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‘India likely to miss Millennium Development Goals deadline’

Erna Witoeler, former Indonesian Minister of Human Settlements and Regional Development, was appointed United Nations Special Ambassador for Millennium Development Goals in the Asia-Pacific Region in September 2003.

Written by Mandakinigahlot |
October 27, 2007 12:52:55 am

Erna Witoeler, former Indonesian Minister of Human Settlements and Regional Development, was appointed United Nations Special Ambassador for Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the Asia-Pacific Region in September 2003. The MDGs range from providing global primary education to halving extreme poverty and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015. In the Capital on Thursday, Witoeler talked to Mandakinti Gahlot about the issues at hand, achievements so far and roadblocks ahead. Excerpts:

It’s halfway through a 15-year effort to implement the MDGs. What has been the progress so far in the Asia-Pacific Region and particularly in India?

The progress in the region has been extremely encouraging, particularly in eastern Asia where the percentage of those living in extreme poverty fell from 33% in 1990 to 9.9% in 2004. Many countries have adopted different measures to ensure that the MDGs are implemented properly. Mongolia, for instance, has an additional goal for promoting good governance and eradication of corruption without which it would be impossible to achieve any of the listed goals. China has really taken to goal no. 7—ensuring environmental sustainability—in a huge way. Malaysia has already achieved most of its goals.

In India, there has been some progress but the problem is that the MDGs here are not being approached holistically. The MDGs are inter-dependent. If a group of women are employed to plant trees, you immediately promote three goals—eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, achieving gender equality and ensuring environmental sustainability. So, India needs to realise that progress on one goal will lead to progress on others. However, as far as water and sanitation are concerned, India has made massive progress.

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Another area where India is doing very well is gender equality and the initiative of providing micro credit to rural women is a project every developing nation should emulate.

Do you think India can achieve the target by 2015?

No, I don’t think it can, but so what? People must look at the MDGs as the least they should try for and not some UN imposed necessity. The MDGs are not a UN target but targets of individual nations. In India, some targets may be achieved, some may not be but the focus should be on continued efforts to achieve all targets whether by 2015 or by 2020.

The MDGs have been viewed as overambitious and unrealistic by many nations. A number of developing nations in the region considered them a debt trap at one point and wanted to abandon the goals. How have you dealt with such cynicism?

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Yes, a number of governments in the Asia-Pacific Region thought that MDGs were a way for the UN, World Bank and other international financial institutions to make business for themselves. However, awareness about the project was created with the help of civil society NGOs and the media about the importance of implementing the MDGs.

In an interview in 2005, you had said that international financial institutions (IFIs) were not placing MDGs at the centre of their country strategies and programmes. Has that situation seen any improvement of late?

It’s hard to say whether it has. As leadership changes hands in IFIs, so do strategies. For instance, former World Bank President Wolfensohn was more pro-poor than current President Robert Zoellick. Similarly, with the change of leadership in the Asian Development Bank the focus has shifted from poverty to infrastructure.

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A July 2007 UN MDG report states that while there has been unprecedented decline in poverty in the Asia-Pacific Region, it has been accompanied by rising levels of inequality due to widening economic disparities. Nowhere does that hold truer than in India. How can this be tackled?

Many countries, like Japan, that went through massive growth were able to catch up and eradicate poverty. I have always maintained that reducing poverty does not contradict with development and growth. Countries have to ensure that the benefits of a prospering economy are made available to all its citizens; it is entirely possible to do. In India, there is increased solidarity between corporates, upper and middle classes towards those who are less fortunate.

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First published on: 27-10-2007 at 12:52:55 am

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