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Asia-Pacific MDGs

Minar PimpleMinar Pimple

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Matt Smith:

Welcome to the La Trobe University podcast. I will be your host, Matt Smith, and I'm here today with Minar Pimple. He is the deputy director and head of Asia's United Nations Millennium Campaign. Thank you for joining me, Minar.

Minar Pimple:

Thank you.

Matt Smith:

Tell me about the work that you're doing in Asia for the Millennium Development Goals.

Minar Pimple:

The United Nations Millennium Campaign was founded by the Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the year 2002. And our core purpose is to work with citizens all over the world so that citizens can hold their governments accountable towards the achievement of Millennium Development Goals.

And to that extent, we work in about 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Asia-Pacific, as you know, is a mixed region where you have developed countries or rich countries like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and you have the poorest countries in the world like Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia.

So we're in 14 countries working with parliamentarians, working with local governments, working with civil society organizations, working with young people, letting them know that there is something called the Millennium Declaration which was signed by 189 world leaders in the year 2000 promising that the world will be a better place to live for all women, men, youth and children by year 2015.

And so that they can then ask the right questions to their politicians, to their policy-makers, saying, "What are you doing towards ensuring that there will be no more hunger? What are you doing to ensure that extreme poverty is eradicated? What are you doing to reduce infant mortality, child mortality, mental mortality?"

And in a country like Australia, they can ask questions to their politicians, "What are you doing in terms of quantity and quality of development assistance or aid" that they are supposed to give to the poor countries? "What are you doing about cancelling debts of poor countries? How are you making your trade policies more equitable, more fair to the poor countries so that they can do a fair amount of business with you? And how domestic results in mobilization towards achieving Millennium Development Goals?"

So my business, my work, is to coordinate this campaign in these 14 countries. In most of the countries, especially in the poor countries, we have our own offices based in the United Nations, and the officers there coordinate with all these groups that we work with. So it's been exciting. I've been at it for the last 40 years now.

Matt Smith:

Are your duties to simply build up knowledge and let people know that this sort of thing needs to be done and the Millennium Development Goals exist? Or do you also interact directly in trying to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals in the countries?

Minar Pimple:

We don't work on projects for achieving Millennium Development Goals. Many other UN agencies like UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, ILO work with governments in respective countries to help them achieve Millennium Development Goals.

So our business is on what is called the 'demand' side, that the people demand achievement of Millennium Development Goals, while other UN agencies work on the supply side, working with governments to help them, to build their capacities, to give them resources so that they can fulfil their commitment on Millennium Development Goals. So the campaign is an inter-agency initiative basically working on the demand side.

Matt Smith:

Is there any specific Millennium Development Goals that need more attention in Asia?

Minar Pimple:

From our perspective, all goals are interlinked and interrelated, so all of them need to be achieved. But in terms of specific challenges for Asia, well, two or three key challenges.

One challenge, of course, is the challenge of hunger. And that is leading to growing malnutrition among children. So that is one big challenge. Growing unemployment among young people, which is, again, another challenge, because that creates a lot of social disturbance.

And then the whole challenge around mother and child health in terms of--even today, you have hundreds of thousands of women every year dying during pregnancy or pregnancy-related causes. Almost every six seconds, a child is dying somewhere in the world from preventable causes. So, the mother and child health issues.

So those are I think the top-line concerns. Not that that means every other Millennium Development Goal has been achieved, but there is a progress much more than many of these goals.

Matt Smith:

Equality between men and women: that's a Millennium Goal, isn't it? Is that sort of thing a challenge in some Asian countries?

Minar Pimple:

It is a challenge in some of the countries and that is why it is also linked with the whole mother and child health issues.

Matt Smith:

Which is to get past the culture.

Minar Pimple:

Yeah. Not only culture, it's also the whole culture, the whole patriarchal systems that of course exist, and those power structures are hard to break. And it will take some time where you will have equal number of women in the policy- and decision-making processes.

And that's also, again, another issue. So we see Millennium Campaign as an all-arching theme is gender equality. So if you look at it from that perspective, that is a kind of a framework in which we operate.

Matt Smith:

Do you think the Millennium Development Goals are achievable?

Minar Pimple:

I still believe very strongly. We have six more years to go from 2010 to 2015. Even today, if governments decide put their political will behind it, put resources behind it, integrate Millennium Development Goals as part of national development strategies, engage citizens across the board, deal with the issue of corruption and leakages and slippages to a large extent in a large number of countries, MDGs are still achievable.

Matt Smith:

Is there any countries within the Asian region that have achieved the MDGs?

Minar Pimple:

You have countries like Vietnam, countries like Thailand, which are called MDG-plus countries. They already achieved. And some of them are now looking towards more ambitious targets.

Some of the countries are really not there. Some of the countries have integrated them as very much part of their national development strategy, have created their own development goals. Like in the case of Cambodia, you have Cambodian Millennium Development Goals. CMDGs. Or in the case of Mongolia, you have Mongolian Millennium Development Goals.

So they have adopted them as part of their national development strategies. In the case of India, you have national development goals taken from MDGs.

Matt Smith:

So they're making it more realistic for their own countries?

Minar Pimple:

One is realistic, and integrating it, so that national ownership is very critical. MDGs ultimately need to be achieved by the national governments in cooperation with their citizens. They cannot be achieved by outside government for any other government.

Matt Smith:

Has there been a lot of cooperation between countries to achieve goals?

Minar Pimple:

Yes, there has been quite amount of--like you now have, at least in the Asia-Pacific region, you have three compacts. One is the SARC Development Goals, SDGs, which emerge from Millennium Development Goals, as SARC countries, South Asian Regional Cooperation countries have decided to do cooperation among themselves.

You have ASEAN declaration on achievement of MDGs, which was passed last year. And this year, just recently, you had the Cairns Compact, which was signed by all the Pacific countries including New Zealand and Australia, committing aid towards achieving MDGs for the Pacific region.

So you have a lot of regional cooperation, which is where MDGs are being seen as a centrepoint around which the regional cooperation is getting bigger. So you have a lot of those regional cooperation happening.

In terms of the donor coordination globally, yeah, many countries are now following certain principles of what is called the 'aid effectiveness,' are making aid more effective, are making aid more owned by the national governments and being aligned to the national priorities and not follow the whims and fancies of the donor. That is happening in some way in different countries.

So I see a lot of that kind of cooperation that is coming up. MDGs, globally and nationally, in many instances have become a framework for other organizing principle as a development strategy, framework development strategy, which is I think a great achievement over the last nine years in any case.

Matt Smith:

Your territory covers Australia, doesn't it?

Minar Pimple:

Yes. It's Asia-Pacific.

Matt Smith:

OK. Do we pose a significant challenge given that, location-wise, we're considered Asian or part of the Asia-Pacific, but culturally, we're very different from other Asian countries?

Minar Pimple:

No. I think Australia plays a very significant role in the Pacific region, and as part of the Asia-Pacific, member of the Asia-Pacific community, has been a very, very strong member.

And as a global community, I think Australia, with the new administration, which when they came to power, one of the first announcements made was reaching 0.5 %, and then of course in principle, they want to reach 0.7% sooner or later, which is I think a great start from not having any timetable earlier to having a timetable and being clear about that timetable. And one is seeing that the Australian government is serious in delivering on those commitments.

Also, it has affected the Cairns Compact, the commitment to the Pacific country neighbors and helping them on a number of ways, from building capacities to resources to technology transfer, the whole range of issues, which I think is a positive sign.

So I would say that the role of Australia in the Asia and the Pacific is quite significant. And now, hopefully, in spite of the differences among various leaders that matter, the whole of leadership on the climate change agenda that is emerging from this region, and Australia plays a very critical role within that. So I say it is very much - it does play a very strong role regionally and also as a member of the G20.

Matt Smith:

Have you seen any specific examples of the Millennium Development Goals making a difference?

Minar Pimple:

Everywhere. We are not entrusted in reinforcing the thing that you put a lot of aid in one village and then that one village achieve MDGs. No, that did not sustainable. What our perspective is that citizens are entitled to achieve Millennium Development Goals, and governments are supposed to deliver Millennium Development Goals. And that is what we want to ensure.

That is the best way of sustaining the MDGs beyond MDGs and beyond NGOs and beyond a UN institution because, ultimately, it is the governments and the citizens of that country have to put policies in place, have to put resources in place, have to ensure social mechanism of delivery that will continue in a sustainable way of MDG achievement.

I've seen many, many projects where things have changed over the last one year, two years, but I remember being very enamoured by those, because they can be... Two years a village can--until the time the fund is coming from somewhere, it's OK. After the fund has stopped, the village goes back to worse situation than what it was.

Matt Smith:

How did you get involved in this project?

Minar Pimple:

I led a non-governmental organization in India for about 20 years. After that I was heading a human rights organization, a global human rights organization focusing on human rights education for about two and a half years.

That time also I was campaigning MDGs as human rights. Right to work, right to education, right to health, right to water, right to safe sanitation, right to gender equality are all rights. So from my perspective, MDG is a stepping stone towards achieving human rights. At least economic, social and cultural human rights. And that is why I got attracted to this job.

And I always believed that it has to be a multi-sectoral approach. So universities, businesses, civil society organizations, faith-based organizations, governments have to work together towards achieving MDGs. So from that perspective, this is a multi-sectoral conference, which is great.

Matt Smith:

Minar Pimple, thank you for your time today.