The Headquarters of the United Nations (UN) is an impressive complex. Its buildings are not just the repository of the world’s post-World War II history but also home to a treasure trove of artworks, each of which has a connection with what the UN’s second secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold saw as the reason for the 193-member strong body’s existence: “The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but save humanity from hell”.
The 70th session of the UN General Assembly (GA) opened on September 15 and this week will be one of the most important in recent times because member-states will adopt one of the most ambitious and bold development agendas of our times: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire this year.
The UN has its own share of sceptics and the headquarters is often mocked as ‘Turtle Bay’ (after the locality where it stands) for its bureaucratic ways. Many consider the GA as a stage for leaders to make grand promises from the famous green marble podium that are often forgotten once they reach their home soil. Naturally, many have questioned why the world needs another set of development goals.
There is broad agreement among nations that while the MDGs provided governments a framework around which they could develop policies and aid programmes designed to improve the lives of the poor, they were narrow. Second, the MDGs failed to consider the root causes of poverty and overlooked the holistic nature of development.
The MDGs made no mention of human rights and did not specifically address economic development. While the MDGs, in theory, applied to all countries, in reality they were considered targets for poor countries. On the flipside, even though the progress of MDGs has been uneven, they influenced development policy formulation and planning globally.
India has witnessed significant progress towards the MDGs, with some targets having been met ahead of the 2015 deadline. However, progress has been inconsistent. Despite an uneven MDG record, India has been in the forefront of the negotiations and the SDGs have a strong Indian fingerprint.
Many feel that the 17 SDGs are unwieldy but the general consensus is that it is better to have goals that tackle the issue of development holistically. The key question is of course, how to fund these goals.
With overseas development assistance coming down to a trickle, the nations will have to raise money from internal sources, from the private sector, through tax reforms, and through a crackdown on illicit financial flows and corruption.
It definitely won’t be an easy task but nations will have to give it their best shot for their own good.