Dáil debates

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Priority Questions.

Millennium Development Goals.

3:00 pm

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Question 83: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the fact that so many countries are on course to fail reaching the UN millennium goals and that a recent report, the Global Hunger Index 2007, shows that in countries following the neoliberal model, even where there are high growth rates, the number of those in hunger is increasing, with India, for example, in 94th place of 118 countries in the index; his views on whether the fruits of growth are accruing to a minority and excluding many; and if in terms of Ireland's development policy he will make a statement on the matter. [24973/07]

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Minister of State with special responsibility for Overseas Development, Department of Foreign Affairs; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I share the Deputy's concerns about the rate of progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, in many countries. The Millennium Development Goals report, launched this July, gave us a snapshot of the progress achieved at the midpoint of the 2015 MDG target date. It is indeed a mixed picture. On the positive side, it shows that the proportion of people living in extreme poverty fell from nearly a third to less than one fifth between 1990 and 2004. If this trend continues, then the MDG poverty reduction target will be met for the world as a whole.

However, this is not the case for sub-Saharan Africa. Although the poverty rate there has declined by 6% since 2000, the progress is far too slow. The report gives many other examples of this geographical disparity in progress. It also acknowledges that poverty reduction has been accompanied by rising inequalities in some regions, most notably in Eastern Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS.

These disparities are also reflected in this year's edition of the global hunger index. However, despite this, United Nations Secretary General Ban notes in the foreword to the MDG report that the goals are "still achievable if we act now". I believe this to be true.

I share the Deputy's concern that, in some countries, relatively strong overall economic growth is not being accompanied by a corresponding reduction in rates of poverty and hunger. The White Paper committed the Government to establishing a hunger task force to examine the particular contribution Ireland can make to tackling the root causes of food insecurity, particularly in Africa. The role of the hunger task force is "to identify the additional, appropriate and effective contributions that Ireland can make to international efforts to reduce hunger and thus achieve the first Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015". The hunger task force will make focused recommendations on how Ireland can give practical leadership internationally on the attainment of the Millennium Development Goal on hunger.

Additionally, in its bilateral programme countries, Irish Aid is actively engaged with governments and other donors in national policy and budget allocation discussions, which are aimed at ensuring that funding of basic services and poverty reduction programmes are protected and increased. In this way, we try to guarantee that a significant proportion of the wealth generated by economic growth is used to directly benefit the poor.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Of course, the best way to ensure that economic growth benefits the poor is for the poor to participate directly in generating that growth. This means that growth should occur in those sectors of the economy where poor people are economically active and make their livelihoods. The development assistance committee of the OECD has recently published guidelines for donor countries on policies, which are likely to ensure that growth benefits the poor in developing countries. We are supporting this approach by jointly funding training programmes for donor and developing country officials.

I therefore assure the Deputy that Irish Aid has the issue of pro-poor growth at the centre of its development programmes.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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In regard to the second part of my question, is the Minister of State concerned that in those countries where the neoliberal model of economic transition is being imposed through the IMF and through some conditions attached to the World Bank, some of the most significant and disturbing failures in regard to achieving the world millennium development goals have arisen? For example, 40% of the world's underweight children are in India which reports a high economic growth rate. There is a contradiction between reported high growth and reported increase in the problem regarding any one of the three indicators of child mortality, underweight children and children who are generally deprived.

Is the Minister of State concerned that in Africa, for example, 38 out of 42 countries are on track to miss the millennium development goals on child malnutrition; 27 are off track to reduce the proportion of people who are calorie deficient. Maybe in the course of transmission from my office there is a misprint in my question where India is described as being in 94th place of 118 countries. The correct figure is 24th place. However, it gives one an idea that out of 118 countries in 2004 ranked in terms of crucial indicators all the evidence is that the millennium development goals will be missed. The point on which I wish to press the Minister of State is as follows. Given the contradiction that the single model being proposed — the neoliberal model of a just economy — is yielding a failure to achieve the millennium development goals, will a section in the Department study alternative economic models that might be more inclusive and go farther towards achieving the millennium development goals or will the Irish Aid programme have no research of this kind? There is not much evidence of it yet.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Minister of State with special responsibility for Overseas Development, Department of Foreign Affairs; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Regarding the so-called neoliberal model mentioned by the Deputy, economic policies based on each country's specific situation are required. I hope this will emerge from inclusive and country-level debate within the democratic process in the country in question. Ireland supports a country specific approach. I agree with the Deputy and cannot see why a neoliberal policy or any externally prescribed policy package should be appropriate to a developing country.

The point the Deputy made about India being 24th out of 118 countries would be a cause for concern. There is reason to examine the causes of what has happened. Obviously there are several gender issues, including access to education and the means of productive livelihood, especially for women. Those issues are likely to come to the fore in any debate about India. The research showed that the low status of women in south Asian countries and their lack of nutritional knowledge are important determinants of high prevalence of underweight children to which the Deputy referred. Poor outcomes in the area of child nutrition will lead to a poor showing in the global hunger index to which he referred in his question. I agree with the Deputy regarding the neoliberal policies. Ireland supports a country specific approach and I would like that to continue.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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While there has been an improvement in Bangladesh and Mali when using the same index with the same indicators, we find that progress in India towards the relief of child malnutrition and infant mortality has stopped. Does the Minister of State favour the Department and in particular the development section evaluating the impact of some alternative economic models? Particularly in the case of India, the implications of a human rights approach towards development should include excluded castes as well as children and could consider the gender issue. Would the Minister of State agree that such studies would be a crucial contribution towards Ireland's overseas aid policy?

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Minister of State with special responsibility for Overseas Development, Department of Foreign Affairs; Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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There are some good examples where progress is being made and the Deputy has given some. Progress has also been made in Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda. The Deputy mentioned countries with difficulties. Alternative ways should be provided to deliver aid through the UN and our NGOs and missionaries if, for example, economic instability or other difficulties arise in a country and we cannot provide aid on the basis of giving it to the country.