UN goals do not go far enough. Poverty should be wiped out, insists Tzedek

By Jessica Elgot, October 7, 2010
Tzedek volunteer Eleanor Seagal at one of the charity’s projects in Ghana

Tzedek volunteer Eleanor Seagal at one of the charity’s projects in Ghana

Since the champagne bottles popped on the eve of the new millennium, girls now outnumber boys in education in Bangladesh, tuberculosis has been almost eradicated in Peru and a newborn baby in Brazil is 50 per cent more likely to survive into adulthood.

But more families in Nigeria live in extreme poverty, Honduras is the only Latin American country where HIV rates are falling and nearly 80 per cent of people in rural India have no sanitation, leading to widespread disease.

These successes and failures in tackling poverty are closely linked to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) an agreement made at the beginning of 2000.

Before the millennium, 200 world leaders signed an agreement at the UN to tackle extreme poverty, improve primary education, reduce child deaths, empower women, work for climate change, enhance care for mothers and fight disease by 2015.

Last week, leaders met again in New York to assess how this can be completed by the target date, producing an "Outcome Document" aimed at salvaging the goals.

The goals

● Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
● Both boys and girls should complete primary education
● Promote gender equality and the empowerment of women
● Reduce deaths in children under five by 50 per cent
● Improve maternal mortality rates and access to reproductive health
● Stop AIDS and malaria through treatment and education
● Promote enviromental sustainability, stop deforestation, improve access to water
● Develop a global partnership for development - including dealing with third world debt

And although politicians signed the pledge, it is small charities - many of them Jewish - who are on the front line in getting the work done. A key player is Tzedek, whose work in developing countries is directed towards the poverty targets.

Chairman Steve Miller has mixed feelings about how the goals really help charities like his to operate. "Our direct work has always been focused on eliminating poverty. A lay person might be surprised that the targets are so low. For example, only to halve extreme poverty - those living on less than $1 per day - by 2015. We should be aiming to eradicate extreme poverty completely. So the first job is to ensure these are seen as milestones on the way to more comprehensive goals."

But he is positive about the ways the goals help to cement commitments from politicians, and their use as an education tool. "They are very useful for us when we are raising awareness amongst the public that 'poverty' is not a one dimensional issue."

The charity's director, Dan Berelowitz, recently appointed co-chair of the Jewish Social Action Forum, explains the practical contribution. "Tzedek funds the development of schools in Northern Ghana and sends young Jewish volunteers to help in the new schools. This directly contributes towards the goal of universal primary education.

"Our Ghanaian partners aim to bring young people out of child labour and into education. Since the project started, 50 'at risk' children are off the streets and regularly attending schools."

Last week politicians gathering in New York painted a gloomy picture. But Ghana - which at the beginning of the millennium had barely half its children in primary education - is one of the few countries on target. But as Mr Berelowitz points out, creative solutions sometimes have to be found to ensure the project's longevity.

"We give two breeding goats to the children's families. The goats' kids can be sold to keep paying school fees."

The JCC and Tzedek are running a presentation on the MDGs called “Breaking Promises on Poverty?” on October 13 at 8pm at the Hub in Kings Cross.

Last updated: 11:45am, October 20 2010