Secretary-General’s Remarks at the General Assembly Thematic Debate

By | 1 April 2008

New York – I am grateful for this opportunity to address the General Assembly on the emergency we face in the work to reach the Millennium Development Goals. I thank the President of the General Assembly for organizing this timely debate, and the Prime Minister of Finland for joining us to demonstrate his commitment.

More than half-way to 2015, the MDG track record is mixed. Compared to the year 2000, we can point to undeniable progress: three million more children now survive each year; an additional two million people receive treatment for AIDS; and millions more children are in school.

Much less noticed, but no less impressive, is the progress made toward individual goals in particular countries and regions. For instance, primary school enrolment has increased in countries like Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda; Senegal is making great strides towards meeting the water and sanitation MDG targets; and many countries around the world are demonstrating how the HIV epidemic can be contained.

Impressive progress has been achieved in malaria control through the free distribution of bednets in Niger, Togo, and Zambia. And one of the most striking advances is the 75 per cent reduction in deaths caused by measles across Africa, as a result of initiatives supported by UNICEF and the WHO.

Since 2000, macroeconomic fundamentals and policy implementation have improved markedly, with growth now averaging over 5 per cent across Africa alone.

Many countries have proved that rapid and large-scale progress towards the MDGs is possible. It takes place where strong government leadership, good policies that support private investment and productivity growth, and sound strategies for scaling up public investments are reinforced by adequate financial and technical support from the international community. In this vein, many countries in Asia have led the way with the fastest reduction in extreme poverty in human history.

Clearly, we have made a real difference. Yet we are falling short of what I know we can do. Just past the halfway point of the race to achieve the MDGs, many countries remain off track. This is particularly true across large parts of Africa and for many of the Least Developed Countries. But even some of the fast growing countries of South Asia face serious challenges in improving nutrition and achieving certain other Goals. And some of the middle-income countries in Latin America have struggled to wipe out pockets of extreme poverty.

The challenge of meeting the MDGs is being compounded in the short term by the recent rise in food prices. High food prices threaten to undo the gains achieved so far in fighting hunger and malnutrition. The current situation of steeply rising food prices calls for a substantial increase in investment and expenditure in agriculture. It also underscores the importance of pushing for an open trading system in agricultural commodities – which would benefit countries around the world.

A slowing world economy also increases the immediate challenges faced by developing countries.

And in the longer term, development progress is gravely threatened by the effects of climate change and other major environmental challenges. Developing countries, with limited technological and financial resources, are particularly ill-equipped to adapt to changes in our natural environment that can have adverse impacts on economic and social development. They need additional assistance and resources to support their adaptation efforts, so they can secure existing gains and continue making advances.

Achieving the MDGs also requires that we do more to achieve gender equality and promote women’s rights. We must work to empower women economically, to include them in decision-making processes at all levels, and to combat discrimination and violence against them.

The world’s mixed record on the MDGs and emerging complications like climate change or a global economic slowdown underscores the urgent need for a strong and sustained push towards the Millennium Development Goals. That is why I have already called for 2008 to be a year devoted to addressing the needs of the poorest of the poor, and I have made the MDGs a central priority of my term as Secretary-General.

Last September, I convened the MDG Africa Steering Group to mobilize international financial and development organisations in support of achieving the Goals in Africa, which faces some of the toughest challenges to getting on track. The Steering Group has already identified a first set of initiatives to step up implementation. These include a number of measures:
– launching an African Green Revolution to accelerate economic growth and combat hunger,
– steps to implement comprehensive school feeding programmes using locally produced food and ensuring coverage of micronutrients, and
– recommendation to make critical infrastructure investments that can help raise productivity and integrate Africa into the global economy.

Similar recommendations for concrete action could be prepared for other developing regions.

The General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and its machinery have significantly oriented their work towards realization of the MDGs. ECOSOC, through the Annual Ministerial Review, is intensifying the focus on implementation of the MDGs. Poverty and hunger related MDGs were the centrepiece of the Review last year. This year, we will focus on sustainable development and, in 2009, on public health goals. The approach in the Council system is broad-based and inclusive. Progress can only be achieved if all actors are energized around the MDGs.

UN agencies, funds and programmes are scaling up their support for programmes to attain the MDGs. We are increasing internal coordination and streamlining our procedures to create additional synergies. And we are bringing the energy, resources and expertise of the entire UN system to bear on helping countries achieve the goals.

In each country where a UN Country Team operates, we are systematically working with the Government to align the UN Development Assistance Frameworks with the Goals. And in many countries, the United Nations is playing a central role in supporting the design and implementation of their national strategies to achieve the MDGs and other internationally agreed development goals.

The year 2008 should mark a turning point in progress towards the MDGs. We will take steps to improve the impact of globalization on the poorest people and communities at UNCTAD-XII later this month. In July, the Development Cooperation Forum will discuss ways to increase the effectiveness of such cooperation in supporting achievement of the MDGs. And a high-level meeting on Africa’s development needs will be held on 22 September.

Building on these events, and together with the President of the General Assembly, I am convening a special High-Level Event on the MDGs on 25 September in New York. This gathering will bring together world leaders, representatives of the private sector and our civil society partners to discuss specific ways to energize our efforts. I expect the meeting will also send a strong message that governments are ready to rise to the financing for development challenge.

I look forward to working with Member States to make the September event an unqualified success. Together, we must make this year one of unprecedented progress for the poorest of the poor, so that we can realize a better, more prosperous future for all.

Thank you very much.

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