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Millennium ambition 'lost in translation', warns new report on MDGs

Much of the radical ambition of the Millennium Declaration got ‘lost in translation’ when the Millennium Development Goals were drawn up, says Christian Aid in a new report on progress towards the MDGs.

The Declaration’s brave determination to confront inequality, promote sustainability and increase people’s participation in political decisions are almost absent from the eight MDGs, which were meant to help achieve the principles enshrined in the Declaration. The document was signed by 189 heads of state in 2000.

‘With the MDGs focusing primarily on seeking to halve– but not eradicate – the want of some of humankind’s most basic needs, the ambition of the Declaration was lost or weakened,’ said Alex Cobham, Christian Aid’s Chief Policy Adviser and the author of the report, Poverty Over: We’re All In This Together.

‘The Declaration’s emphasis on empowering people living in poverty was somehow translated into telling poor counties what their priorities should be. Its emphasis on powerful countries and companies meeting their responsibilities to others was somehow translated into a system which fails to hold them accountable for their part in fuelling global poverty.’

The new report, published before next week’s UN Summit to assess progress towards the MDGs, recognises that the Goals have helped hundreds of millions of people living in poverty.

‘There has been welcome progress towards addressing some important areas of human need – not least around clean water and gender equality in education,’ added Alex Cobham. ‘However, progress has been significantly behind the target level in many areas, including maternal and child mortality, hunger and access to sanitation.’

The new report argues that the fundamental reason for the failure of the MDGs to achieve more is that they are based on a flawed understanding of poverty – one which ignores the root causes of the problem.

‘The MDGs have achieved a lot but there is a long way to go because they were flawed from the beginning,’ said Alex Cobham. ‘They fail to address the causes of poverty and they are blind to inequality, unsustainability and the importance of ordinary people having a say in decisions which affect them.

‘Where the Declaration recognizes that poverty is complex and based on a lack of power, the MDG framework is weakened by focusing on needs rather than causes.

‘Inequalities between groups – for instance based on gender, ethnicity and caste – can be especially pernicious in undermining human development. Why should membership of a particular group prejudice anyone’s chances of a good life?’ asked Alex Cobham.

Despite the flaws in the MDG approach, Christian Aid recognises that it is the only global process aimed at poverty eradication and that it offers – along with any potential successor after 2015 – the best hope the world has of major progress towards ending poverty.

Christian Aid’s new report calls for several reforms to the current MDG process. These include making rich countries more accountable for their part in the achievement of the Goals and ensuring that much wider progress is made towards equality between women and men. The MDGs should also be amended to reflect improvements in our understanding of climate change and the urgency of tackling it.

For the years after 2015, the report argues that a successor to the MDGs is vital – one which truly reflects the ambition of the Declaration and in which power, inequality and sustainability take centre stage.

To download a copy of the report, go to: www.christianaid.org.uk/images/were-all-in-this-together.pdf
If you would like further information please contact Rachel Baird on 0207 523 2446, 07545 501 749 or rbaird@christian-aid.org

Notes to editors

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in nearly 50 countries. We act where the need is greatest, regardless of religion, helping people build the lives they deserve.

2. Christian Aid has a vision, an end to global poverty, and we believe that vision can become a reality. Our report, Poverty Over, explains what we believe needs to be done – and can be done – to end poverty.  Details at http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/poverty-over-report.pdf

3.  Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 100 churches and church-related organisations that work together inhumanitarian assistance and development.  Further details at http://www.actalliance.org

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit www.christianaid.org.uk