Thursday, September 23, 2010

What the leaders should take away from the MDG summit

Now that the Millennium Development Goals summit at the UN is completed, here comes the commentary on it.

The leaders will go away from UN thinking they accomplished something, that they showed they care, that they pledged to do something. The problem with these good feelings is that they subside and morph into inaction.

From the Guardian's Poverty Matters blog, writer Larry Elliott points to several recent studies that world leaders should keep in mind long after the summit is over.

Let's just examine a few pieces of evidence that have emerged in recent weeks. Exhibit number one comes from the International Monetary Fund, which, in a study it prepared for the New York summit, noted that the economic crisis of the past three years has been a setback in the fight against poverty. The IMF estimates that 71 million fewer people will have escaped absolute poverty by 2020 than would have been the case had the financial meltdown not occurred.

Exhibit number two was a report from Unicef highlighting the gulf between the life chances of rich and poor children, not only between developed and developing countries but within developing countries themselves. In the least-developed nations of sub-Saharan Africa, a child born into one of the most impoverished families is three times more likely to be underweight than a child growing up in the richest 20% of families in the same country.

Inequality, in other words, is everywhere.

Exhibit number three is the recent sharp increase in food prices, up almost 17% in the past year according to the Economist. In part, this is due to the impact of financial speculators, but there is a structural reason why hedge funds are buying up farms in poor countries. The rapid industrialisation in China is leading to much higher demand for food than the shrinking agricultural acreage can cope with. The dependency of China, now the world's second biggest economy, on imports of food to feed its 1.3 billion people is growing inexorably, and that is ratcheting up prices.

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