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UN NEWS
UN’s Choice: Millennium Development Goals vs. Financial Crisis!
Hwa Yeon Lee
October 29, 2008
Key words: UN, millennium development goals (MDGs), financial crisis, poverty, economic turbulance, collective security, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.


The recent financial crisis is fiercely swirling around the United Nations. On 6, October, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro warned UN member countries that the current financial crisis, which is impacting all economies and exacerbating the suffering of millions, is menacing UN efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).[1]

The MDGs are a globally-agreed set of eight targets for slashing a host of social and economic ills, which are also threatened under the fluctuating economic disaster. As Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon has stated:

Eradicating extreme poverty continues to be one of the main challenges of our time, and is a major concern of the international community. Ending this scourge will require the combined efforts of all, governments, civil society organizations and the private sector, in the context of a stronger and more effective global partnership for development. The Millennium Development Goals set timebound targets, by which progress in reducing income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion — while promoting gender equality, health, education and environmental sustainability — can be measured. They also embody basic human rights — the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter and security. The Goals are ambitious but feasible and, together with the comprehensive United Nations development agenda, set the course for the world’s efforts to alleviate extreme poverty by 2015.[2]   

The weakening world economy is compounded by a series of challenges, including steep rises in food and energy prices, and global climate change – and efforts to overcome these crises are threatening to push the MDGs to the margins. Clearly, MDGs will not be able to avoid the direct and indirect impacts of the economic woe, which implies the aid and funding toward the goal might be cut down and the long-standing and costly efforts taken so far will have been in vain – like a bubble in the air.

However, the UN cannot sit idly by and allow the current crisis to prohibit development advances and freeze global participation on reaching the goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015. Consequently, Ban Ki-moon, has started to foster and encourage global cooperation and effort to achieve this goal, stressing that consolidating the global partnership for development, which is MDG 8, is particularly important.[3]

Given his recent remarks in several speeches and interviews, the Secretary-General seems to be very concerned about the effects that the current global financial crisis will have on impoverished nations and international efforts to meet the UN MDGs; Ban said he is “deeply concerned” about the impact of the financial crisis on the developing world, “particularly on the poorest of the poor and crisis on the serious setback this is likely to have on efforts to meet major goals.”[4] He added there is a need to “consider urgent multilateral action to alleviate the impact of recent events on the development agenda” of the United Nations.[5]

Nevertheless, the Secretary-General is confident that the UN can take lead in tackling problems, so long as they receive international help and support, which are imperative in building a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world. In his speech on 7 October, Ban Ki-moon reaffirmed that the United Nations could deliver concrete results for the peoples of the world who have increasingly turned to the Organization to address some of their most pressing challenges – including the food crisis, climate change, and world security.[6] 

Certainly, the UN is committing itself to reach the goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015, even as it struggles to raise people’s awareness of its efforts and hardships; nevertheless, today’s financial meltdown and other serious global issues are likely to be a high obstacles, threatening the resolve and willingness of UN member states to achieve the long-cherished hope of achieving the MDGs.

Of course, the majority of countries around the world will be affected by the economic turbulence and instability. For some nations, such as Iceland, which has one of the world’s highest per capita incomes, the financial crisis endangers self-regulation and independence. In the midst of such a hard economic woe, it might be awkward and unreasonable to require countries and people to shore up their support for MDGs, and domestic priorities. Still, as Gordon Brown argued in his address to the UN, the financial crisis should not be used as an excuse to cut aid.

For some people, especially those who are directly influenced by this economic disaster, it is difficult to understand what UN is doing, and why their government should be supporting them while their own citizens are stuck in the abyss of economic despair. To them, MDGs are likely to appear too idealistic and far-fetched goals, as well as being unrelated to their own struggles. Under this situation, the UN could quickly be regarded as a sort of big, nice-looking but incapable organization to people, in that they suggest no convincing and realistic policies to overcome this circumstance. As a result, people can question the role and direction of the UN, which will put the MDGs and other important projects in danger of being cut.

This is no reason for the UN to step back, however. Actually, the member nations might consider how reasonable the UN’s steady request and stiff position on the poverty issue really is, especially as so many people look down the long, dark and suffocative tunnel of economic woe. The UN’s commitment to MDGs is rooted in a view of common security around the world – a recognition that poverty and instability are security threats for all countries and all people. The most vulnerable are in need of immediate relief -- those who manage to live with less than 1$ per a day and do not have any options except for frustration, despair and even death.

It is unclear how far the economic crisis will go, but it is apparent that even in such a serious plight, the UN and its member countries should make every effort to curb the spread of extreme poverty. The problems that need to be seriously considered now are how UN can get access to people in need, and get the support of governments and NGOs in realizing their international development goals. Member states must be approached with a cordial, convincing, and reliable message of support for poverty eradication without abstract and banal speeches or superficial gestures.


[1] UN, “Financial Crisis Threatens Efforts Towards Global Anti-Poverty Targets, says Migiro,” (2008, 10, 6)

[2] UN, http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml

[3] UN, “Current Crises Threaten to Roll Back Development Gains, Warns Ban,” (2008, 9,26)

[4] AFP, International News (2008, 10, 14)

[5] AFP, International News (2008, 10, 14)

[6] UN, “UN Poised to Tackle Some of Today’s Most Pressing Challenges- Ban,” (2008, 10, 7)


Hwa Yeon Lee is a dual campus Master's degree candidate in Media, Peace and Conflict Studies at Hankook University of Foreign Studies (Korea) and the University for Peace (Costa Rica). Prior to her studies, Lee worked for COPION (Cooperation and Participation in Overseas NGOs) which is a non-profit organization registered to Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. With a vision of building a viable civil society worldwide, twice a year, COPION is dispatches volunteers to overseas NGOs/NPOs carrying out community development projects in developing countries.
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