September 22, 2010
Ten years ago, leaders of rich and poor countries pledged to build a better world by 2015. Among their vital goals: halving extreme poverty and hunger from 1990 levels, reducing by two-thirds the child-mortality rate and slashing maternal mortality by three-quarters and achieving universal primary education.
As they gathered at the United Nations this week, world leaders had to admit that their progress “falls far short of what is needed” to meet those targets by the deadline. The global recession set many countries back. But rich nations — including the United States — have not contributed the money needed to make this a reality.
The best way we can see of turning this around is for wealthy nations to make a generous and concrete pledge of aid for the next five years — and then deliver. The 0.7 percent of gross domestic product endorsed by world leaders in 2002 is a good place to start. Unfortunately, the United States and many others, including Italy, Germany and Japan, fall far short of that.
It was disappointing that President Obama made no hard commitment to increase development aid when he addressed the United Nations conference on Wednesday. The legalistic claims by some of his aides that the United States never really signed on to hard aid targets sends precisely the wrong message. If Washington isn’t willing to fully ante up, there is little hope others will.
Still there was a lot in Mr. Obama’s speech that made good sense to us. He made a compelling case for why foreign aid is an essential component of an effective national security strategy. And he outlined a promising new policy to bring coherence to the often incoherent American foreign aid and development system.
He said the United States would still be a major donor but would put new emphasis on using all of its tools — including trade and export credits — to help poor countries get to the point where they don’t need assistance. He also, rightly, promised to hold recipient countries accountable for improving governance and combating corruption and to be “more selective and focus our efforts where we have the best partners and where we can have the greatest impact.” That, too, is essential.
The meager progress on the so-called Millennium Development Goals underscores why more effective aid is so important but also why more money is needed.
The best news is that the share of people living on less than $1.25 a day seems on track to meet the goal of halving the extreme poverty rate. But most of those gains have occurred in China and other East Asian countries. Poverty rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain way too high. The world is far behind on many other goals.
Between 1990 and 2008, the mortality rate of children under 5 in developing countries declined only from 10 percent to 7.2 percent — far from the target of a two-thirds reduction by 2015. Maternal mortality declined only from 480 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 450 deaths in 2005. The 2015 goal is closer to 120. Enrollment in primary education reached only 89 percent in 2008, up from 80 percent in 1991.
Nobody can know how much money is needed to meet these and other urgent development goals. But, in 2002, rich donor countries agreed that contributions of 0.7 percent of their G.D.P. was, at least, politically feasible. Today, only Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have met the goal. In 2009, the United States channeled 0.2 percent of its G.D.P. to aid. On average, development assistance amounted to only 0.31 percent of G.D.P. of developed nations last year.
On Wednesday, world leaders again urged developed countries to meet this aid target by 2015. Talk is cheap. They have to deliver.