June 15, 2010 2 Comments
Non-governmental organizations had been crucial partners in efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, and while their voices were many and diverse, they carried a common message: the Goals must be understood in the context of the need for new development paths.
That was the main message highlighted during a Headquarters press conference featuring three speakers who participated in the General Assembly’s informal interactive hearings with non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations and the private sector. They also shared their thoughts on issues such groups wished to see included in the outcome of Assembly’s September Summit on the Millennium Development Goals.
Speaking first, Constance Okollet of the Uganda-based Osukuru United Women’s Network discussed the impacts of climate change on her community, saying that agriculture had been hard hit. Agricultural products were vital for helping families afford basic services, such as medical care and school fees. In recent years, however, climate change had reduced peoples’ ability to effectively cultivate the land, and incomes had suffered as a result. “We have no food to sell and no food to eat,” she said.
So poverty was increasing and forests were being ruined, she continued. Basic health needs were not being met and people often died because there was no way to access hospitals. When floods hit, people fled, and upon their return to destroyed homes, they found they had nothing. “If we don’t include a climate change component in the Goals, we may not achieve them properly,” she said, stressing that development gains were often wiped out because of drought, flood and other climate- and weather-related events.
Speaking next, Farah Kabir, country director for ActionAid Bangladesh, underscored the need to invest in small farmers, most of whom were women, to eradicate poverty and reduce hunger. While 60 to 70 per cent of food was produced by women small farmers, less than 1 per cent of investment flowed to them. She hoped to communicate that message to organizations responsible for the Goals.
It was also vital to address gender discrimination, she said, as many women farmers had very small holdings. Even if a farm was in their name, women often lacked access to Government services, especially loans. If Governments provided special services, like seed and fertilizers, they preferred to give them to men. Related to that, she said she hoped to see more investment in decent employment, as women agricultural labourers received 20 to 30 per cent less than their male counterparts. Governments also should increase investment in social protection schemes.
Rounding out the discussion, Anne-Françoise Lefèvre of the World Savings Banks Institute said access to financial services was vital for accelerating the achievement of the Goals. Providing access to affordable, secure financial services and products would especially help the most vulnerable populations. Providing a farmer with access to formal savings account, for example, would enable access to safety nets when crops were not in season. Insurance services would help families whose homes had been destroyed by floods.
“We need to provide people with access to affordable credit”, particularly women and small- and medium-sized enterprises, she said, underscoring that such credit was just part of a full range of financial services to be made available. Technology must also be better exploited. Most people had access to mobile phones, which increased the chances of accessing financial services, she added.
Taking a question on what she expected from the Assembly’s hearings, Ms. Okollet said she expected positive responses to help women suffering the effects of climate change, particularly in the area of health. Ugandans were dying of cholera because water was contaminated. Infants were dying of malaria. Secondly, people could use money placed in adaptation funds to stabilize their lives, especially in reopening schools in her area, which had been closed due to flooding.
Asked about improving access to financial services in countries where there was a lack of Government accountability, Ms. Lefèvre said there were numerous examples of the private sector taking the lead in such situations. The idea was to build confidence in formal financial services. “We need a lot of education and financial literacy to enable people to put their scarce money in a safe place,” she said. The Government should provide a supportive regulatory framework, a major governance issue that, in some countries, was tricky to address.
As for what panellists expected in September, Ms. Kabir said she hoped to see reference to “rescue plans” or social safety nets in the final document. United Nations agency coordination could make a big difference in achieving the Goals. The September document should reflect such suggestions.
Ms. Lefèvre said she wished to see a strong commitment to developing an inclusive financial sector. That entailed building supportive regulatory environments to give low-income populations access to affordable financial services. It was also vital to recognize the importance of consumer education.
Finally, Ms. Okollet expressed hope that the outcome document from the September summit would recognize the important role of agriculture and she wished to see suggestions included on that topic. That way, “everybody’s happy”. She urged people to visit Uganda to better understand the reality of climate change on people’s lives.