Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A cheer for David Cameron

Against vigorous opposition from a substantial section of his party,  David Cameron has stuck to his undertaking that Britain will keep and soon achieve  its promise (made in the 1960s!) of devoting 0.7% of our GDP to aid to the poorest countries. The aid agencies, of which I am an enthusiastic supporter, have not been all that effusive in publicly  applauding  him for this.

Now there are further reasons for applause.  Last week Cameron co-chaired, with President Yudhoyono of Indonesia and President Sirleaf of Libera, a UN panel which aims to set the pattern for post-2015 development in the poorest countries.

The Millennium Development Goals, established  by the world community as a more substantial way of celebrating the year 2000 than domes and fireworks, set targets for 2015.  These are:

  • to halve the numbers living in absolute poverty (defined now as living on less than  the equivalent of $1.25 per day)
  • to achieve universal primary education
  • to achieve equality in education for girls with boys at both primary and secondary levels (this to be reached by 2006)
  • to reduce under 5 infant mortality rates by two thirds
  • to reduce by three quarters the proportion  of women dying in childbirth
  • access to contraception for all women and men who want it
  • to adopt measures for sustainable "green" growth
There was at the time much criticism of the value of setting targets, but at least their existence both highlights the problems and provides a crude method of measuring  progress.  I look forward to  world concern  for these issues being aroused  again when 2015 is reached and they are highlighted  once again.

The purpose  of the present initiative, in which Cameron is taking a lead, is to plot progress   for the next 15 years.  The target is ambitious: not just to halve, but to eradicate absolute poverty by 2030.  At the moment the assumption, outlined in the Guardian by Larry Elliott,  is that this can be achieved by:
  • governments in the  developed world fulfilling their aid obligations
  • governments and companies being more transparent about their activities;
  • clamping down on corporate tax evasion
  • steps being taken to prevent farmers from being forced off their land.
As with the 2015 goals, these are subject to criticism. In  particular, and here the fault appears to lie at Cameron's door, there is no mention of  a reduction in inequality.  The 1.2billion poorest people in the world account for only 1% of world consumption  while the billion richest consume 72%, but, rather than do a bit of sharing, we are to rely on growth, and the dubious notion that the rising tide will lift all boats, to give the poorest the chance of a decent standard of living.

Nevertheless, Cameron deserves credit for lifting his gaze above  the current squabbles arising from our domestic so called austerity, which two thirds of the world's population would see as luxury, and associating himself prominently with world humanitarian goals.

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