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Yale prof criticizes statistics supporting U.N. initiatives

Thomas Pogge argued that data used to justify the Millenium Development Goals may be faulty

The Millenium Development Goals passed by the United Nations in 2000 have not progressed as far as publicized statistics indicate, said Thomas Pogge, professor of philosophy and international affairs and the director of the Global Justice Program at Yale, in a lecture Wednesday night.

Pogge’s talk, titled “The Millennium Development Goals and Their Successors,” was delivered at the Watson Institute for International Studies and was attended by an audience of 20 to 30 faculty members and students.

Pogge discussed what he called the problematic nature of methodology used to measure international development. The Millennium Development Goals consist of eight resolutions passed by United Nations member states to aid international development. The resolutions include ending extreme poverty, promoting gender equality and expanding access to educational opportunities.

Pogge focused primarily on the first millennium development goal, halving by 2015 the proportion of the world population that is chronically undernourished. Pogge said the project’s measurements have been altered in such a way as to make it appear that countries have made more progress on achieving the goals than they actually have.

One problem with the project’s methodology was due to a change made by officials last year — altering the definition of hunger in calculating who could be classified as undernourished, which allowed for better numbers in the project, Pogge said.

“This new methodology involved calculating hunger based on a year-long period of being hungry and caloric intake of a sedentary lifestyle,” Pogge said.

“It is basic honesty to commit to one methodology without the hindsight for how this methodology will play out in practice,” Pogge said, criticizing the changes made in methodology midway through the development project. “We should not just have an exercise in creative accounting. We must have clearly articulated goals.”

Pogge stressed the importance of accuracy in reporting numbers for development projects. “It would create a better situation for people in the developing world if people really understood the lack of food security,” he said.

Pogge said he does not believe developed nations have put enough energy into fighting world hunger. “It is much easier to overcome world hunger than the Nazis,” he said. “America and Europe made a serious effort to do that, (but) they are not making a serious effort to do this.”

Pogge faulted Western governments for their lack of initiative in confronting world hunger. “It is easier for people to face a calamity from which they are disconnected — and come in as a knight in shining armor — but it is harder when they are partly responsible for it,” he said.

To more successfully meet development goals in the future, policymakers must be precise in formulating specific targets and criteria for meeting these goals, Pogge said.

He said that a new set of goals, called the sustainable development goals, will be enacted in 2015 when the Millennium Development Goals expire.

Pogge’s speech included several recommendations for potential goals, including abolishing protectionist trade barriers that distort and diminish trade opportunities for poor countries, stimulating pharmaceutical innovation to fight infectious disease and taxing countries responsible for high levels of pollution in order to fund development efforts.

Pogge said he has received a grant from the Australian Research Council to develop a superior metric to measure poverty, adding that the most important task for developing this new metric is to “actually talk to poor people.”


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