Interview: "Partnership and commitment" needed to achieve MDG targets in Africa: UNDP official

15:14, September 14, 2010      

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As the high-level summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches, " partnership and commitment" will be essential for Africa to sustain progress in achieving the targets, a UN official told Xinhua in a recent interview.

Selim Jahan, director of the Poverty Practice Division of the UN Development Program (UNDP), said a "concrete plan of action" is needed to help the region overcome challenges in the wake of the global economic crisis.

Over 150 heads of state or government will gather at the United Nations Headquarters in New York next week in order to assess the status of the efforts to reach the MDGs targets and revitalize efforts to meet the eight anti-poverty goals by the 2015 deadline.

As world governments continue to grapple with the effects of the recent economic downturn, food insecurity, oil price volatility and climate change, the prospects of achieving the MDGs by the target date have been thrown into uncertainty -- particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Jahan warned that sub-Saharan Africa will face "severe human development impacts" as a consequence of the crises.


According to the 2010 World Bank global monitoring report, "sub- Saharan Africa poses the greatest challenge, it has the highest poverty rates and will have the most difficulty achieving its regional poverty reduction targets."

Between 2000 and 2009 the GDP growth rate in sub-Saharan Africa has gone from 5.5 percent to 2.1 percent, according to Jahan.

Reduced global demand for exports, decline in capital flows including foreign direct investment (FDI), and remittances are part of the global financial and economic crisis' immediate impact on the region.

Despite the immediate downturn, he noted that the most devastating consequences will be felt in the long term, as they threaten to erode sustained progress in development.

The impact on infant mortality are particularly tragic, " because of the crisis in 2009, estimates have been that an additional 30,000 to 50,000 children are dying in sub-Saharan Africa," said Jahan.

Budget constraints on donor countries have also exacerbated the situation, as commitments to delivering aid continue to be unfulfilled.

Jahan indicated the peculiar trend in the flow of external financing or official development assistance (ODA) to sub-Saharan Africa.

"Between 2007 onwards, total amount of aid to sub-Saharan Africa has actually gone up from 39 billion U.S. dollars, to 41 billion, to 44 billion. Now does it mean that the commitments of the donors have been kept? No," he said, citing that an additional 17 billion U.S. dollars could have been delivered in ODA if commitments had been met.

Indicating that aid distribution poses another issue in development funding, Jahan said that tracking the flow of ODA in sub-Saharan Africa "needs to be revisited." In essence, there is a need to track where the money is going.

Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Tanzania are the three major recipients of aid in the region. "These are all big countries in sub-Saharan Africa, therefore a number of smaller countries may not get the kind of assistance -- particularly the ODA -- that they are so much dependent upon. I think this is one issue that needs to be looked at," said Jahan.

As the global economic crisis continues to unfold, producing growth in Africa will not come solely from money and resource handouts.

Resources and aid are important, Jahan noted, but they cannot stand alone. "We cannot have a resource-centric approach to the MDGs, it does not work that way," he said.

"You cannot say give me 50 billion dollars today, I'll take care of poverty tomorrow. There are more structural issues, more complex realities that need to be dealt with," he added.

Progress in meeting the development targets will be largely dependent on strategies that allow sub-Saharan African countries to help themselves.


Jahan highlighted that "national commitment" and "national ownership" are essential for sub-Saharan African states to make more effective use of both their macro and micro-economic policies for development.

Commitment and ownership "have to be formulated, organized, implemented locally. They cannot be implanted or be pushed down from outside. National ownership is absolutely important," said Jahan. Yet, commitment cannot come if one does not have the capacity to do so, he added.

With demand for food in sub-Saharan Africa expected to reach 100 billion U.S. dollars by 2015 according to World Bank estimates, food insecurity presents a major bottleneck in efforts to build national capacity.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that 30 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from hunger.

With agriculture providing 30 percent of GDP and employing 70 percent of the population, Jahan said national food security policies should hinge on three dimensions: enhancing agricultural productivity, linking food security with nutritional needs, and social protection for vulnerable groups.

Developing a cost-effective marketing system that will provide an integrated package of inputs to farmers and climate change adaptation are key. "I think sub-Saharan Africa is ready for an African green revolution, and I think we should support them on that," he said.

Despite the bleak outlook for progress in achieving the MDGs provided by the statistical data, there are examples of success.

The introduction of improved seed and advances in technology have increased agricultural productivity in Ghana. As a result, " it has been able to reduce the incidents of hunger from 34 percent to 9 percent between 1990 and 2004. Ghana is very much on its way to eliminate hunger," said Jahan.

Progress has been uneven throughout sub-Saharan Africa, partly due to the geographic enormity of the region. Although one country may cite progress in combating hunger, another may see an increase in child mortality rates.

Jahan noted that this diversity, can be used to establish partnerships throughout the developing world -- particularly through what he calls "south-south collaboration."

"In the South you have so many development experiments going on, you have so many innovative approaches. For example, India has done a great job with their mid-day meal program at schools, where 110 million children are benefiting -- can (this program) be replicated in Nigeria?"


Ten years have passed since 189 UN member states signed the Millennium Declaration that established the Millennium Development Goals. With only five years left until the 2015 deadline, sub- Saharan Africa faces a steep uphill climb to overcome challenges.

As the September MDGs summit approaches, Jahan says he'd like to see a message of hope and a concrete plan of action from world leaders.

"I want to see a message of hope based on the success stories, the proven interventions, the country level evidence. There can be a message of despair, but that is not going to help anybody," he said.

"We are not just talking in terms of rhetoric," Jahan emphasized. "If we have a positive message with very concrete evidence, if we have a concrete action plan and we have committed partnerships, then I think we have achieved a lot."

There are no excuses for stalling progress in achieving the MDGs, said Jahan. "I strongly believe that the world has the resources, and the knowledge, and the technology to make a breakthrough."

"I think basically what we need to do is put our heads, hands and hearts together. That 3-H approach can really make a difference," he added.



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