UN MDG Declaration: What's In, What's Out

A close-up of the program for a panel discussion titled “Human Rights: The Key to Keeping the Promise of 2015,” which was organized by United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The draft Millennium Development Goals declaration agreed last week adopted a rights-based approach to development, Photo by: U.N./Mark Garten

After months of negotiations, United Nations member states at last put together a finalized draft of the declaration on the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.  

The outcome document, as it is called, was agreed on by U.N. member states Sept. 9. The document, dated Sept. 10, is expected to be formally adopted in next week’s high-level MDG summit in New York.

U.N. member states amended certain passages from the 14-page “zero-draft” text, dated May 31, to finally come up with the outcome document. 

Non-governmental organizations have criticized the finalized declaration for rehashing previous promises and generalized commitments.

“Oxfam’s main problem with this is that it’s not action orientated,” the organization’s spokesperson Louis Belanger said as quoted by Reuters. “There’s little of the ‘how’ these commitments will be achieved.”

>> NGOs: UN Strategy on MDGs Thin on Specifics

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon defended the document, saying it was the “maximum and best” that can be achieved at the moment.  

“You need to be realistic,” Ban told Reuters. “This outcome document is the maximum and best we could expect at this time … We need to always base our policies and priorities by considering the realities on the ground.”

>> Ban Ki-moon Rebuts Criticisms on MDG Declaration

New Additions

Several new concepts were added in the agreed outcome document.

The “right to development” and the role of human rights as “an integral part of effective work” toward realizing the MDGs have been highlighted in the finalized draft. Such concepts were missing in May’s zero-draft text.

A passage from the outcome document reads:

“We recognize that the respect, promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of effective work towards achieving the MDGs.”

The rights-based approach to development, advocated by aid groups and non-governmental organizations, begins with defining inalienable human rights, and then ensuring that these rights are enforced, according to Tim Ogden, editor-in-chief of Philanthropy Action. The approach allows aid-recipient communities to hold non-governmental organizations and donor agencies accountable for ineffective aid practices that violate their human rights, Ogden argued.

“The idea is that if you help people assert their rights and strengthen relevant institutions to respect those rights, everyone wins,” according to a blog post by Ogden in Aid Watch.

He noted: “[I]f we adopt the rights-based approach, think of what we could accomplish! Right now, the poor can’t sue an aid agency or NGO for malpractice, no matter what they’re doing. But if we recognized the rights of the poor as expressed by the rights-based approach, then they could hold aid agencies accountable by suing for having their rights violated.”

Another notable addition to the outcome document is support for voting reforms at the International Monetary Fund. It recognizes that the recent financial and economic crisis has adversely affected development gains.

The document underscores the commitment to “reaffirm the importance of enhancing the voice and representation of developing countries in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and notes the reforms undertaken by the World Bank and the progress made by the International Monetary Fund in this direction.” This pronouncement was not contained in the zero-draft version.

Changes in MDG Approaches

There have also been some amendments in the plans for achieving each MDG that were either not stated or highlighted in the zero-draft version, but now put forward or expanded in the outcome document.

- MDG 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

Expediting the progress on MDG 1 rests on “job-intensive” and “inclusive” economic growth, as well as “sustainable development,” among others, according to the outcome document.

The document highlights the “[promotion of] full and productive employment and decent work for all,” including women, the youth and rural populations. That now also covers indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities.

Environmental challenges to “sustainable agriculture development” have also been expanded in the outcome document to include water quality and availability, deforestation, dust, floods, unpredictable weather patterns and loss of biodiversity.

Whereas the zero-draft version called for reclaiming degraded land and increasing investment in risk assessments, early warning systems and disaster preparedness to combat these environmental challenges, the outcome document specifies the need to develop, disseminate and transfer such sustainable agricultural technologies.

- MDG 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education

Donor financing for education initiatives was highlighted in the outcome document as one of the ways to attain MDG 2. The document calls for “adequate and predictable development assistance and international cooperation for education,” which includes “ new, voluntary and innovative” approaches to mobilize education financing.

Development assistance for education “should supplement and not be a substitute for traditional sources of finance,” the outcome document adds. 

The outcome document also underscores the “right of everyone to education,” aligning with the previous statement of the rights-based approach to development.

- MDG 3: Promoting Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women

Promoting women’s empowerment can be achieved by “[ending] discrimination against women and girls in education,” the outcome document specifies. It shifts the focus of women and girls’ education to “free primary education,” a noticeable advancement from “secondary education” in the zero-draft.

While the zero-draft version recommends the expansion of support for girls “especially at the secondary level,” the outcome document calls for specific measures to ensure the retention of girls in school by tracking completion and attendance rates.

The outcome document also pushes for “facilitating” access by women to “affordable” microfinance, particularly microcredit. In the zero-draft, this approach was tied to poverty alleviation or MDG 1, but is now specifically geared toward women.

- MDG 4: Reduce Child Mortality

Ensuring access to drugs and medical technologies is a key strategy aimed at reducing child mortality. The outcome document calls for ensuring the “[affordability] and [availability] of medicines, medical products and technologies.”

Making strides in MDG 4 also requires aid-recipient nations to take the lead by “developing, implementing and evaluating appropriate national strategies, policies and programmes for child survival, preventive pre-natal, para-natal and post-natal measures, vaccinations and immunization,” according to the outcome document.

- MDG 5: Improve Maternal Health

The outcome document highlights the “right of everyone” to physical, mental, and sexual and reproductive health to help achieve the MDG on maternal health.

Economist William Easterly holds a less favorable view when it comes to the right to health.

“The pragmatic approach – directing public resources to where they have the most health benefits for a given cost – historically achieved far more than the moral approach,” Easterly wrote in a 2009 article published in The Financial Times.

“It is impossible for everyone immediately to attain the ‘highest attainable standard’ of health,” Easterly argued. “Political reality is that such a ‘right’ is a trump card to get more resources – and it is rarely the poor who play it most effectively.”

Realizing MDG 5 requires local efforts through community-led approaches, according to the outcome document. Strengthened health systems provide not only “accessible and affordable integrated healthcare services,” but also “community-based preventive and clinical care,” the document states.

- MDG 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases

Preventing HIV/AIDS goes beyond medical treatments - prevention schemes should also address the cultural dimension of combating the fatal epidemic, according to the new document. The social aspect of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention was barely touched on in the earliest draft.

“Prevention programs should take into account circumstances, ethics and cultural values including information, education and communication, in languages most understood by local communities and respectful of cultures, aimed at reducing risk-taking behaviours and encouraging responsible sexual behavior, including abstinence and fidelity,” the outcome document reads.

The document, meanwhile, also addresses non-communicable diseases including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes to help achieve MDG 6. It urges a “concerted action and a coordinated response at the national, regional and global level” to deal with challenges posed by these diseases.

- MDG 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Once again, the outcome document calls for local-led approaches, this time to promote environmental sustainability.

Environmental sustainability should be pursued through “nationally owned comprehensive and coherent planning frameworks,” and the “adoption of national legislation, in accordance with national circumstances, the outcome document states. Developing countries should also be supported both through capacity-building, technology transfer and financial resources.  Pursuing sustainable development will take into account the “respective capabilities of countries,” according to the outcome document.

- MDG 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

While the zero-draft version “urges” rich nations to “make concrete efforts” to meet the target of allocating 0.7 percent of the gross national income to official development assistance, the outcome document notes the “fulfillment” of “all ODA commitments” including the target 0.7 of GNI by raising the rate of aid disbursement. 

Devex News – live breaking news coverage of the Millennium Development Goals and the Sept. 20-22 U.N. MDG summit in New York.

About the author

  • Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.