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MDGs are a mere pipe dream
Publish Date: Sep 21, 2010
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Dr. Opiyo Oloya

MOST women, my mother included, in poor countries don’t know it, but world leaders are in New York this week, talking about them. In 2001, looking a decade and a half ahead, ambitious UN member states set out to tackle issues of the world’s poor by committing to reach by 2015 what became known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

As world leaders conclude their three-day summit this morning to take stock on how far they have moved toward achieving MDG, not everyone is convinced that the goals are achievable by the stated date to eradicate extreme poverty, stop children from dying young, fight diseases that wreak havoc among the poor of this world, and create a cleaner world around the poor.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, one of the originators of the MDG goals, for example, has already sounded the alarm. “The first challenge is the donor shortfall in honouring specific financial commitments to Africa,” he said on Monday at the start of the summit.

Indeed, as happened at the G8 summit this summer in Muskoka north of Toronto when world leaders pledged $5b toward the health of women and children, less than half the money promised at past summits has seen daylight as many developed nations shamelessly backtrack on their promises.

Part of the problem is that those like my mother whom the MDG goals are meant to help never get the opportunity to ask the select few seated at the high table where the money is. They cannot tell the leaders that the pledges should be kept and the money allowed to do what it is supposed to, which is to make life better, healthier and happier for the ordinary poor folks.

This lack of representation from the people for whom the MDGs were created has not stopped the leaders from speaking anyway. My mother, for instance, would be interested to know that amidst much fanfare and flashing camera lights, US Secretary of States Hillary Clinton yesterday announced new private and public sector initiatives toward solving chronic world problems of dirty cooking stoves.

Now, for as long as I have known her, my mother has daily cooked a hot meal for her large family. Even in the waning days of her long life, as happened this August when her grandsons Ogaba and Oceng visited from Canada, the daily routine includes collecting firewood, bringing them to her kitchen, setting the pieces strategically in the open fire hearth, and firing up the lot to begin cooking.

Naturally, her grandsons were amazed to see her cooking over an open fire that licked the bottom of the blackened pot in which now nestled the chicken that 10 minutes earlier they had helped chase down through the bushes. What is more, soon they were licking their fingers at the yummy food that came from grandma’s black pot.

The New York announcement is supposed to change all of this, to allow the open-fire hearth to become a thing of the past.

According to Clinton, my mother needs to trade her open-fire hearth for a much more efficient stove that uses less firewood, and less time to cook. This, she pointed out, is because open-fire cooking is one of the many health issues facing women in the developing world who often are the sole cooks in the family, and must suffer the consequences associated with toxic smoke from indoor fires that causes up to two million deaths every year. The money pledged by world leaders will target the rapid development of a variety of solution already tested and known to work.

For instance, in Indonesia, New World Energy, and Bosch and Siemens Home Appliance Group of Germany have worked on a clean-stove project that gives to households the BSH-manufactured Protos, a stove powered by crude plant oil instead of kerosene, the main cooking fuel in Indonesia. The protos uses jatropha oil which is 50 percent more efficient than kerosene.

Elsewhere in developing countries like Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador, the clean-stove initiative involves a contraption created out of drums. Known as the “rocket”, the stove uses small pieces of wood and store heat up to 600F. A much smaller and more efficient version of the rocket is created and sold in Liberia by organisation called Envirofit.

The cook stove reputedly produces up to 80 percent less smoke and harmful gases, and reduces cooking time by 40 percent, saving both money and time for family while helping clean up the environment. All this is good news for my mother and the three billion souls who use inefficient stoves to cook a meal daily around the world. The problem however is that nobody has asked my mother how best to deliver this efficient stove to her so she can finally stop inhaling the deadly smoke from her open-hearth fire.

I am sure my mother would say, “Let them give me the money in my hand, and I will go buy the stove they are talking about.” Unfortunately, as Prof. Sachs lamented, the money may never materialise if developed nations keep their hands in their pockets. Even more sadly though, according to Transparency International, a big chunk of the money that is delivered often ends up lining the pockets of corrupt greedy officials.

So they will talk a good game in New York this morning about shooting for the MDG goals by 2015, but if she lives for another five years, I am sure my mother, like millions of other women in the developing countries, will still be cooking with an open-hearth fire. I am sure of that.

Opiyo.oloya@sympatico.ca

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