A UN summit on halving poverty and hunger in the world by 2015 has ended with ambitious goals, but little new substance, says a top Swiss official.
Martin Dahinden, head of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), told journalists in New York on Wednesday that the final document did not contain a really strong, collective commitment to achieve the so-called millennium goals (see box on right).
He explained that it had been a compromise, worked out in tough negotiations that had gone on for months.
But although the aims had by no means been achieved, it would be wrong to be pessimistic, he said. "Even if many expectations were not fulfilled, there has been progress.“
It is now much clearer than it was in 2000 that development must be more than aid.
It was also good that the conference – which was addressed by world leaders, including US President Barack Obama – raised public awareness of the millennium goals, and that the meeting had forced both donors and recipients to reflect on what they have done so far.
"In the final resort, the important question is what happens now as far as implementation is concerned,” he said.
Switzerland took an active part in the negotiations ahead of the summit and had pushed for the inclusion of four areas that are of vital importance if the goals are to be achieved, Dahinden explained.
In the first place, the situation of so-called “fragile states” needs to be taken into account more when development strategies are worked out: conflict and armed violence hold back development.
Secondly, more attention needs to be paid to respect for human rights, since sustainable development is impossible without this.
The third point is that donors and recipients must be accountable to each other. Donor states must keep their promises, while recipients have to be able to demonstrate how the aid has been used.
Fourthly, the private economy must play a more important role. Aid alone is not enough. A country can only develop if its economy grows, as Obama pointed out in his speech, Dahinden declared.
“We can make substantial progress, but implementation depends on the political will of each country,” he said when asked how optimistic he was that the millennium goals would be met by 2015.
He added that he had been positively surprised by many of the declarations, but nevertheless had a warning. “We know that declarations sometimes remain just that, and are not followed by deeds.”
Switzerland is one of the countries which has not met the target of setting aside 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic product for development aid, he admitted.
But he expressed confidence that a bill presented to parliament last week to raise the rate 0.5 per cent would be approved.
Switzerland was not convinced by a French proposal to tax financial transactions to raise money for development, Dahinden said. The Swiss government thinks it would make more sense to introduce a tax on CO2 emissions.
The three day conference produced a final document called “Keeping the promise”, which reasserted the determination of UN members to achieve its goals.
“We are determined to collectively advance and strengthen the global partnership for development, as the centrepiece of our cooperation, in the years ahead,” the document says.
UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon described the meeting as the most important development conference since the organisation first agreed the goals in 2000.
However, a representative of the Alliance Sud group of Swiss non-governmental organisations (NGOs) regretted that the final document had contained nothing specific.
There is still a lack of political will to combat poverty, Markus Brun of the Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund told swissinfo.ch.
But it was positive that states had been forced to take stock.
He also welcomed the discussion about a tax on financial transactions.
“This idea is getting support from more and more countries,“ he said, adding that it was a pity that Switzerland was not among them.
It is essential to combat more actively the causes of poverty, such as lack of democracy and good governance, he pointed out.
It was also important to fight against the flight of capital and tax evasion in developing countries. The NGOs want to see Switzerland playing a more active role in promoting new regulations for the international finance system.
Millennium Development Goals
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals that all 192 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015.
• Goal 1: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger
• Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
• Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
• Goal 4: Reduce child mortality rate
• Goal 5: Improve maternal health
• Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
• Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
• Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development
US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were among the 140 world leaders attending the MDG summit in New York from September 20-22.
Switzerland was represented by Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey.
Swiss development aid
The Swiss cabinet has approved raising development from 0.47 to 0.5 per cent of gross national product (GNP) – short of the UN Millennium Development Goal of 0.7%.
The SDC has a staff of around 600 people in Switzerland and abroad. It also employs some 1,000 locals and has an annual budget of about SFr1.5 billion ($1.52 billion).
Together with funds from the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), official development aid amounted to around SFr2.5 billion in 2009.
40% of the funds go towards multilateral aid, including UN agencies.
Last year non-governmental organisations contributed a further SFr500 million.
adapted from German by Julia Slater, swissinfo.ch