Neglecting the plight of the world’s poor

A recent UN report shows countries are falling well short of reaching pledged development goals

Five years after setting Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the United Nations, world leaders gathered last month to assess their progress in achieving them at the World Summit in New York. If any indicators were needed to this end, the UN Human Development Report 2005 (HDR 2005) has arrived in the nick of time to show that a change in policy and politics is needed if countries are indeed to meet their goals by 2015. These changes include countries putting less emphasis on military forces, expenditure and conflict resolution; and more emphasis on international aid, trade and security. At the moment, the chances of countries meeting the set millennium goals are minimal. This reminder could not be any timelier for an unstable Lebanon.

What are the UN Millennium Development Goals?
At the September 2000 UN summit, world leaders agreed to a set of time-tabled, measurable goals and targets for combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women. The summit’s Millennium Declaration also outlined a range of commitments in human rights, good governance and democracy.

Placed at the heart of the global agenda, the MDGs represent the most comprehensive and detailed set of human development goals ever adopted; a framework for the entire UN system to work coherently together towards a common end. The goals set fell under eight broad categories:

1. The eradication of extreme hunger and poverty and halving the number of people living on less than $1 a day whilst halving malnutrition

2. Achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women

3. Eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary schooling, preferably by 2005 and no later than 2015

4. Reducing child mortality and cutting the under-five death rate by two-thirds

5. Improving maternal health and reducing the maternal mortality rate by three-quarters

6. Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

7. Ensuring environmental stability and cutting by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation

8. Developing a global partnership for development and reforming aid and trade with special treatment for the poorest countries.

The Human Development Report 2005: a timely reminder

The Human Development Report 2005, entitled International cooperation at a crossroads: aid, trade and security in an unequal world was released on September 7 to present the case that “if the world’s governments continue with business as usual, 2005 will be the year in which the pledge of the Millennium Declaration is broken. If they act now to deliver on their pledges to the world’s poorest people, they can make 2005 the start of a decade for development, helping countries to get back on track for achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and forging a new, more equitable pattern of globalization.”

The report for this year provides a range of indicators summing up the status of human development five years after the 2000 MDG declaration. Using country-level trend data, the HDR 2005 estimates the human cost gaps in 2015 between Millennium Goal targets and predicted outcomes if current global trends continue. According to the report, the target for reducing child mortality will be missed, with the margin equivalent to more than 4.4 million avoidable deaths in 2015. Over the next 10 years the cumulative gap between the target and the current trends adds more than 41 million children who will die before their fifth birthday from that most curable of all diseases: poverty. This is an outcome that is difficult to square with the Millennium Declaration’s pledge to protect the world’s children. In addition, the gap between the MDG target for halving poverty and projected outcomes is equivalent to an additional 380 million people in developing countries living on less than $1 a day by 2015. Other gaps were also highlighted in the report, such as that for education (according to the HDR studies, the MDG target of universal primary education will be missed on current trends, with 47 million children in developing countries still out of school in 2015).

The HDR 2005 also traces development performance trends and points to countries that have achieved, are on track to, are lagging, remain stagnant, or have reversed away from the Millennium Development Goals. Highlighting existing inequalities amongst and within countries, the HDR 2005 calls for social justice brought about through better international cooperation; particularly on three fronts: aid, trade, and security. Through presenting case studies and figures, the HDR 2005 contends that current public policy favors the developed world and only through better international cooperation in these three fields can human development be hastened.

The report contends that aid contributes to human development by reducing financing constraints, increasing economic growth, improving the provision of basic services, extending social insurance, supporting reconstruction and meeting global health challenges, while international cooperation in trade contributes to human development through developing an active industrial and technology policy. As for the “human development costs of conflict,” added security will hasten economic growth, create opportunities in education, improve public health and reduce displacement, insecurity and crime.

The case of Lebanon: performing against the trend

Since the HDR 2005 was issued, Lebanon has dropped a notch down to 81st out of 177 countries. It could be argued that the drop merely indicates that some other countries have performed better and have developed at a higher rate, thus leaping over Lebanon on their way up the HDI scale, but this still means that Lebanon is not doing enough. While speaking at the UN on September 16, President Emile Lahoud argued that Lebanon was on its way to realizing its own millennium goals, having created, since the declaration, two institutions: the EU-funded Economic and Social Fund for Development, and the World Bank and Lebanese government-sponsored Community Development Project. However, despite these efforts, without security, Lebanon faces a constant challenge in any development effort. This was highlighted at a press conference in Beirut the day after the release of the report when Finance Minister Jihad Azour supported UNDP resident representative Mona Hammam’s statement that aid, trade and security were the “three major impediments that prevented any developing country (including Lebanon) from achieving any kind of political, economical and social improvement.” Minister Azour also drew attention to the issue of security by stating that “development and security are closely related and both set the base for democracy … We, the Lebanese people especially, are aware of how interlinked those two components truly are.” After all, it is Lebanon’s fractured security sector that has contributed to the killing of “a national development symbol, Rafik Hariri.”

According to a report published this year by the Department for International Development (DFID), entitled: Why we need to work more effectively in fragile states, the definition of a “fragile state” is one that “cannot or will not deliver what citizens need to live decent, secure lives … As such, they significantly reduce the likelihood of the world meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.” Although the report does not include Lebanon in its list of 46 fragile states, focusing more on Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Liberia, by DFID’s definition, Lebanon is a “fragile state.” The Lebanese state at the moment faces a very likely accusation of disability – if not unwillingness – in providing for its people; particularly when it comes to the debate on “secure lives.”

The data for Lebanon included in the HDR 2005 was measured in 2003, two years before the Hariri killing. It was a year of growth, but more in terms of economic growth than human development. Military expenditure remains relatively high and priority to primary health and education remains low. At present, we remain unsure of what course the indicators will take in the short term. The country awaits stability in all sense of the word: political, social, economic and psychological. Once Lebanon has a stable government and functional governance, one hopes that ministers and MPs alike will begin to yield to the peoples’ daily needs. In the meantime, red flags such as the Human Development Report 2005, serve as handy reminders of what is still at stake: while we engage in creating, evaluating and watching internal politics in Lebanon, every day, the Lebanese people continue to ask for a decent life.