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U.N. in Final Push for 2015 Development Goals

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 20 (IPS) - A special U.N. summit of world leaders, scheduled to take place next year, is expected to make "a final push" to help reach the world body's widely-touted development goals by the targeted date of 2015.

"We have seen progress, but not enough - especially in Africa," complains Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has asked British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to take a lead role in the U.N initiative.

The haphazard progress in meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has prompted the 192-member General Assembly to hold a three-day special session next September to map out a strategy for the final five years of the targeted date.

"Yes, it is a review of progress to date, but in order to accelerate action from 2010-2015," Salil Shetty, director of the U.N.'s Millennium Campaign, told IPS.

The summit will specifically look at ways to remove existing obstacles to progress in the next five years when all or most of the MDGs are to be met.

Despite the economic crisis and the climate challenges, Shetty said, "We believe that most of the MDGs are still achievable in most of the countries, if leaders show the political will that is required."

"Of course, we will not achieve all the goals in all the countries, but five years is enough time to make significant progress," he added.

The Millennium Campaign is calling for "a clear accountability and monitoring mechanism" to be agreed at the 2010 Summit between all governments and their citizens and between developed and developing countries.

The MDGs include a 50-percent reduction in extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; promotion of gender equality; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; combatting the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a North-South global partnership for development.

A summit meeting of 189 world leaders in September 2000 pledged to meet these goals by 2015. But their implementation has been slowed down largely by a decline in development aid and by the recent global financial crisis.

Meanwhile, over the last few months, the secretary-general has continued to stress that "maternal health (MDG 5) is the goal on which we lag farthest behind".

"Every single minute, a woman dies of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. That is unacceptable," he admits.

It is also unacceptable that 200 million women lack access to safe and effective contraception, that women are routinely victims of sexual violence, that girls are married off as child brides, that women are murdered for so-called "honour" and that genital mutilation and other harmful "traditions" still exist, Ban told a recent gathering at the University of Washington.

At a high-level meeting on maternal health in Ethiopia last month, the executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, said women are dying because for too many years, women's lives, dreams and rights have not been given the priority attention they deserve.

Obaid, who concurs with the secretary-general that MDG 5 is "the goal lagging the furthest behind", outlined some of the success stories on maternal health in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Over the past five years in Rwanda, the use of modern contraception has nearly tripled, skilled birth attendance has increased from less than 40 percent to more than 50 percent, and deliveries in health facilities have jumped from less than a third to nearly half of all deliveries.

"This is impressive progress towards ensuring that every pregnancy is wanted, and every birth is safe," she told the meeting, which was sponsored by the Dutch Ministry for Development Cooperation and UNFPA, and hosted by the government of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia's Minister of Health Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told delegates his country has deployed more than 30,000 health extension workers and also nearly doubled the health work force in only three years.

In Bolivia, which has one of the highest maternal death rates in Latin America, a new midwife training programme has been set up, supported by UNFPA, to improve care to indigenous women.

Obaid said that in Bangladesh, a decline in maternal mortality has been attributed in large part to community engagement and mobilisation.

In Djibouti, women have organised themselves to establish a community health fund, while in Mozambique, Tanzania and Ethiopia, mid-level health workers are being trained to carry out higher level functions that are saving lives.

And in Cambodia, Yemen and Zambia, midwives are being deployed to make childbirth safer.

Obaid said that life and death is a political decision. But leadership and resources will determine "whether we fail or succeed", while solidarity and partnership are the only way forward.

With just five years remaining in the countdown to 2015, "We need urgent action," she declared.

Shetty told IPS the U.N. Millennium Campaign is calling for all governments to come to next year's summit with national MDG reports that highlights what has worked best in the first 10 years.

And on that basis, there will be a 'Breakthrough Action Plan' for 2010-2015.

Governments from developed countries should come with similar plans with specific commitments on Goal 8, which relates to aid volume, quality, debt cancellation and trade.

He said all climate change funding should be additional to the existing 0.7 percent commitment of gross domestic product by donor nations.

The process of preparing the national MDG reports and action plans should have active citizen participation and the focus for the next five years should be strongly on women and excluded groups and regions, Shetty declared.

***** + Q&A: Maternal Mortality Rates 'One of the Saddest Cases' in Asia ( + DEVELOPMENT: Hunger Summit's Failure Exposes Grim Reality ( + RIGHTS: State of India's Children: An Unsettling Reality ( + U.N. Millennium Campaign ( + U.N. Population Fund (