Dili — Calls by fragile states for greater focus on addressing conflict and fragility have been largely ignored in the outcome document of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit in New York, but critical donors are at least listening to the growing rumble of voices from developing nations.
"The international system is difficult to move, but the fact that key players like parts of the U.N. system, the World Bank and critical donors have picked up on and refer to the g7+ means that that impact is already being made," said Asbjorn Wee, administrator for the International Network on Conflict and Fragility of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which groups rich donor countries.
Back in April, Timor Leste hosted the first meeting of fragile states, collectively known as the g7+, for a closed-door fleshing out of why billions of dollars in global aid continue to miss the target in their countries, despite both sides' previous agreements on aid delivery like the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda.
The fragile states delivered a strong statement to donors at that first meeting. Since then, other countries have joined the fray, bringing the g7+ total to 17 -- including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. All have a clear message: Work with us, not against us, or the MDGs will never be achieved.
The MDGs are a set of eight international targets, including reducing poverty and child mortality, that the world's governments agreed on in 2000 to be achieved within 15 years. The MDG Summit gives world leaders a chance to have review progress on these goals.
With five years to go before the deadline for meeting these goals, no fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved an MDG despite gargantuan injections of aid. In 2007, 37.2 billion U.S. dollars of official development assistance went to fragile and conflict-affected nations, which make up a third of the world's poor.
"Aid is given based on MDG criteria, and from our experience we have found out that before we can get the MDGs, we have to do a few things first. We have to have peace and stability," Timor Leste Minister of Finance Emilia Pires told IPS in Dili.
"It means that you have to build peace and then you have to build a state to manage the whole thing. Peacebuilding and statebuilding must come before the MDGs and if you look at all the literature of the MDGs, it doesn't talk about that," she added.
Oil-rich Timor-Leste finds itself at the forefront of the g7+, having achieved stability after going through spates of violence every two years since independence in 2002. That independence followed 24 years of military occupation by Indonesia and two years of U.N. administration.
But fragile states say the way aid is used to help rebuild their countries is too often shaped by donor priorities, which places an enormous burden on the capacity of recipient countries and negates the need to consolidate peace and stability, said Pires.
"About 8 billion dollars came into Timor between 1999 to 2007. The World Bank said poverty doubled in that time. I know how much money I've injected into the economy and it's about 1.5 billion dollars. Another report from the World Bank said that from 2007 to 2009, poverty went down 9 percent, so something is happening there," added Pires, who took office in 2008 as part of a coalition government.
Coming together on the grandest stage of all -- the MDG Summit in New York on Sep. 20-22 -- the g7+ took aim at donors with a consensus ctatement delivered by Timor Leste President Ramos-Horta.
"Accounting for almost 350 million global citizens, the g7+ stands as the sole independent assembly dedicated to their plight," said Ramos-Horta, who announced that Timor-Leste will be allocating 500,000 dollars towards the g7+.
"All too often international engagement is slow in action and blocked by administrative and bureaucratic constraints. These hinder the effective and real-time engagement required to counter uncertainty, conflict, destruction and loss of life," he added. "Prioritisation should include the principles of peacebuilding and statebuilding as mechanisms to achieve the MDGs."
Despite this call to action, the New York outcome document makes bare mention of conflict and fragility.
Another country that pulled no punches was Sierra Leone, where a decade-long civil war ended in 2002. Jumping straight into human development rather than establishing security and peace did little to advance progress toward the MDGs.
"Clearly, Sierra Leone was going in the wrong direction during the first decade of the MDG agenda," said Ernest Bai Koroma, the country's president. "If the MDGs are to be achieved by 2015, not only should the level of investment be scaled-up, innovative programmes and policies for enhanced economic and social transformation must be further developed and rapidly implemented."
Failure to meet the MDGs cannot be blamed on a lack of global resources and know-how, said the head of the United Nations Development Group, Helen Clark, in New York. "The challenge will be to follow words with action on the ground, to bring about positive change for the billions of people who need the MDG promise of a decade ago to be honoured," she said.
Despite the international community talking the talk, the MDGs "most likely will not be met under the time frame the architects intended" in fragile and post-conflict nations, Ramos-Horta told the U.N. General Assembly this week.
He added: "The sooner we all accept this reality and begin to make amends, to take urgent action, the better."