UN summit on MDGs closes with promises to speed achievement

Published September 23, 2010

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the UN General Assembly UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The United Nations’ three-day summit on the Millennium Development Goals closed in New York Sept. 22 with promises of more money and more action to achieve the goals by their deadline.

The goals are a set of eight targets designed to reduce by half poverty, hunger, maternal and child deaths, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality and environmental degradation. The world’s leaders agreed in 2000 to achieve the goals by 2015.

"Today we close the most significant global development conference since the Millennium Summit ten years ago," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters as the gathering was winding up. "And we open the final five-year push until 2015."

"We are committed to making every effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015," leaders of the U.N.’s member states said in the outcome document that the summit adopted.

The leaders said that they "recognize that without substantial international support, several of the goals are likely to be missed in many developing countries by 2015."

Also on Sept. 22, Ban launched the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, a drive to save the lives of 16 million women and children. Ban said the private sector, foundations, international organizations, civil society and research groups have committed more than $40 billion in resources over the next five years.

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking to the summit’s final session, renewed the United States’ commitment towards achieving the MDGs.

Obama also called for an end to "the old myth that development is mere charity that does not serve our interests" and "the cynicism that says certain countries are condemned to perpetual poverty."

He announced a new U.S. Global Development Strategy, calling for development that helps nations truly develop by using diplomacy and trade policy along with diplomacy, as well as aid dollars.

Meanwhile, U.N. Anglican Observer Hellen Wangusa told Episcopal News Service as the summit drew to a close that the summit is "not about money, it’s about the will to put the money … which has been mobilized to address the commitments that we made."
Wangusa said the premise for her office’s advocacy work is that "there are enough resources for us all as human beings to meet our basic needs and to have us live in dignity."

"Therefore, the question is not do we have resources or not; the question is how we mobilize those resources, what instruments we use to allocate those resources equitably," she said.

To that end, Wangusa said she and the members of an Anglican delegation to the summit wanted to bring moral and ethical imperatives to the decision-making that took place during the three-day gathering at the U.N. headquarters in New York. She said the Christian imperative transcends the MDGs’ aim to cut poverty by half, which she called "inadequate."

"When Christ fed the hungry, he didn’t feed half. He fed the whole lot and he made sure there was enough stored or left over so as to ensure food security," she said. "That’s how we interpret and understand those goals."

The delegation also relayed the message that "for us, governments come and go; churches do not" and they are a "presence that is trusted on the ground," she said. Decision-makers need to take into account the fact that churches provide tested structures such as schools and hospitals that can deliver the means to raise people out of abject poverty, she added.

"Even beyond 2015, we are still going to be available and committed to carry forward, even when governments are likely to fade or to stall," she said, adding that her office wants to concentrate on those issues that she said fall through the cracks of the MDGs, such as human trafficking.

Diocese of Southern Malawi Bishop James Tengatenga, who also chairs the Anglican Consultative Council, echoed Wangusa’s sentiments during an interview with ENS on Sept. 22. The bishop was in New York as part of the Anglican delegation and to attend a meeting of Wangusa’s advisory council.

Churches, Tengatenga said, "are expected to be the ones to make a difference because people are cynical about NGOs, and are constantly cynical about government and frustrated by government."

Yet, he said, people who work in development have trouble articulating the need to work with churches, perhaps out of concerns about how they will be perceived by others if they partner with faith-based groups and "because the other partnerships seem to be very obvious."

Tengatenga said that advocacy ought to come naturally to people of faith, even if it sometimes feels "presumptuous" to speak for others.

"We live with the people and more often than not before they go anywhere else, they’ve gone to the church and so you can’t then but help be an advocate — one that walks along beside the people and therefore in the end, sometimes, who can speak for the people," he said.

The bishop said that churches must speak because "the compassion and the grace and the ministry of Christ Jesus is precisely that and the church is the body of Christ and speaks the voice of Christ albeit in its fallen-ness."

Saying the that church is already working "in the gutters," Melissa Lawson, a delegation member from the United Kingdom who has worked as a parliamentary researcher and will soon work for the Christian relief agency Tearfund, told ENS that the delegation wanted "to represent ourselves as big players in the development world."

Albert Gyan, a Ghanaian economist who is part of the delegation, agreed, saying the development world may recognize the world of churches, but they do not see the churches’ "full capacity" for such work.

And, he said, church-based advocacy for economic justice is not seen in the same light as the churches’ historic campaigning for human rights. Adding that churches are not perceived as speaking with a "concerted voice" in the economic-justice debates, Gyan said he hopes that the Anglican U.N. office can take the initiative to organize such a voice.

An Anglican Communion News Service report said that Wangusa’s office had compiled a report on what Anglicans are doing to contribute towards the global effort to halve poverty by the U.N.’s 2015 deadline. It included five examples in the Philippines, Yemen, Malawi, Mexico and Burundi. The activities range from medical clinics and micro-lending to alternate energy sources and adult literacy.

The other member of the Anglican delegation was Martina Kabisama of Tanzania.

The Episcopal Church has been committed since 2003 to helping the world achieve the standards called for in the MDGs. The goals formed the basis of the church’s budget priorities for the 2006-2009 triennium and a continued commitment to the goals was included in a different set of priorities for the 2010-2012 budget.

Video streams of individual speakers during the three days of plenary sessions are available here, as is video from MDG-related press conferences and other special summit events.

The texts of the statements by heads of states and other officials made during the two plenary sessions are here, many of them in the native language of the speaker.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly/Quarterly.


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