THE UNITED NATIONS Millennium Summit, which ended on Friday, was the last big event of this year's summer summit season. It came soon after the Group of Eight meetings in Okinawa, and will be closely followed by the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
This summer of summits came at the end of a decade of major international conferences: Children's Summit (1990), Jomtien Conference on Education for All (1990), Earth Summit (1992), Conference on Human Rights (1993), Conference on Population and Development (1994), Conference on Women (1995), Social Summit (1995), Food Summit (1996), Dakar Education Forum (2000), Social Summit (2000).
There is a growing concern that these international conferences have become a caricature, simply reaffirming what was agreed at the last conference and pushing targets back another decade. This fear is compounded by recent revelations that the world is way off track from meeting the targets for 2015 which were adopted at these conferences. They include:
Halving income poverty by 2015: Approximately 1.1 billion people live on less than $1 a day. If the trend continues, the 2015 poverty target will be missed in most of the world's poorest regions.
Achieving universal primary education by 2015: If current trends continue, there will be more than 75 million children out of school in 2015, and millions more will receive a substandard education.
Reducing child deaths by two-thirds by 2015: Child mortality is declining at less than half the rate required to achieve this target.
The blame for this lack of progress lies not with the United Nations, but primarily with nations that invest more in arms than health and education, or that fail to control corruption.
The blame also lies with the rich countries which, despite their rhetoric, refuse to look beyond their own short-term interest. Rich countries have the capacity to promote and champion the eradication of poverty across the globe. Their failure to do so reflects a paucity of spirit that offends the legacy of the founders of the United Nations.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is made up of 29 nations that share the principles of the market economy, pluralist democracy and respect for human rights. But OECD nations spent a miserly 0.23 percent of GDP on aid in 1998, compared with 0.37 percent in 1980 and 0.48 percent in 1965. There was a drop of $4 billion in aid to the poorest 48 countries between 1992 and 1998.
Developing countries spent the equivalent of 20 percent of their total exports on servicing debt in 1998. Total debt stock of the poorest 48 countries stood at $180 billion.
The Group of Seven industrialized nations promised $100 billion in debt relief to 33 countries. But so far, agreement has been reached on the cancellation of only $12 billion over the next decade, and only nine countries have received any relief.
Despite rich countries' rhetoric on opening markets, poor countries lose $700 billion per year because of protectionism.
At consecutive summits throughout the 1990s, world leaders committed themselves to the goal of achieving universal basic education, and 159 governments at the 1990 World Summit for Children endorsed the goal of universal access to basic education by the year 2000.
In 1990, the Jomtien World Conference on Education For All committed 155 governments to achieving universal access to and completion of primary education. The goal posts were shifted by the time of the World Summit for Social Development in 1995, which established 2015 as the target for universal primary education, and 2005 as the target date for eliminating gender discrimination in primary and secondary education.
These shifting targets have been accompanied by grand rhetoric from the leaders of all of the world's most powerful countries.
But there is a glaring credibility gap between this rhetoric and the reality of a continuing global education crisis.
Currently, about 125 million children are not attending primary school and the figure will stand at about 75 million in 2015 . This understates the full extent of the education deficit because more than one-quarter of children starting school leave before gaining basic literacy and numeracy skills.
The gender gap in enrollment is declining at an insignificant rate; there is now no chance of meeting the interim target of eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005. Worldwide, girls account for two-thirds of children out of school. The greatest crisis is in Sub-Saharan Africa, where on current trends the number of children out of school will be greater in 2015 than it is today.
The human costs of this global education crisis are incalculable. Lack of basic education undermines efforts to generate the sustained and equitable growth needed for poverty reduction. The 2015 targets for education will be missed unless there is a change in political will and international mobilization behind a global initiative to deliver universal primary education.
An effective global initiative should achieve the following:
Link resources to good policies. Once governments have developed national plans for basic education that have been reviewed and accepted, entitlement to enhanced financing from donors should be automatically triggered.
Raise resources. Achieving universal primary education would cost an extra $8 billion a year (equivalent to four days of global military spending). The international community should undertake to mobilize $3 billion through increased aid, debt relief and redistribution within existing aid budgets. Innovative partnerships between governments and the private sector could mobilize a further $1 billion per annum. Developing country governments would assume responsibility for mobilizing another $4 billion.
Include a clear time frame for the development of the initiative and its funding.
Another crucial step is for governments and international organizations to commit to delivering free education, and to put an end to policies of cost recovery.
Hypocrisy on trade
Over the past decade the leaders of the world's richest countries have paid lip service to their vision of the people of all nations sharing in the expanding fruits of trade. They have also repeatedly expressed their commitment to opening their markets to products from poor countries.
"We are calling for all the richer countries to offer duty-free access to the least developed," Pascal Lamy, (European Union Commissioner for Trade) told the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference.
Other world leaders, including President Clinton, have expressed their commitment to reform. [I am] "grateful that there is a growing recognition that the world trading system and the WTO itself should be more open and accountable. I think this is very, very important," Clinton said last year.
At the same time, rich countries have criticized the practice of dumping and have pledged to end subsidies, particularly in agriculture. But the reality is that the world's 48 poorest countries have seen their share of world trade decline by more than 40 percent since 1980 to a mere 0.4 percent.
Rich countries have jealously guarded access to their markets. Trade barriers cost developing countries $700 billion a year in lost export earnings. Rich-country pledges on market access for the least-developed countries have so far been meaningless, because they exclude the main products of export interest to poor countries. The agriculture and textiles sectors, in which poor countries are most competitive, remain subject to a prohibitive array of high and escalating tariffs, quotas, and seasonal restrictions.
WTO patent rules are another example of protectionism. Industrialized countries have pushed through rules that extend to 20 years the standard period for patent protection. This will fuel the knowledge gap between rich and poor countries, inhibit technology transfer, and lead to many poor people suffering from treatable diseases because they cannot afford medicines.
Industrialized countries continue to subsidize and dump their agricultural exports. The 29 nations in the OECD spend $350 billion subsidizing their farmers. In the United States, this translates into a subsidy per farmer of around $20,000. As a result of dumping, these farmers are competing with and destroying the livelihoods of producers in developing countries, many of whom are living on less than $1 per day.
World leaders must act to close the gap between their rhetoric and reality, and make trade work for the poor.
Rich countries should immediately grant tariff- and quota-free access for all exports from the 48 poorest countries.
OECD countries must also act swiftly to eliminate all forms of support for agricultural exports. Domestic agricultural subsidies should be redesigned so that they promote social and environmental objectives without damaging developing-country producers. The length and scope of patent protection should be reduced and redesigned to promote transfer of appropriate technology.
Rich countries should provide greatly increased aid to build trade capacity and technical assistance to enable poor countries to formulate trade policy, negotiate, and enter into dispute settlement processes on an equal basis.
The WTO must be made more open, democratic, and accountable to ensure that future trade negotiations promote poverty reduction.
Proliferation of small arms
Over the past decade, world leaders have regularly proclaimed their commitment to conflict prevention. "Today, Americans may be proud that, around the world, the United States is standing with the peacemakers against the bomb-throwers: supporting the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland; trying to end conflicts in Africa; and striving with our partners to build peace in Bosnia and Kosovo," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said recently.
But the reality is that in 1994, up to 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda in the space of one month. This was the most horrific example of the destruction of the hope of the founders of the United Nations that the world would "never again" experience the horrors of war and genocide.
In Africa and elsewhere, small arms are the new weapons of mass destruction. Their proliferation and misuse continue to bring death and intimidation to millions of civilians and to undermine economic prosperity and good governance. The proliferation of small arms is facilitated by a malign globalization which takes the form of illegal, semilegal and legal trade in arms, drugs, diamonds and other commodities. People living in and operating from some of the world's most powerful countries (particularly in the European Union and countries aspiring to join the EU) are heavily involved in this trade.
The inconsistency of the response of powerful governments to conflicts around the world makes a mockery of the aims of the founders of the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council does not prioritize the areas of greatest insecurity for action. It prioritizes the areas of greatest economic and political importance.
The contrast between the interest in Kosovo and East Timor on the one hand, and everywhere in Africa on the other, illustrates this point. There has been a complete absence of commitment to resolve the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sierra Leone demonstrates how U.N. missions are only as strong as the commitment of the more powerful nations. Intermittent interest meant that, until recently, U.N. troops there were worse than ineffective.
As Western countries have gotten richer in the past 10 years, the proportion of their wealth spent on humanitarian aid for the victims of conflicts and natural disasters has gone down by 30 percent. Furthermore, aid is grossly skewed against those emergencies beyond the media spotlight. Donor governments gave $207 for every person in need to the 1999 U.N. appeal for Kosovo and the rest of the former Yugoslavia. Those suffering in Sierra Leone received $16 a head, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a little over $8.
There are a number of simple measures that governments should pursue within the United Nations to close the credibility gap on conflict and to start to put an end to the poverty and suffering that conflict generates.
An international code of conduct needs to be developed that prohibits the export of arms to anywhere they might be used to violate human rights, fuel aggression, or undermine development.
Illicit markets in commodities such as drugs and diamonds must be effectively closed down, particularly where there are links to the illicit weapons trade. There must also be clear agreement on the criteria needed to trigger peacekeeping action by the U.N. Security Council.
Powerful countries should consistently, swiftly and generously contribute to U.N. peace-support operations, wherever they are. The response to humanitarian crises should be far more generous, and determined by need, not strategic interest or media coverage.
Raymond C. Offenheiser is president of Oxfam America, one of 11 aid agencies that make up Oxfam International, which works throughout the developing world.