Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Respect for Human Rights Vital for the Millennium Goals

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World leaders are meeting in New York to assess the progress of the UN Millennium goals (MDGs)—a series of eight objectives that would make the world a better place for those suffering an extreme deprivation of basic human needs.

The goals are realistic and achievable. And, despite the slow pace, several of the objectives are or will soon be fulfilled.

Here are some of the remarkable successes. Between 1990 and 2008, the proportion of underweight children under five declined in developing countries. Ghana and Malawi have utilized voucher programs for fertilizer and seeds to help boost agricultural production. In the case of Ghana, food production increased by 40 per cent. Other agricultural success stories are Bangladesh and Nigeria. The world is on track to meet the MDG target goal of halving the number of people living for less than $1 per day.

Despite these improvements, the prospects of development remain gloomy particularly for Sub-Saharan Africa.

The region has half of the worlds undernourished and children in rural areas are twice as likely to be underweight.

In Rwanda more than 14% of children die before their fifth birthday. And for the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, progress has been stalled by armed violence in the eastern region of the country. These are just a few of the hard realities.

Unfortunately, the talk on ending poverty is missing one crucial recipe. With the exception of few presenters, you get the sad feeling that democracy does not matter anymore.

Writing for the UK’s Guardian blogger Kevin Watkins writes:

Another major deficiency of the MDGs is their failure to recognise human rights as essential to any sustainable development strategy. Human rights are not just symbols; they are also tools. They are valuable because they are operational.

I think a lot of pressure is still needed for African states to democratize fully. It does not matter how much wealthier we get; the absence of individual freedoms is likely to contravene the process.Furthermore, in the absence of functional civil service, it is questionable whether the MDGs can be properly assessed.

It is also worth saying that the African countries that have achieved striking performance are those that take human rights seriously—or are at least trying to do so.

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