Socialist Worker

UN summit has failed the world’s poorest people

by Mzimasi Makiniki, activist in Malawi
Issue No. 1969

Sahel Tuareg and Pleu herdsmen extract water from a rare well in Niger (Pic: Edward Parsons/

Sahel Tuareg and Pleu herdsmen extract water from a rare well in Niger (Pic: Edward Parsons/IRIN)

The United Nations (UN) summit in New York last week utterly failed the world’s poorest people. Leaders have dashed hopes and squandered opportunities — and empty promises cost lives.

Even if the UN summit had approved the G8 debt deal it would have meant “only” 27,000 children dying a day from the effects of debt and poverty rather than 30,000.

But the summit actually watered down pledges that had been made before.

The commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was just about repeated, but in a diluted form. The commitment by the richer countries to give 0.7 percent of their Gross National Product (GNP) as aid — first made in 1970 — has failed to be renewed.

An opt out allows countries — including the US and Japan — who have not yet formally signed up to the 0.7 percent target to avoid signing up in future.

Instead of any timetable there is an aspiration, a hope that rich countries’ aid may reach 0.35 percent of their income by 2010—half as much as they promised, 40 years too late.

Last week, the world’s leaders said they would give £26.5 billion a year over five years in aid. Most of that is a re-announcement of pledges that have already been made. As little as £8.8 billion of genuinely new money will be delivered by 2010.

Even the £2.2 billion of new money agreed at the G8 summit for 2006 falls far short of the £33 billion that would be required next year alone to get the millennium goals back on track.

A key question on all the aid commitments is what strings go with them. The G8 in Gleneagles took some steps towards formally relaxing the conditions of privatisation and maketisation that bedevil all aid packages—although in practice there would still have been massive pressure to go along with neo-liberal demands.


The UN document says developing countries must take “primary responsibility” for economic and social policy, but then dictates what those policies must be.

Over debt the G8 said that certain debts of 18 countries would be cancelled. Analysts estimate that the deal on debt will save these countries an average £0.6 billion each year.

The deal, therefore, cancels only 10 percent of the debts that need to be cancelled if the millennium goals are to be achieved.

But even these proposals have yet to be ratified by the shareholders of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

About 100 million more people are living in poverty in Africa than 15 years ago. Since 1990 in Africa life expectancy has fallen by 15 years.

The total number of people suffering from hunger has risen since 1997 and over 150 million children in developing countries are underweight.

The current lack of progress means 75 million children in more than 80 countries worldwide will still remain out of school by 2015.

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