15Oct Are We Achieving Millennium Goals? – Seán McDonagh SSC

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon and many other world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York on September 20th 2010, to discuss whether the Millennium Goals (MDGs) are going to be achieved by 2015. The MDGs emerged out of concern among development agencies, churches, civil society organisations and politicians that, despite the unprecedented affluence in the world, a significant proportion of the world’s population was living in unbelievable poverty with all the negative consequences which that has for their  well-being.

As a young missionary working on the island of Mindanao in the from  late 1960s onwards, I witnessed the pain, suffering and  degradation which poverty brings to individuals and their families.  After studying Cebuano, the local language for 9 months, I was assigned to a seaside parish called Oroquieta.  I spent three years there and enjoyed the  friendship of many of the parishioners, but one of the most difficult tasks was to bless the remains of young people, ranging from a few weeks to three or four years old, who had died during the  previous day or so.  Many of the parents of these children were peasant farmers who did not have the money to buy basic medicines for their sick children.

Many of the young people had died from  gastroenteritis, an illness which could be easily treated with the right medicine. But these poor people could not afford even basic medicine. During the 1970s the Church in the Philippines tried to respond to the plight of poor people with a many different initiatives.  Some attempted to make basic health care and medicine available to poor people. Those who worked in the area of primary health care focused on preventing illnesses by making sure that the village well was not polluted with animal or human faeces.

At the larger societal level, many groups within the Catholic Church and other agrarian and development agencies tried to secure more rights for tenant farmers.  Whenever it could the Church provided primary school education for poor people. As often happens for missionaries, my introduction to development and ecological issues did not begin at theoretical side.  I was confronted each day by effects of poverty, but because of the world-wide nature of the Catholic Church and the reflection which was taking place in the Church in places such as Latin America I was able to understand the factors which create poverty within poor countries and between rich and poor nations.  I saw how  global economic policies such as those pursued by both  the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), especially in relation to Third World Debt, were devastating poor countries.

The Development Goals emerged in the late 1990s out of these discussions and initiatives. The eight goals were signed at the United Nations in September 2000. The goals also included 21 targets and a series of measurable indicators for each target and the targets were to be achieved by 2015.  The first goal was to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.  The targets included halving the people living on less than $1 a day and halving the proportion of those who suffer from hunger by 2015. Some countries such as China and India have made huge strides in reaching these  goals, though the question whether the development model is sustainable, from an ecological perspective is not at all clear. Sadly, some regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa have made very little progress. Another factor for the major slippage in reaching the poverty reduction goal is that aid budgets in many rich countries, including Ireland, have been slashed dramatically since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008.

The second goal was the achievement of universal primary education by 2015.  Without education people poor people will not be able to break the cycle of poverty. The third and fourth goal – reducing child mortality and promoting maternal health are intimately linked. Unfortunately, improvement in maternal health has been slipping in recent years. It is for this reason that the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon is calling on rich countries to pledge $26 billion 2011 and $42 billion by 2015 to reduce infant mortality and improve maternal health.  Finally, I was delighted to see that  the Millennium Goals figured prominently in the Joint Communiqué between the British Government and the Holy See during the papal visit to Britain.  “On the eve of a summit in New York to review progress towards implementing the Millennium Development Goals, they share the conviction that more needs to be done to address the unnecessary suffering caused by hunger, disease and illiteracy.”