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About the Author

Robert Stefanicki
Journalist (Warsaw, Poland)

Old salt international affairs writer. At present freelance (looking for a job!), most of his professional life worked for the largest daily in Poland. Focused on Asia and Middle East, where witnessed some dirty wars, now more and more interested in development and other global issues. In collusion with Institute of Global Responsibility, our new and fast growing NGO. Self made photographer (see my website), scuba diver, sailor, cyclist and movie addict.


Aid & MDGs: End the illusion

Published 10th June 2010 - 10 comments - 2309 views -

Sad, but true: MDGs and aid targets are not achievable. Wouldn’t it better to lower them to the realistic levels – and meet them, instead of blushing that we can’t?

This morning I took part in an informal breakfast with some Polish government officials and people from NGOs, on the occasion of the release of new CONCORD report “Penalty Against Poverty”.

The report confirmed what we already knew: EU aid levels stagnated in 2009 and are short of promised levels for the future. Progress in MDGs is very slow in the majority of areas, especially poverty, maternal mortality and sanitation. Without a miracle, lofty goals for 2015 will not be met. One key requirement of the report – to make aid targets legally binding – is noble, but politically impossible.

Our government representatives had no illusion about it. “We are in the majority”, said bitterly, responding to the chart, where Poland, with genuine aid level of 0,07 % GNI, is shamefully third from the bottom in Europe. “The times are hard.”

One NGO participant noticed that her contacts in Africa complain that making unrealistic promises and not delivering makes their work tough. What more, it corrupts recipients’ trust to the donors.

So I dare ask a blasphemic question: How about lowering the targets to the realistic levels, instead of making empty promises? This woudn’t mean decreasing total amount of aid – the current targets are not materialized anyway. On the contrary: If donors put much more emphasis on effectiveness, as CONCORD report recommends – untie aid, increase transparency, improve allocation, end inflation of aid budgets – the volume of the real aid may actually increase.

The idea to lower the expectations is valid not only with a regard to aid levels, but to MDGs either. Many targets are not within reach of most developing countries. Inability to achieve them must bring disappointment. It also runs the risk of portraying significant progress as failures: a country with serious achievements still can fail to reach an MDG. Some insiders, like Jan Vandemoortele, believe that re-definition of the MDGs is required. Targets should be country-specific, incorporate local conditions, and look at historical backgrounds.

Psychology is not unanimous whether it is better to set down to earth goals or not. Most studies say that goal should be “hard but achievable”, but some claim that unrealistic targets are more exciting – and only the idealists can bring real Change.

I will be happy to know your opinion.

Picture credit:

Category: Aid | Tags: aid, mdg, concord,


  • Bart Knols on 10th June 2010:

    I would be very surprised if the inner UN circles have seen this coming for a long time: the goals were too ambitious, the targets won’t be met. But will they openly declare this in front of the global community? Don’t think so.

    By 2015 the lists will be there of the great achievements (and there will be some), with the footnote that a lot more needs to be done.

    The last thing that will happen is that defeat will be acknowledged. Would you if you were in their shoes?

  • Robert Stefanicki on 10th June 2010:

    @Bart: I agree, and see several reasons for inability to admit failure despite the targets are measurable and coming defeat will be rather obvious. First - responsibility is blurred. Mythical “crisis” can always be blamed. Second - UN’s dinosaurian bureaucracy and lack of personal accountability. Third - good examples are easy to find, after all it’s not complete failure, some progress has been done. Fourth - it’s a matter of good mood and male pride.

  • Ian Sullivan on 11th June 2010:

    The point is that when the declarations were made the targets were deemed achievable. I don’t think the countries that make up the UN will come out and say “oh well we failed” but I think that Bart’s comment about there being achievements to celebrate is valid - there will be but that doesn’t mean we as citizens should let them brush the failures under the carpet and then forget about them.

    In terms of allowing government’s to just change the commitments is totally the wrong approach now. Now is when we shoulsd be pushing harder than ever for them to reachthese goals. And I think the blog is simply wrong in saying that legislating for 0.7% is not achievable - I also think it’s wrong tosy the MDGs aren’t either - everypne talks about accountability in their posts but only seem to apply it to those corrupt Africans

  • Clare Herbert on 11th June 2010:

    I think admiting failure lets countries off the hook too early. It gives governments an additional excuse not to meet the targets, which they would be very eager to take and I think budgets would drop further.

    We should continue to aim for the stars, even if it seems very unlikely that we’ll ever meet them.

  • Robert Stefanicki on 11th June 2010:

    We should keep pressing, that’s for sure, Ian. But I could bet that despite pressure Poland and most of the EU will not meet the promised aid targets. The only way to do it is to make them legally binding, but this will not happen, since the EU biggest players are against. Who knows, maybe with lower targets this would be possible?

    Now, if the West can’t meet its promises, MDGs should be revised and nuanced, in order not to make only poor countries accountable. Someone may call it defeatism, I call it realism.

    However I see two reasons why the targets should stay whey they are. One: it is good for social mobilization and awareness. Two: lowering aid thresholds would be unjust for the countries that are crossing them - which now are Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and Netherlands.

  • Aija Vanaga on 11th June 2010:

    MDG somehow is more vision then active objectives and targets.

  • Ian Sullivan on 11th June 2010:

    I wouldn’t say it’s defeatism - it would be letting government’s off the hook for decisions they’ve made and for agreements they’ve come to - and that’s when they’ve still got 5 years to sort it. It is simply a maatter of political will - look at what wa achieved to save the banks.

    The UK is also on target for 0.7%

  • Robert Stefanicki on 11th June 2010:

    Yes, UK is on track - the only big EU country - with current aid level of 0,51% GNI.

    Saving banks was sold as crucial for stability of the developed countries. Much harder to do the same with MDGs, for our far far away cousins.

  • Ian Sullivan on 11th June 2010:

    I’m not saying it’s the same - or even that they would do something so drastic but the point remains that big things can be achieved - so to give up now and say, “yeah leaders, it was difficult” seems as pointless as just re-categorising poverty so that targets are met…

  • Sylwia Presley on 25th July 2010:

    I agree with you on the re-defining, but is it feasible? All we see is world leaders making promises and putting themselves in the position where they simply cannot admit the failure..

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