Poverty in all its forms is the greatest challenge to the international community. Of special concern are the 1.2 billion people living on less than $1 a day and the additional 1.6 billion living on less than $2 a day.
Setting goals to reduce poverty is an essential part of the way forward. Building on the global United Nations conferences and summits of the 1990s, the development goals described in this report are broad goals for the entire world. They address some of the many dimensions of poverty and its effects on people's lives. In accepting these goals, the international community makes a commitment to the world's poorest and most vulnerable — and to itself.
The goals are set in precise terms — measured in numbers to ensure accountability. The openness and transparency of such numbers can help us chart a course to achieve the goals and track progress. But people are not numbers — happiness is not a statistic. These goals are worthwhile because they will improve the quality of human life. The world will be better, and safer, for its 6 billion people and for the projected 7 billion people in 2015.
Goals cannot be imposed — they must be embraced. Each country must identify its own particular goals, its own path to development, and make its own commitment through dialogue with its citizens. In this, the support of the international community is vital. And the high-income countries, because of their greater resources, have much to contribute.
It is essential for all the partners in this development effort to pursue faster, sustainable growth strategies that favour the poor. To spend efficiently — avoiding waste and ensuring that the mechanisms for accountability are always in place. To spend effectively — on activities aimed at human, social and economic development, not on excessive military capacity or on environmentally disastrous projects. And to spend wisely — not committing public resources to activities that can be best undertaken by the private sector.
What are the obstacles? Weak governance. Bad policies. Human rights abuses. Conflicts, natural disasters and other external shocks. The spread of HIV/AIDS. The failure to address inequities in income, education and access to health care, and the inequalities between men and women.
But there is more. Limits on developing countries' access to global markets, the burden of debt, the decline in development aid and, sometimes, inconsistencies in donor policies also hinder faster progress.
What will it take to overcome these obstacles? True partnership - and a continuing commitment to eliminate poverty in its many dimensions. Our institutions are actively using these development goals as a common framework to guide our policies and programmes and to assess our effectiveness. We cannot afford to lose the fight against poverty. And we must be unshakeable in our unified desire to win that fight - for everyone.
©OECD Observer No 223, October 2000