Millennium Development Goals in UN spotlight

23 September 2014 – In a time of international crises, it is again the time of the year when heads of state and government from across the world gather at the United Nations headquarters in midtown Manhattan, New York, for the annual General Assembly.

With the 2015 deadline for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals rapidly approaching, the theme for the 69th general debate is “Delivering on and Implementing a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda”.

The UN is expected to use the momentum created by the MDGs to rally governments and civil society countries behind its new international development agenda.

Millennium Development Goals

According to the UN, the developing world has made huge strides towards achieving the MDGs. Global poverty is in decline, more children than ever are attending primary school, child deaths have dropped dramatically, many more people have access to safe drinking water, and initiatives to fight malaria, Aids and tuberculosis have saved millions.

The MDGs are a set of eight concrete, measurable goals, adopted by world leaders in 2000 and set to be achieved by 2015. The eight MDGs – which range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/Aids and providing universal primary education and healthcare – have stimulated progress in some countries.

Some see the MDGs as the most successful global anti-poverty push in history. The UN says its plans for after 2015 will focus on achieving a world of prosperity, equity, freedom and dignity for all. UN member states are reportedly discussing a new set of Sustainable Development Goals to complement or replace the MDGs.

For its part, South Africa has made good progress towards the goals. The grants provided by its extensive social security system have gone a long way towards eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, while the Expanded Public Works Programme has provided skills and jobs to millions of South Africans.

In education, South Africa has introduced no-fee schools and universal, compulsory primary education for those aged seven to 15. Major successes have also been achieved in MDG6, the fight against HIV/Aids.

Rebalancing global power

“Our work continues to promote the key goals of education, health, women’s empowerment, improved quality education – including access for girl children – and also in promoting public participation in governance,” South African President Jacob Zuma said after his arrival in New York on Sunday.

He said South Africa has made significant progress and will continue to work towards the 2015 deadline. Halving the share of the population earning less than $1.25 per person, per day has been achieved, while the share of those experiencing hunger has also been halved.

South Africa is doing well in MDG3, promoting and empowering women. The country has also recorded impressive progress in access to healthcare for all its people through the expansion of health infrastructure.

In a statement released this week, the government said the post-2015 negotiations will take place in the context of the global rebalancing of economic power as a result of a loss of comparative advantage by developed countries, made more pronounced by the global economic meltdown.

“This makes the negotiations of the post-2015 development agenda highly contested, with developed countries seeking to redefine development to support their economic recovery needs, while developing countries try to ensure that the outcome supports its own understanding of development.

“In this regard, the general debate provides a platform for South Africa to advance its strategic priorities in the world’s pre-eminent multilateral forum.”

Zuma is set to address the General Assembly today, as is US President Barack Obama.