the year 2000, the UN General assembly adopted the Millennium
Declaration, in which world leaders committed to achieving
a set of 8 goals by 2015. Since then, these Millennium
Development Goals, or MDGs, have become the latest buzzword
at different levels of the international development
aid industry, and have spawned substantial employment
generation for what are now called ''development practitioners''.
The MDGs are certainly worthy and
well-intentioned, stating goals that no sane person
could really object to. They are: to eradicate extreme
poverty and hunger; to achieve universal primary education;
to promote gender equality and empowerment of women;
to reduce child mortality; to improve maternal health;
to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; to ensure
environment sustainability; and to develop a global
partnership for development.
All this was supposed to happen through a combination
of more international aid and policy changes within
developing countries. The trouble is that the policies
that were suggested typically involved more of the free-market-obsessed
deregulation that has already created employment stagnation
and greater income inequalities in most of the world.
But while there have been several critiques of the polcy
orientation implicit in the entire exercise (for example
by Focus in the Global South) there has been relatively
little in terms of either assessments on the ground
or presentation of the perceptions of the people who
are supposed to be benefited by it.
That is why a new report by ActionAid International,
entitled ''Whose Freedom?'' (published in September 2005)
is quite an eye-opener. This report is based on interviews
with more than 350,000 people from 5,000 villages in
19 poor developing countries over the months of June,
July and ugust this year. It presents a stark and graphic
picture of the continuing hardship faced by ordinary
people in these countries, more than 5 years after the
MDGs were first adopted. The countries are: Afghanistan,
Nepal, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam,
Ethiopia, Senegal, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Tanzania,
Somalia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Burundi, Brazil and Guatemala.
The agrarian crisis afflicting most of the developing
world is reflected in the evidence especially from small
and marginal farmers in the survey. With small and marginal
farmers unable to eke out a livelihood from their plots,
there was a widespread pattern to recourse to casual
and insecure wage labour to make ends meet. Yet there
are simply not enough jobs to meet this growing demand
– people in 87 per cent of the villages reported that
work was not available regularly when needed, and in
50 per cent of the villages paid work was available
for only half the month the most.
This has affected food intake. Hunger deaths were reported
from 24 per cent of the villages, and people from 64
per cent of the villages said they were forced to skip
meals, either regularly or in particular seasons. Public
systems of social protection were found to be minimal:
people in 47 per cent of the villages had no access
to any public service in any season. In fact only 21
per cent of the villages offered a public distribution
system for food. In periods of drought or shortage,
only 15 per cent of villages reported any form of drought
relief, such as food for work, cash or other transfers.
Aagainst this already depressing background, women apparently
face increasing discrimination and denial of rights.
In nearly half of the villages, no women owned any land,
in villages where they did, they were recorded as owning
land in less than 30 per cent of cases, mostly, as co-owners
with men. Work availability and wages were found to
be substantially lower than for men. In 77 per cent
of villages, there was no government support for female-headed
households, while there they did get some, coverage
was limited to less than 30 per cent of such households.
All the villages in all the countries reported a high
incidence of violence against women.
Better education and health form an important part of
the MDGs. But in half of the villages, people said they
were dissatisfied with the education services, and parents
from 56 per cent of villages reported that education
was not affordable at all, given the user fees and loss
of children’s earnings. A shocking finding was that
people from 71 per cent of the villages reported that
local children worked for wages instead of attending
school. Around 87 per cent of villages had girls of
school-going age who had not enrolled. The general discrimination
faced by girls was reflected in the fact that schools
in 60 per cent of the villages did not toilets for girls.
Health services were even worse. 80 per cent of the
people interviewed said that health services were too
costly for them to access. 77 per cent of the villages
did not have health centres, and in half the villages
people had to walk more than 3 kilometres to reach health
posts. In any case, even at these health posts, 76 of
respondents reported that medicines were not available.
Access to clean drinking water was found to be limited,
with reports ranging from scant availability to drought-like
Clearly, the MDGs are failing. Almost all of the respondents
to this survey felt that over the past five years, they
have either remained where they were or are worse off
in terms of access to food and basic services and fulfilment
of fundamental human rights.
While these results are shocking at one level, they
are not entirely unexpected for those who have been
observing the working out of the mechanisms unleashed
by the processes of national and international deregulation
and withdrawal of governments from fulfilling their
basic social responsibilities. Unfortunately, while
the official aid industry makes much of the MDGs, they
still continue to promote policies that will prevent
their ever being achieved. Until there is dramatic shift
in the policies imposed by most multilateral institutions
and followed by governments, this sorry state of affairs
will continue and even deteriorate further.
Obviously policies of privatisation of public services
must be discontinued, and there has to be substantial
increase in spending to provide public services, including
for nutrition, health, sanitation and education. Public
spending for agriculture has to be greatly enhanced,
and employment generation schemes must be given top
priority. Most important of all, ordinary people must
be given greater voice in affecting the decisions hat
affect their conditions of life.