THE UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are an agenda for reducing poverty by 2015 that the world leaders agreed to at the Millennium Summit in September 2000. The UN Millennium Campaign is now active in over 50 countries. Manoj Ahuja spoke to Director of the UN Millennium Campaign (New York) Salil Shetty who was in the City in connection with ‘Stand Up’ event. Excerpts:
How do you plan to overcome rampant corruption in countries like India where poor people seldom get to see the funds meant for them?
People need to be aware of the government’s commitment and hold it to account. We have to increase access to information. The Right to Information Act (RTI) is useful, but unfortunately not many people in rural areas know about RTI. Events like ‘Stand Up’ are essential for creating awareness, as governments alone cannot achieve these goals. We need people’s involvement at village and slum level to monitor the campaign and expose corruption.
What are the main thrust areas for India?
India has done fairly well in the fields of education and in basic infrastructure like water, but it still lags behind in health care. The maternal and child mortality rate in India are very high. In the field of primary education, we are not doing badly in terms of quantity but quality is a big problem. The aggregate looks good, but once we start breaking it down to district levels, for example tribal districts in MP, the picture is bad. Basic problem is that children drop out before finishing primary school. We cannot aspire to be world leaders without our kids getting basic education.
What will be your focus in India?
I personally divide India in two categories — Mobile India and Immobile India. Out of a population of 1100 million, about 100 million people own mobile phones. So we need to remove this growing divide between the mobile and immobile. This campaign is going to this 100 million people saying that this is not sustainable. It is a paradox really. On the one hand, India is seen internationally as a great economic powerhouse, but we have half the population in most of the poorest states living below the poverty line.
Can these goals be met?
We believe they can be and there are enough studies to prove it. We need to put the necessary finances to achieve the goals and most importantly we need to stop wasting resources on things that do not help the poor. If you take Bangladesh, it is one of the poorest countries. But in the last five years, Bangladesh has made significant progress in poverty eradication.
How do you plan to implement your campaign in hostile countries like North Korea?
We have chosen only those countries that have basic democracy, civil and political rights. Our focus is South Asia and Sub Sahara Africa. The campaign cannot be implemented without government and media cooperation.