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Aid Cuts Threaten Millennium Development Goals, Warns UN

  • Henry Ridgwell

The Secretary General of the United Nations has warned that declining aid donations mean many of the UN Millennium Development Goals are likely to be missed. The UN says official development assistance in 2011 was less than half the $300 billion needed annually to meet the targets set in 2000. Researchers say up until now good progress has been made in tackling poverty and improving healthcare.

Margaret Gift has brought her son Simplicious for a check-up at a mobile health clinic in the remote village of Chikhwawa in Malawi. His diarrhea can be treated on the spot.

Health workers say Malawi has made rapid progress in cutting child mortality - one of the UN's Millennium Development Goals or MDGs - partly due to decentralizing healthcare. UNICEF's Victor Chinyama says that makes health workers more accessible.

"These are people who live within the communities and are able to provide basic treatment to children for some of the most common illnesses, such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea," said Chinyama.

Since 2000, there has been an estimated 40 percent fall globally in the number of children dying under the age of five - good progress towards the goal of two-thirds reduction.

Launching the 2012 MDG Gap Task Force Report, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned gains are at risk because of a $167 billion shortfall from donors.

"Last year, official development assistance declined for the first time in many years. I repeat my call to the international community: do not place the burden of fiscal austerity on the backs of the poor," he said.

Professor Anne Mills of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine specializes in the health economics of developing countries. She says the fall in donations is alarming.

"If that continues into the future, then I certainly think it's of major concern. Ultimately that may have an impact in terms of maternal deaths, neo-natal deaths and child deaths," said Mills.

Mills says child and maternal health has improved significantly since 2000. But she says the global financial crisis is having an impact.

"We can see increased arguments about the value of aid as we see in the UK. We've also seen that for some of the donor countries, the increase in aid is beginning to plateau off," she said.

Another of the Millennium Development Goals calls for the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water to be halved by 2015. That appears to be on track thanks to programs like this one in Mali, which aims to bring clean water and improved sanitation to half a million school children.

One of the students, Youssouf Dissa, says that when he came home he spoke to his grandfather and grandmother and explained what he had learned at school, especially the importance of washing hands before eating.

Health professionals appear to agree that the Millennium Development Goals have led to widespread improvements in healthcare and poverty relief. But with a 2015 deadline, there are warnings that the financial crisis could bring a halt to that progress.