World 2015: Hope on hold

Grand rhetoric and lofty goals are not backed with the resources to deliver the Third World from poverty, ignorance and war.

September 10, 2000|By RAYMOND C. OFFENHEISER

THE UNITED NATIONS Millennium Summit, which ended on Friday, was the last big event of this year's summer summit season. It came soon after the Group of Eight meetings in Okinawa, and will be closely followed by the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

This summer of summits came at the end of a decade of major international conferences: Children's Summit (1990), Jomtien Conference on Education for All (1990), Earth Summit (1992), Conference on Human Rights (1993), Conference on Population and Development (1994), Conference on Women (1995), Social Summit (1995), Food Summit (1996), Dakar Education Forum (2000), Social Summit (2000).

There is a growing concern that these international conferences have become a caricature, simply reaffirming what was agreed at the last conference and pushing targets back another decade. This fear is compounded by recent revelations that the world is way off track from meeting the targets for 2015 which were adopted at these conferences. They include:

Halving income poverty by 2015: Approximately 1.1 billion people live on less than $1 a day. If the trend continues, the 2015 poverty target will be missed in most of the world's poorest regions.

Achieving universal primary education by 2015: If current trends continue, there will be more than 75 million children out of school in 2015, and millions more will receive a substandard education.

Reducing child deaths by two-thirds by 2015: Child mortality is declining at less than half the rate required to achieve this target.

The blame for this lack of progress lies not with the United Nations, but primarily with nations that invest more in arms than health and education, or that fail to control corruption.

The blame also lies with the rich countries which, despite their rhetoric, refuse to look beyond their own short-term interest. Rich countries have the capacity to promote and champion the eradication of poverty across the globe. Their failure to do so reflects a paucity of spirit that offends the legacy of the founders of the United Nations.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is made up of 29 nations that share the principles of the market economy, pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. But OECD nations spent a miserly 0.23 percent of GDP on aid in 1998, compared with 0.37 percent in 1980 and 0.48 percent in 1965. There was a drop of $4 billion in aid to the poorest 48 countries between 1992 and 1998.

Developing countries spent the equivalent of 20 percent of their total exports on servicing debt in 1998. Total debt stock of the poorest 48 countries stood at $180 billion.

The Group of Seven industrialized nations promised $100 billion in debt relief to 33 countries. But so far, agreement has been reached on the cancellation of only $12 billion over the next decade, and only nine countries have received any relief.

Despite rich countries' rhetoric on opening markets, poor countries lose $700 billion per year because of protectionism.

At consecutive summits throughout the 1990s, world leaders committed themselves to the goal of achieving universal basic education, and 159 governments at the 1990 World Summit for Children endorsed the goal of universal access to basic education by the year 2000.

In 1990, the Jomtien World Conference on Education For All committed 155 governments to achieving universal access to and completion of primary education. The goal posts were shifted by the time of the World Summit for Social Development in 1995, which established 2015 as the target for universal primary education, and 2005 as the target date for eliminating gender discrimination in primary and secondary education.

These shifting targets have been accompanied by grand rhetoric from the leaders of all of the world's most powerful countries.

But there is a glaring credibility gap between this rhetoric and the reality of a continuing global education crisis.

Currently, about 125 million children are not attending primary school and the figure will stand at about 75 million in 2015 . This understates the full extent of the education deficit because more than one-quarter of children starting school leave before gaining basic literacy and numeracy skills.

The gender gap in enrollment is declining at an insignificant rate; there is now no chance of meeting the interim target of eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005. Worldwide, girls account for two-thirds of children out of school. The greatest crisis is in Sub-Saharan Africa, where on current trends the number of children out of school will be greater in 2015 than it is today.

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