Nepali Times
Halving absolute poverty by 2015

He is in Kathmandu this weekend to attend a regional conference on the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to halve poverty by 2015. He answered questions from Nepali Times on progress so far.

Nepali Times: Given the mixed track record in Asia to meet past targets, do you think the Millennium Development Goals are achievable?
Kim Hak-Su
: On average, our projection shows that it will be achieved. But there is great variation both across sub-regions as well as individual countries. In particular, the least developed countries, land-locked developing countries and some of the economies in transition may not be able to achieve the target. Moreover, due to growth in population, the absolute number of poor living below $1 day will continue to be a cause for concern.

Besides the sheer scale of population, how are our problems different from Africa?
The Asian context is different from other regions. It remains one of the most dynamic segments of the global economy. And that helps. But many countries will not be able to achieve the targets in areas such as hunger, child mortality, maternal mortality and environmental sustainability. In fact, although we may be able to address the issue of income poverty quite effectively, the challenge of human poverty will remain with us for quite some time unless drastic action is taken. We have gained a lot of experience in addressing these challenges. Ultimately, it will depend on each country how it sees these challenges and what measures it ought to adopt. In my view, more target-oriented action, backed up by sufficient resources and the participation of all stakeholders, will be a key component of the responses countries might wish to follow.

Everyone agrees on concepts like 'good governance' and 'sustainable development', but the problem has always been in getting these things to work on the ground. What are the prerequisites that need to be in place?
In fact, these are the prerequisites for achieving the goals. The Millennium Declaration spells out several values and norms that must accompany efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. As I said earlier, national commitment is an absolutely key determining factor. Along with that, several things need to be in place: growth and poverty reduction must be sustained over time; increases in inequality need to be avoided; countries must invest in education and health of the population; they must promote the rights of women; and a broad range of partnerships need to be forged, both at home and internationally, to achieve these goals.

There is an argument that the MDG targets are just is way for the international aid community to show it's doing something, and divert attention from the addressing the structural socio-economic roots of the governance dilemma within countries.
The MDGs provide a framework for human development. It does not substitute for the necessity to have right policies and strategies in place. Those have to be devised by the countries concerned in cooperation with their partners. Appropriate strategies can then address the structural issues.

In the time since the goals were announced, what has been the trend? Are we on target?
As I mentioned earlier, the situation differs from sub-region to sub-region, from country to country. On the whole, we seem to be on the way to reach the income poverty target. But other targets may prove to be quite difficult to achieve at the current trend.

Moreover, as we move towards our target year of 2015, we are likely to encounter the more hard-core poor who will need a different combination of policies and programmes than we followed in the past. Equally, non-income dimensions of poverty are likely to feature more prominently in national agenda as we approach 2015.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)