fed progress toward the MDGs is not always clear. In several countries the correlation between growth and poverty reduction has been affected by substantial increases in income inequality. On the other hand, the correlation between economic growth or poverty reduction and the other MDGs is relatively weak.
Donors have committed to increasing the volume of aid toward the poorest countries, and progress has been made in identifying obstacles to aid effectiveness. However, the pace of delivery is slow in all these areas, including aid volumes, move to budget support, better coordination and selectivity, and predictability of resource flows.
The paper concludes that more action is needed for a permanent acceleration of MDGs progress. More room should also be given to results-based aid delivery and to innovations such as the EU MDGs Contract.
Much remains to be done on development policy coherence, especially in the area of trade, and also in other dimensions of international policy such as peace building, conflict prevention and resolution.
Domestic policies in developing countries are improving, evolving away from general recipes and toward development strategies based on country specificity. However, this requires the existence of adequate institutions. Developmental states are essential for the MDGs to be delivered.
Ari Syrquin is the head of the international department at GSCB Law Firm.