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French Version

Progress uneven in fight against poverty

In 2000, the world decided to launch a concerted attack on poverty and the problems of illiteracy, hunger, discrimination against women, unsafe drinking water and a degraded environment. Meeting at the United Nations at the dawn of the new millennium, leaders from virtually all countries agreed to a set of eight ambitious Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that set clear, measurable and time-bound targets to be reached by 2015.

The MDGs have generated an unprecedented focus on coordinated action. However, progress is uneven. It has been hardest to come by in the poorest nations: those that are landlocked or least developed, and those that are in sub-Saharan Africa.

A few weeks after the establishment of the MDGs, the leaders of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) emphasized that "the biggest environmental tragedy facing the globe is human poverty." Along with a number of other donors from both developed and developing countries, one of the major ways in which OPEC has reached out to the rural poor is through the support it has given over the years to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN agency committed to fighting poverty in rural areas - where three-quarters of the world's poor live.

Currently there are about 200 ongoing IFAD supported programs and projects with co-financing from governments, beneficiaries and multilateral and bilateral donors. These programs and projects are worth a total of $6.5 billion and at full development, more than 100 million people are expected to have better lives for themselves and their families. IFAD-supported projects have an impact on all of the MDGs, and in particular those that set targets for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, for promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, and for ensuring environmental sustainability.

IFAD has consistently pursued the MDGs. In doing so, it has learned that poor rural people must develop their knowledge, skills and organizations to access the financial and other resources and services that will lift them out of their poverty. As poor rural people depend on the environment for their water, food and livelihoods, equitable access to natural resources is a key factor in their development, as is enhancing biodiversity in rural areas to ensure environmental sustainability. IFAD has also learned that unless the obstacles that prevent women from realizing their potential are removed, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the MDGs. IFAD has been very active in a number of countries in the Near East and North Africa region. For example, Egypt is IFAD's largest recipient of financial assistance in the region and was one of the first countries to receive financing from IFAD. IFAD has committed almost $200 million in loans to Egypt since 1981 to meet the challenge of reducing poverty in the rural areas. So far, about five million people have benefited from the collaboration between the government and IFAD. Funds have gone to nine agricultural development projects, designed by IFAD in collaboration with and participation of rural people, the government and other partners. Most of the projects are working with those who have settled in large portions of the desert, or "newlands," helping them to improve their housing and social amenities and to adapt appropriate desert farming technologies so that the desert - and their livelihood - can flourish. In September 2005, world leaders will meet for a review of progress made on MDGs since 1990. But the clock is ticking away. With more than a billion people living in poverty, each day, each minute, can make a difference.

The text is from a speech given in Egypt at a conference on poverty on Jan. 7, 2004. Lennart Bage is the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

Amman,17January2005
Lennart Bage
The Daily Star


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