Of all the MDGs, MDG 8 is the only one to address the responsibility of wealthier countries to assist poorer states in meeting their development and human rights commitments. Although it covers a wide range of transnational policy issues, including trade, aid and debt, it is the only MDG goal that places no concrete quantitative benchmarks to reach by 2015.
While most of the MDGs are focused on achieving change at the national level, MDG 8 aimed to create change at the global level–promoting a global enabling environment that would contribute to seeking commitments and fulfillment from the wealthy developed countries to assist the least-developed countries.
Yet while it is one of the most ambitious in scope and exhaustive in its list of targets, it is the only MDG that places no concrete quantitative benchmarks to reach by 2015. Because there are no benchmarks against which to measure whether progress is adequate, and no sanctions for governments who do not comply with previously-made aid commitments, MDG 8 is a less effective vehicle that it should be for holding developed countries accountable for their international obligations under human rights law to provide assistance and cooperation towards the less developed countries.
So are developed countries are doing as much as they can to meet their responsibilities in consolidating this global partnerships? A review of progress since 1990 reveals worrying trends:
Target 8A of the goal sets out the aim to "develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system." Unfortunately the word "equitable" was taken out of the wording in the operationalization of the Millennium Declaration into the MDGs–and this points to the hidden story about global trade, one about inequality and unfair rules.
The stark truth remains that the rules of the game in the international trade system continue to benefit developed countries at the expense of developing countries. Nowhere is this clearer than in the implementation of the Agreement on Agriculture–OECD countries continue to subsidise their domestic agriculture, whilst support in developing countries has been drastically cut. The market pressures placed on developing countries to quickly liberalize and deregulate their economies, coupled with rich countries' protectionist policies, has served to limit the industrialization of developing countries, contributing to the persistence of poverty.1
The 2008 Financial Crisis, a result of wealthy countries’ regulation failures, has also revealed the limits of liberalization particularly in relation to the global financial system.2
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently stated that more than US$100 billion would be needed if the MDGs are to be met in 2015. Targets 8B and C set out promises to increase Overseas Development Aid (ODA), but no specific targets were set for developed countries. However, at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005, many donor countries reaffirmed their pledge to provide official development assistance at the level of 0.7% of gross national income by 2015.
A review of the OECD data on ODA assistance over time from 2001 to 2009 shows, however, that only five donor countries are on track to reach that level, and that some of the wealthiest countries are those falling most short on their promises. The OECD average in net ODA assistance as a percentage of gross national income (GNI) has changed only 1% since 2005’s momentous pledges. At the rate seen over the last eight years, the OECD countries will meet the 0.7% target only by 2029.
On a more alarming note, the top five donors (United States, France, Germany, United Kingdom and Japan in 2009), which comprise over 60% of total OECD assistance, would only reach 0.7% targets by 2043, if current trends persist. Furthermore, more efforts must be made to ensure that ODA is distributed through avenues that ensure aid effectiveness, hone in on least developed countries and are reinforced by human rights standards and principles.
Target 8D makes promises to address the debt problems of developing countries, which is essential given that the burden of unsustainable levels of debt places a direct constraint on these states’ own capacity to realize the MDGs at the national level. However, while the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) have received a committed debt relief of $48.2 billion,3 many other countries still face incapacitating chains of debt, as well as the imposition of loan conditionalities that often does more harm than good to human development.
Much of the international aid pledged by donor countries still comes in the form of loans rather than grants, despite the fact that increased debt places a direct impediment to the attainment of the MDGs. According to the 2009 MDG Gap Task Force Report, in 2006, 52 developing countries spent more on debt servicing than on public health. Ten countries spent more on debt servicing than on public education. And many of the 40 HIPC-eligible countries are considered to be at risk of or already having fallen back into debt distress, including 21 with moderate-to-high risk (14 of which are at post-completion point) and 10 already facing distress.
This shows that the majority of the HIPC countries remain highly vulnerable, even past completion point. Smaller multilateral and bilateral official creditors and commercial creditors account for one-quarter of total HIPC costs, yet they have only delivered a small share of relief. Half of non-Paris Club bilateral creditors still have not delivered any relief at all, demonstrating zero commitment on behalf of some lenders to the burden-sharing needed to meet MDG 8’s global partnership for the poorest countries.4 Furthermore, even with debt relief, many low-income countries are still in need of additional aid, thus relief cannot come at the expense of ODA.
Increasing access to new technologies and essential medecines
Target 8E and 8F call for developed countries to work with the private sector to ensure better access for developing countries to essential drugs and technology. Although the introduction of technologies, such as mobile phones in particular, have had a vast impact on the developing world, immense inequalities in access to information and communications technology remain between the developing and the developed world, reinforcing the digital divide.5
Between 2003 and 2008, the number of internet users per 100 people increased by double in developed regions compared to developing regions. Whereas more than more than two-thirds of individuals in developed regions have access to the Web, this is true for only 15% for individuals in developing countries.6
Internet access is even considered so important that some Western countries have even affirmed internet access as a fundamental human right and taken measures to secure universal access for their citizens.
Access to affordable essential medicines has never been more crucial with falling incomes and deteriorating health systems as a result of the financial crisis, yet many poor continue to be unable to generically produce essential drugs, calling into question developed countries’ commitment to reducing avoidable deprivation in the developing world in the progressive realization of the right to health. Working with the private sector to improve developing countries access to new technologies and essential medecines requires setting clear regulatory frameworks to ensure that corporations respect, and governments protect human rights for all.
The MDG Global Partnership has also been sorely tested by the 2008 global financial crisis, whose full impacts on the MDG outcomes have yet to be determined. Rather than being an excuse to short-change poorer countries through increased protectionism and budget cuts in foreign aid, however, the crisis only reaffirms the need for rich countries to increase their commitments on aid delivery and equitable distribution.
For this reason, the MDG Gap Task Force noted in 2009 that "future flows of ODA to poor countries are at a risk at a time when they need to be increased both to protect hard-won progress towards the MDGs and to counter the effects of the global slowdown." The economic downturn is not only threatening to impede developing countries’ future progress in order to meet the 2015 deadline, but to reverse hard-won gains made on the MDGs over the last 10 years as well.
In the midst of this crisis, the need for donor states to fulfill their promise on MDG 8 has never been more urgent. The September 2010 MDG Summit should focus on bolstering accountability mechanisms on donor countries as a means to strengthen the global partnership.
1 MDG 8 Towards the UN MDG Review Summit 2010 – Recommendations to the EU, Concord
2 The Millennium Development Goals Report 2008
3 Ibid, p. 46
4 IMF, Factsheet: Debt Relief Under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. July 30, 2010.
5 End poverty 2015, United Nations Summit 20-22 september 2010, Fact Sheet Goal 8, Issued by the UN Department of public information, DPI/2650 H
6 The Millennium Development Goals Report 2010