While the recent global financial crisis has affected numerous targets meant to measure progress on the Millennium Development Goals, the blow might logically be expected to fall heaviest on No. 8, which calls for global partnerships in aid, trade, debt relief and the sharing of new technologies. Surprisingly, given financial constraints, there have been some very positive developments on Goal 8.
Country-to-country development aid fell in real terms – by 4.5 percent if humanitarian assistance and debt relief are excluded. In dollar amounts, however, net aid disbursements continued to move up, if slightly, to $133.5 billion in 2011, says the United Nations MDG monitoring report for 2012.
The financial crisis in Europe and economic setbacks in Japan may have held back further growth, with large cuts in aid reported in Austria, Belgium, Greece, Japan and Spain. Yet Italy overcame its difficulties to increase development aid, while assistance also rose in New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland.
The United States remains the largest donor in foreign aid, followed by Germany, Britain, France and Japan, despite its hardships from an earthquake, tsunami and related nuclear disaster.
The least developed countries received a third of donor aid, rising closer to the UN target of 0.15 percent of total gross national incomes in developed countries. But assistance fell in sub-Saharan Africa, where 31 of the world’s 48 least developed countries are found. For Africa, aid rose instead in the northern tier of the continent after the Arab revolutions.
On the good news side globally, the UN report said that world trade had largely rebounded after the low points of 2008-2009.
“The recovery was particularly strong for developing countries, whose value of exports surpassed pre-crisis levels,” the report said. It added that progress remains limited, though, because of the stalemate between richer and developing countries in the Doha round of international trade negotiations.
Another upbeat sign for developing nations is that debt-service payments as a percentage of export earnings resumed a steady significant fall after a setback in 2009. “Better debt management, the expansion of trade and, for the poorest countries, substantial debt relief have reduced the burden,” the report found.
The Millennium Goals report devotes considerable attention to the availability of new technologies, particularly in information and communications. Here there is mixed progress, partly because of government interference in citizens’ rights to use the Internet and other features of the cyberage.
Beneficially, there has been a growth in cheaper, more user-friendly services in developing countries, where most people who never had telephone service have moved directly to mobile equipment, which they can use for many functions, from keeping abreast of agricultural information to money transfers and links to distant medical help. Even in refugee camps, residents call up Facebook pages to stay in touch with others.
By 2011, 35 percent of the world was online, the UN report said, with 63 percent of Internet users numerically in the developing countries, which contain a majority of the world’s people – think India and China, with their technological advances. Internet access in the developing regions on average stood at only 26 percent, however, with levels in sub-Saharan Africa below 15 percent.
Drawbacks exist, the report said, in the slow speed of many broadband services in developing countries, where data transfers may be limited. This curtails use in young businesses – which are so important to developing economies and to the people with new skills who want to enter the formal economy.
Meanwhile, the UN is catching on to using data collection through technology to analyze an array of socioeconomic dynamics. Its Global Pulse initiative, for example, studies how such information can yield insights in policy-making decisions and improve resilience, say, against the effects of economic crises.
Technology expansion at the UN is also enabling the world body to develop a wider range of partnerships with businesses, who have the expertise and resources to offer to the UN, which in turn is the legitimate gatherer of data worldwide. That is the expectation, at least.
This article is the last in a series assessing the status of the Millennium Development Goals.
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.