Caritas Internationalis Secretary GeneralAddress to the Caritas Africa Regional Forum Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Your Eminences, colleagues and friends
It is a great pleasure for me to be with you this week on my first official visit to Africa as Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis. And on a personal note, it is especially good to be back in the continent of my birth, and to return to Ethiopia, which I last visited in 2006 in my previous role as International Director of CAFOD.
I have been asked to speak today about Caritas and the Millennium Development Goals. The talk is timely because in a few days time we will have reached the midway point towards the target date of 2015 for achieving the MDGs. To mark the occasion, world leaders will gather at the United Nations in New York on September 25th for a high-level event to renew their commitments to the goals and set out their plans and practical steps for action.
The event is intended as a forum to review progress, identify gaps, and commit to concrete efforts, resources and mechanisms to bridge those gaps. Caritas is one of a select group of civil society organisations participating, and as President of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Rodriguez has been personally invited by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take part in the discussions.
When I started to think about the subject for my talk today, the Olympic Games were just drawing to a close in Beijing. And it occurred to me that there were some interesting connections… Firstly, of course, there is the fact that we are meeting here in Ethiopia, a country that has always produced outstanding athletes who consistently bring back gold for their country and for Africa.
But perhaps more significantly, both the Olympics and the Millennium Development Goals are global enterprises, born out of the highest ideals, and intended to inspire and benefit all of humanity. Sadly, I think that both also run the risk of losing sight of the fundamental principles upon which they were founded.
The modern Olympics were established with the aim of bringing together amateur athletes from around the world to compete in sporting events. The Olympic creed states that “the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part.” Unfortunately, it sometimes seems that today the Games are little more than a competition between nations, in which the only thing that matters is the number of medals each country brings home – and that is largely dependent on the amount of money they have to spend on equipment and training.
The MDGs are not a competition between countries – but there are some people who seem to see them as such. A report published earlier this year criticised the MDGs for being ‘too generic’ – the author claimed that they risked branding some countries, particularly in Africa, as failures if they did not achieve the goals. The argument seemed to suggest that we should somehow ‘lower the bar’ for some countries. In other words we would be saying ‘yes, we want to end world poverty, but we are going to accept that it’s OK for some countries to stay poor.’
I cannot accept that. If our aim is to halve world poverty, how can we say that in certain countries we will settle for a 25 per cent reduction?
We must never lose sight of the fact that the Millennium Development Goals are a project for the whole of humanity – we are all responsible. If one country should fail to meet the MDGs by 2015, that is not a failure for that country; it is a failure for the whole of humanity, for the whole global community, and we will all share the shame.
The UN Millennium Declaration, which was adopted by 189 nations and signed by 147 heads of states and governments, spoke of the “collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level,” and of “our duty to all the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable and in particular to the children of the world, to whom the future belongs.”
As we approach this crucial milestone, this is not the time for defeatism and it is not the time to start moving the goalposts. It is a time for renewed determination and a renewed recognition that no country stands alone in the struggle to meet these targets. The MDGs are, after all, just a step on the way to ending global poverty. 2015 is not the end of the road. And indeed, there are those of us who believe the ‘M’ in MDG should stand for ‘minimum’ rather than ‘millennium’.
Standing at the half-way point on this journey, we have to recognise, however, that the path ahead looks long and steep. If we don’t dramatically increase our current pace, it will take another hundred years to achieve some of these goals, and in many parts of Africa we have a very long way to go.
It is not all bad news, however. There have been a number of successes: HIV/AIDS treatment has been expanded; there have been increases in agricultural productivity, a dramatic rise in school enrolments and improved access to water supplies.
Earlier this year, the MDG Africa Steering Group, made up of African leaders and key international organisations, published a detailed plan for achieving the MDGs in Africa. They are confident that the MDGs can still be achieved in Africa by 2015, if the G8 nations honour their aid commitments.
The report sets out practical strategies and actions to get Africa back on track to meet the goals, including targeted investments in agriculture to launch a green revolution in Africa; increased support for education and healthcare; major projects to fill gaps in infrastructure and trade networks; and improvements in national statistical systems so that progress on the MDGs can be tracked more effectively. The report also calls for greater predictability in aid delivery with donors issuing schedules so that countries know what they can expect and can plan long-term strategies.
The report concludes that Africa has the determination and the strategic capacity to achieve these goals. There is strong economic growth in many African countries, an increased commitment to domestic resource mobilisation, improving governance and better policy performance. These solid efforts now need to be matched by the G8 delivering on their promises.
At the Gleneagles summit in 2005, the G8 nations pledged to increase official development assistance to Africa by 25 billion US dollars a year by 2010. Latest figures show that so far they have only managed a quarter of that amount.
The current state of the world economy cannot be used as an excuse for failing to meet this commitment. The moral imperative to end global poverty cannot be subject to the fluctuations of the global economy. Nothing that the G8 nations may suffer as a result of a temporary financial downturn can compare with the suffering of the world’s poorest people.
In the battle to achieve the MDGs, Caritas is active on two main fronts: we are active on the ground through our regional and national Caritas organisations; and we are actively pursuing an advocacy campaign aimed at securing that essential additional development aid, and achieving recognition of the vital role that civil society and faith-based organisations such as Caritas have to play in delivering progress towards the MDGs.
Churches and faith-based organizations like Caritas are often overlooked as a way to deliver development. In many African countries the Catholic Church is the primary, if not the only, healthcare and education provider. Schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure provided by Catholic and other faith-based organisations are second to none, but international donors are not taking advantage of this valuable resource as a conduit to deliver aid. For instance, a third of all children under five in developing countries are severely malnourished. The Church runs more than 60,000 schools attended by 5.8 million infants and 90,000 primary schools with 28 million pupils. Given the right support, this sort of infrastructure could be an invaluable resource in feeding the hungry.
The World Health Organisation estimates that between 30 and 70 per cent of the health infrastructure in Africa is currently owned by faith-based organisations, but there is often little support for these organisations from mainstream public health programmes. One-fifth of all organisations engaged in HIV programming are faith-based, but they receive just two per cent of international funding.
On the advocacy front, CI has taken part in campaigning for action on the MDGs at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the G8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan and the Accra Aid Effectiveness Forum in Ghana.
CI’s UN delegate Joe Donnelly was in Japan as part of the NGO/Civil Society challenge to governments on their lack of implementation of aid commitments. As Head of the CI Delegation in New York, Joe also chairs the MDG-NGO Convening Group, which works closely with the UN Millennium Development Campaign and UN Development Programme, NGO networks and UN member state representatives.
Last December, CI President Cardinal Rodriguez and I attended a working lunch meeting with G8 and other Ambassadors to the Holy See in support of the ‘Call to Action’ on the MDGs launched by the UK government. The meeting was hosted by the British Ambassador to the Holy See and provided an important opportunity to stress the need for governments to work with civil society and faith-based organisations if the MDGs are to be achieved.
Another under-valued resource is the role of women in combating poverty, so I was very pleased earlier this year to take part in the launch of a new alliance aimed at empowering women in the fight against global poverty. The Women, Faith and Development Summit was held in Washington DC in April and was supported by, among many others, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
When he goes to the UN on September 25th, Cardinal Rodriguez will be taking a very clear message from Caritas: failure to meet the MDGs in a world of such wealth is unthinkable.
By challenging world leaders to announce specific plans and proposals, we hope the event will help accelerate implementation and follow-through. And we hope it will also send a strong message to the Doha conference on financing for development in November that the world expects the G8 nations to deliver on their promises.
Cardinal Rodriguez will also be drawing attention to a major risk factor that threatens to thwart progress on the MDGs, namely climate change. The World Bank estimates that, coupled with rising food prices, climate change could drive more than 100 million people into extreme poverty, undoing most of the gains the world’s poor have made over the last decade.
Cardinal Rodriguez will be calling for the industrialised nations to commit to a cut in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 25-40 per cent by 2020 and also for increased financial support on top of existing pledges to help developing countries cope with the consequences of climate change.
It is estimated that adaptation to climate change in developing countries will cost at least 50 billion dollars each year . Calculated on ability to pay, and by their historic contribution to climate change, the USA, European Union, Japan, Canada, and Australia should contribute over 95 per cent of the finance needed . But this money must be in addition to existing commitments to development aid.
Climate change also brings with it the risk of violent conflict – one of the primary causes of extreme poverty. Violent conflict undermines development and can set it back decades. More than a trillion dollars every year goes on military spending – money that could otherwise be spent on health, education and other poverty alleviation programmes. More than 30 armed conflicts are raging in the world today and in Sub-Saharan Africa more than a third of the population lives under some form of armed conflict.
Work on climate change is one of CI’s core activities, and in December last year, Fr. John Quigley, ofm was appointed as an advocacy coordinator to take forward the confederation’s response on climate change. John will serve as a specialist resource for member organisations, developing policy for advocacy on climate change, and representing CI at the UN in Geneva and other international organisations. A climate change unit has been established in our Geneva office and CI is now the convenor, in partnership with CIDSE, in a four-year climate change campaign.
Finally, at a community level, Caritas stresses the need for collective responsibility among all of humanity for achieving the MDGs. The success of the MDG enterprise requires a paradigm shift of the human community to the values of service and compassion. As individuals we need to become involved in mobilising our financial resources, our political policies, our technologies, our faith, our compassion, our service, and our courage to hold ourselves, our governments, and our institutions accountable to fulfilling the promises of the Millennium Development Goals.
And there is much that individuals can do. They can learn more about the MDGs and share that knowledge in their schools, parishes and communities; they can make commitments that support the MDGs, such as using less energy, recycling, caring for natural resources, cutting down on consumerism, and buying fair trade products; they can take part in local or international campaigns aimed at achieving the eradication of poverty; and they can organise meetings of human rights groups, social forums, solidarity committees, awareness raising campaigns, and demonstrations against poverty.
So you can see that Caritas is involved at all levels in efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. As far as Africa is concerned, we know that there is certainly no lack of will to succeed. There is a strategic plan in place and throughout the continent, national Caritas organisations are ready and able to play their part. We have already seen what African countries can achieve, even with minimal resources. So how much more could be achieved if the G8 nations would honour their promises on aid?
That spirit and determination to succeed – against the odds and without the resources that many of us take for granted – reminds me of the story of that legendary Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila.
Bikila was called at the last minute to join his country’s team for the marathon in the 1960 Olympic Games – literally minutes before the team’s flight to Rome was due to take off. He didn’t even have a pair of running shoes and couldn’t find a pair to fit him when he got to Rome.
Bikila decided to run barefoot and he went on to win the race, becoming the first African to win an Olympic gold medal.
Four years later he was competing again in the Tokyo Olympics – this time with shoes! He went on to win gold again, and to set a new world record for the marathon.
Today, we are half-way through the marathon that achieving the Millennium Development Goals represents – and many African countries are still running barefoot. So our message to the rich countries of the world is: “Just give us what you promised us. Then we can get some shoes… and bring back some gold for Africa.”