Well what a 10 days that was in the fight against extreme poverty.
13 days ago the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign of 200 charities, including the Global Poverty Project, set out an ambitious agenda for the world’s richest leaders to tackle – on tax dodging, malnutrition and land grabs. Progress on these issues would have a significant impact on the worlds poor.
For the past 10 months I’ve been a member of the Organising Committee for the campaign, joining colleagues from Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, Action Aid, UNICEF UK, Comic Relief and others to activate a campaign to tackle one of the greatest scandals of our age – hunger.
And after some very notable successes – securing 0.7% of GNI on aid after 43 years of campaigning and by putting tax and malnutrition front and centre of the G8 agenda – On Saturday 8th June we entered 10 critical days of meetings and summits that could change the story of hunger.
For over 6 months we’ve been lobbying David Cameron, as chair of this year’s G8, and other world leaders and through private meetings and public action we’ve argued for tax information transparency, a halt on land grabbing and reform of the way companies acquire land and increased funding to tackle malnutrition, which claims the lives 2 million children every year.
We began the 10 days with one of the highlights of my campaigning career. On a brilliantly sunny day in Hyde Park we mobilised 45,000 people at The Big IF London. 45,000 who stood together, listened to voices from popular culture and from the developing world who prophesised a world without hunger and extreme poverty and who came together to call for improved funding for malnutrition at the Nutrition for Growth event, running concurrently in London.
Our voices were heard and the summit committed $1.4 billion in new money for malnutrition - an incredible result for the campaign and most importantly, for the world’s poor. Crucially now we must argue for that funding to be frontloaded. The money, currently earmarked for 2018 needs to be distributed sooner – it can’t wait.
Next we moved onto tax – a subject rich with interest both domestically and internationally. As often happens with global meetings, the agenda can often get pushed to one side for world events – in this case, Syria. But tax was the main theme going into the event and continued to drive discussions throughout the meeting.
At the ‘Trade, Tax and Transparency event last weekend, the UK government convinced all ten tax havens – from the Isle of Man to Bermuda – to gather ownership information of the companies doing business in their territories and provide the required tax information on them.
What’s clear from the G8 communiqué, and the report issued after the Open For Growth event, is G8 leaders understand the need to tackle tax dodging. And there’s a tacit understanding, for the most part, that developing countries receiving the tax they’re owed form a significant part of the solution.
The result was progress, but it also left us asking more questions. Language is always hugely significant in these circumstances. It’s carefully and diplomatically crafted and often takes Poirot levels of foresight to detect the true meaning. Sadly, in the case of tax and beneficial ownership, we were left somewhat disappointed by the lack of binding agreements made by Merkel, Hollande, Obama and co. For all the tough talk there’s a danger the outcome may be language and very little else. We know nothing of how we’ll get non-UK tax havens to sign up to the agreement or exactly how we’re going to include developing countries in the provisions.
But the real depth of avoidance is still unknown and companies will continue to avoid paying their fair share of tax to the developing world until we get a binding agreement with accountable processes. Right now, the G8 has all but acknowledged that there’s a problem. What happens between now and the next G8 summit in Russia in 2014 is largely unknown. The campaigning continues.
Nonetheless it was substantial progress. For years, tax campaigners have argued the need to address such a major obstacle in the fight against extreme poverty. The developing world loses three times as much in tax avoidance than it receives back in aid. We now have a development agenda that has moved beyond how much money we give to the developing world and is now focussed on what the structural problems are and how they can be addressed through global coordination.
Despite huge scepticism about the ability of these meetings to get solid agreements and concern about the G8’s dwindling power, there has been progress for the world’s poor. We’ve secured the funding for malnutrition and made progress on tax transparency. Crucially, we’ve built the momentum to make even more progress on tax. The IF Campaign, and every activist who turned up, tweeted or signed up to the campaign should be very proud of what we’ve achieved together.
Our real legacy, however, relies on what happens next. We’ve built a movement of people, of activists, passionate about ending some of the structural obstacles to eradicating extreme poverty. I hope as organisations we can work together to focus and inspire those campaigners to make more change in the future.
Hello, I have a confession. As a partially rehabilitated industry economist, I have committed outrageous sins.
Sins against data. Sins such as deliberately crude estimates in order to save time. Sins such as having a hunch, and then selectively quoting data that lends legitimacy to my hunch, while conveniently ignoring the data that would scuttle the whole thing. And sins such as using data that I know is hopelessly outdated or incomplete, but, in the absence of anything better, pretending that it’s solid.
I have sinned, and I cower at your feet.
While my sins have generally been inflicted upon large companies in wealthy countries (sorry again, pals), the international development community has problems that are hauntingly familiar to me. I used to think I was suffering if I couldn’t find German manufacturing data newer than 12 months old. But how on earth would I have gone about calculating educational attainment in the Sudanese countryside? Nobody knows how many people are actually there, schools may or may not be running, there are no standardised tests for achievement. Oh, hang on, part of Sudan is now no longer Sudan. Let me just drop that into my spreadsheet. Ok, educational attainment in Sudan is now up 3.2% in 2013, validating our investment of aid funds.
An article in Foreign Policy last week by Morten Jerven reminded us of an even deeper problem. Even the official statistics in many developing countries are rubbish. Either hopelessly out of date, of incorrect scope, or poorly gathered and presented. Ghana “revised” its GDP by 60% in 2010, Nigeria is about to do something similar. Any conclusion I could have reached have based on the old data is not worth the pixels it’s displayed upon, or the sheets of paper that I’m supposed to think about before printing upon. Back to square one.
There’s also an additional emotional hazard at play, too. I didn’t really care whether I made the German economy look good or not. The Germans are fine, and aren’t at risk of anything truly disastrous. People creating data in the development community are all too aware of the human suffering and peril being experienced behind many of their data sets. The temptation to “focus” the numbers to make a moral or ethical point is infinitely greater.
But bending numbers this way and that ends up making the whole thing unstable and internally contradictory, in addition to being dishonest. Credibility is vital in the development industry, and there are quite enough sceptics circling with their highlighters and Twitter accounts. It’s no secret that incorporating data into a report or discussion lends it extra gravitas, but it’s pretty tough to win back credibility after you’ve blown it on an ill-fated data bluff.
So, I ask you this. Is solid data a non-negotiable starting point for a solid argument? To what extent does the ethical obligation to effectively communicate poverty issues justify the creative use of vague data? Are there alternatives?
Photos, respectively: Adam Birkin, Jim Merithew/Wired.com
This week saw an interesting and lively debate in the House of Lords on recent developments in the European Union. While Members’ contributions were varied and focused on a range EU issues, I chose to highlight the impact of the Union as a driving force for poverty reduction and peace in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries.
All too often, debates on the EU have centred on the actual material or parochial political benefits of being at the tables of the European Council. Yet such a narrow understanding of the spirit of the Union risks missing the crux of the debate completely. Simply put, the EU question boils down to whether we want to live in isolation as the United Kingdom, or whether we want to live as part of a group of nations that work together - not only in their internal interests but externally too.
Of course, the EU is far from perfect. From an excessive bureaucracy, through the imperfect Lisbon Treaty, to the current Euro crisis, it is clear that there exists a dire need for reform within the EU. But the Union also has its benefits. The single market has propelled trade and has been balanced by many social benefits; the EU has had a global impact on the environment, trade and development; and the EU has played a pivotal role in advancing peace across the continent in the aftermath of World War II and through enlargement to the East. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU earlier this year was a much-needed reminder of just how far we have come. In the areas of Justice and Home Affairs, and the Economy, as well as in the area of External Relations, there is a strong case for pooled sovereignty in today’s world. And that sometimes has to be backed up by laws passed at the European level. The UK Government and others should show more leadership in making that case to the people of Britain, not shy away from it.
The current battle over the EU Budget risks consequences for the Official Development Assistance of EU states. But, whoever is responsible for the current financial crisis and EU overspends, it is not those who live in the poorest parts of Africa, Latin America or Asia, and who currently benefit from the EU aid budget. The UK has made a proposal to freeze the budget, and I sympathise with that view. But if cuts are made proportionately across all budgets, there will of course be an impact on the aid expenditure as well. The President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy recently made an outrageous proposal, suggesting that cuts to the EU aid budget should be disproportionately high in comparison with cuts to other departments, in order to avoid cuts to the subsidies and the waste that goes on in the departments for which he and President Barroso are responsible.
Not only is this morally wrong, it is also illogical. In the UK, every penny that we take out of the EU aid budget will simply have to be re-routed to our own DfID budget. We have committed to the 0.7% international target irrespective of what agencies, departments and organisations such funds are channelled through. Other countries will have to follow suit and do the same thing with their national budgets since the EU spend contributes to national aid and development assistance targets. The only countries to benefit will be those that want to avoid international obligations. And poor people will pay with their lives.
A review of UK aid signals that engaging with the EU on development matters works. DfID and the former Secretary of State, Mr Mitchell, undertook a Multilateral Aid Review in 2011 which, in an objective evaluation that saw funding withdrawn from a number of multilateral organisations, showed that the European Development Fund’s performance was strong in meeting the UK’s aid objectives. In having organisational strengths to use that money effectively, the Fund was considered to be strong, and it was more likely than most to change and reform. It would be a terrible signal if in a year when the G8 comes back to the UK we were leading on a budget initiative that slashes the EU aid budget, depriving the world’s poorest of essential humanitarian assistance and the development investment that helps create growth.
I urge our Government to take a strong stand. Political leadership is not only about tactics. It is not only about trying to get the better of the other parties in relation to a referendum. It must also be about vision: setting out a case for our role in the world and in Europe, working out how the two go together, and understanding how we can then make the best use of them. Now is the time for the Government and the Opposition to be bucking the popular trend of euroscepticism, and leading Britain to a new level of engagement fit for the 21st century.
This is a guest blog, originally published here. The author, Lord McConnell, was the youngest and longest serving First Minister of Scotland. He is now a Labour life peer.
*Image credit: European Council
On Wednesday 5th December, against a backdrop of prolonged austerity, Chancellor George Osborne MP presented the UK government’s Autumn Statement. The bleak economic outlook across the Eurozone heightened apprehension, with lower-than-expected growth figures and the battle to reduce public debts plaguing critics’ minds.
The statement did, however, provide positive news for International Development. The government reaffirmed its much-needed contribution to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas development assistance, adding pressure on other donor countries to meet this 40-year old UN commitment.
It should be noted that the 0.7% target is not an arbitrary figure, but has been in use since the 1970s, and found in 2002 by the United Nations Millennium Project to be the level required from all rich nations to meet the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs) by 2015. As such, the Autumn Statement marks the first time in history the UK will have met this 40-year old promise.
Meeting the 0.7% target will secure the UK’s foreign aid budget and crucially means that the Department for International Development (DfID) will have the resources to continue its important work in social advancement across the globe. This is extremely good news both globally and nationally for a number of reasons:
Firstly, it fuels momentum towards the achievement of the MDGs by 2015- for example the charity Save the Children, in a recent report, indicated that UK development assistance has drastically helped to reduced child mortality, with the number of deaths of under-fives falling from 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011. Our aid has also contributed to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, helping to save at least 4,000 lives every day, and has saved an estimated 7.7 million lives in 150 countries.
Secondly, improved funding for DfID is also of extreme importance in the fight to finally eradicate polio. In the last 20 years polio cases have been reduced by 99%, from 123 endemic countries to just 3. However, with an almost $1bn shortfall in funding for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (the public-private partnership which leads eradication efforts) without securing development assistance from donor countries, there is a serious risk that polio may continue to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable.
In addition to these clear moral reasons to improve the livelihoods of the 1.3 billion people who live in extreme poverty, there are also strategic benefits from the increase in the UK’s overseas development commitment. By investing in developing structurally stronger, healthier and more productive economies abroad, we simultaneously improve the UK’s ability to engage with these nations in international trade.
This is increasingly important given that the proportion of total exports fell to the EU, in the three months to May 2012 to 49.6%, whilst there was a growth of non-EU exports to 50.4%. Moreover, a recent Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) report predicted UK export growth over the next five years of 30% to Asia, over 40% to Latin America and at least 60% to Africa.
Aside from these intrinsic benefits, perhaps what this year’s Autumn Statement has most lucidly shown is that collective political action can yield tangible change.
Despite the austerity we continue to face in the UK, it is a testament to the work of the Global Poverty Project and the commitment shown by our Ambassadors on the ‘Protecting 0.7’ campaign, as well as other organisations, that has resulted in the UK government committing to raise its overseas development contribution to 0.7%.
Of course there is still much to be done. Whilst today we have honoured a 40-year old promise to those most vulnerable, tomorrow our work resumes- advocating, campaigning and working towards a vision for a global society without extreme suffering.
Sameer Gulati is an intern at the Global Poverty Project.
This week, as the world watched with baited breath the violent clashes in Gaza, Goma and Syria, the harrowing images and stories broadcast on our television screens offer a cold reminder of the human cost of conflict.
There is little dispute that conflict, development and peacebuilding are intrinsically linked. Yet the current development framework in the form of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) largely ignored this connection. And, as the 2015 deadline for the achievement for these global targets looms, the facts speak for themselves:
No low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single MDG;
Of the 46 countries at the bottom of the UNDP’s human development index, 32 are conflict-affected or fragile;
60% of the undernourished, 61% of the impoverished, 77% of the children not in primary school, 65% of the people lacking access to clean water and 70% of infant deaths occur in fragile or conflict-afflicted states.
As we entered the new millennium, the dark shadow cast by a decade of atrocities and civil war was long. The fact that the Millennium Declaration and its subsequent goals gained the signatory approval of 189 countries was, by all accounts, a triumph. And relentless pursuit of their achievement by 2015 in as many countries as possible is still essential.
Photo: Andreas H Lunde
But they offered a ‘top-down’ approach to development that emphasised basic service provision. They were right for their time, but the time is now right for a new approach.
The MDGs encouraged schools for girls, but they have not attacked the sexual violence and rape used as weapons of war. They have delivered vaccines for children, but have not stopped their recruitment as child soldiers. They have improved access to clean water, but have not halted the flow of blood.
When we look beyond 2015 and to the future, we have to decide what worked well with the existing framework, together with what did not, and incorporate these lessons learned into a new and improved approach. But this time, the ‘we’ has to include, and indeed be led by, the voices of the developing world.
Looking at the evidence, it is clear that the MDGs have failed in fragile and conflict-affected states, and those states are failing the 1.5 billion people who live within their borders. The Goals have not sufficiently tackled the structural causes and drivers of conflict, choosing instead to treat the symptoms. Sticky plasters don’t heal wounds; they merely cover up the more fundamental problem.
Of course, developing and winning support for a new model is tough. Can global goals ever be made relevant to local contexts? Should national governments be responsible for setting measurable benchmarks? Can the need for a comprehensive framework work alongside the importance of clarity and simplicity? What financing mechanisms would be suitable for states with high levels of corruption? Can one framework truly capture the various issues that are to be addressed? Would it be better to forgo quantifiable targets all together?
These are difficult questions that will no doubt lead to difficult conversations, but they are ones that need to be discussed, negotiated and, ultimately, answered.
What is surely not a matter for debate, however, is the inclusion of the voices and needs of people in developing fragile or conflict-affected states in any emerging plan. Negotiations on the post-2015 framework must bring all stakeholders to the table if they are to be truly inclusive. They must also address the inequalities – real or perceived – that are often at the heart of conflict and fragility.
Developments, such as The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, the joint statement by civil society on ‘Bringing peace back into the post-2015 development framework’, and recent comments made by David Cameron in his capacity as Chair of the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, are promising in this regard. But momentum and leadership are now paramount.
UK aid expenditure for 2012/13 in Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo amounts to around £86 million and £165 million respectively. Recent events only go to show that, regardless of how much money you throw at a problem, conflict can very quickly escalate and reclaim any ground made in development. This is why the causes and drivers of conflict need to be addressed as a priority for the post-2015 plan, and the UK is in a unique position to ensure this becomes a reality.
-- Lord McConnell was the youngest and longest serving First Minister of Scotland – from 2001 to 2007 – and he was appointed to the House of Lords on 28 June 2010. Lord McConnell was the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Peacebuilding from 2008 to 2010, and Education Adviser to the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative in Malawi and Rwanda.