The target of halving poverty globally by 2015 will only be partially achieved. Experts and politicians are still debating what the development goals are going to look like beyond that date.
At the world's biggest-ever summit in September 2000, 180 leaders set what became known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Extreme poverty was to be cut in half by 2015, access to food, water, education and health care was to be dramatically improved.
Two years ahead of that deadline, scientists, aid workers and politicians have convened at the EU's Development Days in Brussels. Around 5,000 people attend the annual event, spread over 80 working groups. But there are no concrete agreements to be expected. "It's just a discussion forum, a kind of family gathering to mull things over," according to EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.
Millenium goals will fail
Taking stock of what's been achieved so far is a sobering task. According to the World Bank, few of the 24 goals have been reached. The number of extremely poor people - those living on less than one euro a day - has actually been halved, when taking an average global reading.
But regional differences are stark. While China, India and some other parts of Asia have improved, extreme poverty is still widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. "We have to admit that our progress report on achieving the MDGs is uneven," Jamaica's prime minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, said.
"Much more needs to be done to close the gap between the haves and have-nots to reduce and eradicate inequity, inequality and exclusion in our world."
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who represents the African Union, pointed out that Africa had made progress but that economic development was not sufficient. "Africa is the world's second-fastest growing region, poverty has declined faster since 2005 than over the preceding 15 years…However, given the low place from which we started, it's not fast enough to reach the target of halving poverty by 2015."
Political instability hampers development
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is part of a UN commission to further the MDGs, says access to clean water has improved as well as access to education for girls and women.
But there has been no progress in the fight against malaria, for example. Some governments in Africa, she says, have to take more responsibility and resolve conflicts, both domestically and with neighboring countries that are hampering development.
Johnson Sirleaf herself has been leading a country since 2006 that had been torn apart by civil war. "While countries like mine are making steady progress, we continue to confront new conflicts and crises," she told delegates.
"Conflict and fragility affect us all, these are phenomena that can appear in many places and forms, including in countries that are not currently seen as fragile."
The Liberian president, whose policies are contentious in her own country, and other African leaders have set out their vision for Africa 2030. By then, poverty in Africa is to be eradicated. The leaders envisage a new global partnership under the auspices of the United Nations.
"We negotiated not as North-South, East-West, poor or rich, but as members of one humanity, with a common destiny," Johnson Sirleaf told delegates. Speaking in Brussels, she deliberately and confidently pointed out that Africa was by no means the only region in trouble.
"Economic transformation is a not a priority for Africa alone," she emphasized.
"The recent economic meltdown that plunged the world into recession, the widening gap between rich and poor…the rising scourge of youth unemployment clearly show that transformation is needed everywhere, not just in Africa."
'A world without poverty in our generation'
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also set out his development vision post-2015. He said the progress made so far was encouraging despite all the setbacks.
"For the first time ever, we have what it takes to eliminate poverty in our lifetimes, and to ensure sustainable prosperity within the boundaries of what our planet can provide," he told delegates at the Development Days.
He is convinced that a world without poverty can be achieved if there is a strong enough political will. Europe, he said, certainly will not stand in the way, but "will be at the forefront" of efforts to fight poverty.
Aid organizations pointed out that few countries have implemented the official target of setting aside 0.7 percent of gross domestic product annually on development aid.
Barroso promised delegates to press EU member states to push to fight climate change and global warming. After the rather labored "deal" reached at the recent UN climate conference in Warsaw, his promise may sound rather hollow to some.
Simon Maxwell from the UK's Overseas Development Institute in Brussels sees a direct connection between poverty and climate change. He says the effects of climate change like flooding or loss of crops often reverse progress that's been made in the fight against poverty.
Europe stands to benefit
Barroso emphasized that achieving the millennium goals was important for Europe too. He mentioned the deaths of hundreds of African refugees off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa.
"Recent events like the tragedy off the island of Lampedusa make it painfully clear that the world's misery and lack of hope unavoidably affect Europe as well," he said.
"I've visited Lampedusa myself…and the shocking things I saw will stay with me forever. I see them as another appeal that global problems demand European engagement, a forward-looking development agenda and true, international cooperation."
The message seems to have got through, according to the EU's Eurobarometer opinion poll. Around 70 percent of EU citizens believe that fighting poverty in developing countries affects Europe in a positive way. Almost half of EU citizens are prepared to pay more for food if the profits made benefited producers in developing countries.
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