Africa: Development: Millennium Goals Need Partners, Plans - Sachs

New York — Achieving the Millennium Development Goals will require more cooperation between developed and developing nations, targeted plans and less moralising about the failures of poor countries and their governments, says United Nations special adviser Jeffrey Sachs.

"Less blaming the poor, more working with the poor to address their specific, targeted needs," is the recipe to meeting the MDGs by 2015, Sachs, special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the MDGs and director of the Millennium Project (MP), said at a briefing Wednesday.

The MDGs were launched at the U.N. Millennium Summit in 2000 by the world's nations. The eight goals set clear targets for reducing poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women by 2015.

Sachs, who is also director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York, said the MP is preparing an analysis of how the MDGs can be achieved. The report will be sent to Annan next January; the analysis and a plan for meeting the goals will be available on the office's website in September.

The MP is an independent advisory project commissioned by the secretary-general and supported by the U.N. Development Group.

Sachs urged developed and developing countries to strengthen their partnerships and to take concrete steps to overcome obstacles to reaching goal number eight, which includes: a substantial increase in development aid, reduction or cancellation of developing countries' debts, removal of protectionist barriers for agricultural products and access for developing nations to western markets.

He welcomed the promises of the United Kingdom and France to double their official development assistance (ODA) next year, and called on other rich nations to fulfil their pledge to increase aid to the long-promised 0.7 percent of gross national product (GNP).

While he referred to the problems facing the world's poorest nations in a general way -- naming structural issues such as lack of skills and basic physical infrastructure, disease, low agricultural productivity and physical isolation -- Sachs suggested a specific plan to tackle them.

Developing countries should develop national poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSP) soon, he argued. Already used by the World Bank and IMF to prepare borrowing nations for aid -- and criticised by many development activists for imposing neo-liberal economic blueprints -- Sachs said he is suggesting the plans be based on the MDGs -- and be bold enough to envision achieving the goals even if donor founding is unavailable now.

At the same time, new PRSPs should not replace the work of the World Banks and IMF, he stressed.

MDG strategy papers should be based on an analysis of exactly what people need to achieve concrete aims, for instance to: bring their crops to the market, permit their children to go to school or produce three instead of one ton of crops per hectare, said Sachs.

Combined with an investment strategy and a financial analysis of what it would cost to carry out those plans, the PRSPs should be the basis of looking ahead to 2015, Sachs said. Among other things, they should make very clear how money is going to be invested, how investments will be monitored and how to ensure that women will benefit as much as men from development.

Clear targets must be set if progress is to be measured, he added. His office has already started pilot projects based on PRSPs with six developing countries, among them Senegal, Ethiopia and Kenya. They include reviewing innovative practices, prioritising policy reforms, identifying ways to implement policies and evaluating financing options.

Another six countries are in line to start pilot projects, among them Tanzania, Sachs added.

"Our recommendations are focussing on helping any individual country to design policies and to find partnership that enables it to achieve the goals," Sachs said. "But also we address the more systemic problems." He added that the MP will make specific recommendations for a 10-year plan of action based upon country-developed PRSPs focussed on the millennium goals.

The MP's analysis has found that small amounts of money well-targeted to improve basics, like education, infrastructure and water access, can help to reduce the extreme poverty that affects hundreds of millions of people, Sachs added.

But not everybody believes PRSPs can help developing countries achieve the MDGs. "They are just another burden on them," a representative of a non-governmental organisation (NGO), who did not want to be named, told IPS. It is questionable that poor nations have the capacities to develop such plans, he added.

The representative suggested that innovative partnerships between developed and developing nations, such as establishing women's groups to strengthen society or establishing micro-credit groups that make small loans available to the neediest in societies, could best help achieve the MDGs.

Sachs argued that while many poor countries are "far off-track to achieve some or even all of the goals," they are not impossible to meet, except perhaps in the sub-Saharan region, where nations are fighting extreme disease, hunger and poverty. In other regions, such as Central and South Asia, strong pockets of resistance to eradicating extreme poverty and disease remain, he added.

The period until September 2005 will be critical to making the changes required to attain the MDGs, Sachs argued. But "these goals can be met, strategies can be written, money can find its way down to the community level, communities can be empowered," he added.

Pera Wells, deputy secretary general of the World Federation of United Nations Associations, welcomed Sachs' confidence. Nevertheless, she criticised him for not mentioning the role of civil society in working toward the MDGs. "There are big NGO networks working on the goals," she said. "Civil society should be seen as part of the picture."

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