Thursday, 23 September 2010

Translators needed as sun sets on MDG Summit

As the sun sets on the MDG Summit, it’s a little early to be able to analyse in full what’s taken place over the last few days. But it’s been a significant day. In addition to the event on water and sanitation (see previous post), two key documents were released today – the official negotiated ‘outcome document’, and the new Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

There have been a few positives to draw out, and some disappointments – all to come in a future post - but I wanted to quickly share a thought on the dividing power of language. I don’t mean divisions between the 6000+ languages in the world, but the division between those who write political declarations, and those who read them. Take pity on the UN translators.

Take “action-oriented” – the term for what the official ‘outcome document’ of this Summit, agreed by all nations, was supposed to have been. It’s a reasonable document in many ways, and includes some positive language on integrating water and sanitation interventions in efforts to promote health, education and nutrition. Genuine successes all of them. But have a read of the 31 pages (I dare you), and you won’t find an enormous amount of action to follow it up.

Take “integrated care” – the term used in the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health to promote an approach to health that includes all the things that stop you being sick, as well as those that cure you. Such as nutrition, water and sanitation. Great stuff, and exactly what we’re calling for. But read the big list of commitments, and you won’t much funding for these bits, as good as many of the other items are. It’s hard right now to drill down on the details, but in a 29 page document the word ‘water’ is used 3 times, the word ‘sanitation’ twice. Not a particularly scientific method of investigation, but also not a lot for an issue responsible for 28% of child deaths in a strategy focused on ending exactly that.

Then just try and (as they say in films) follow the money. The headline is that $40 billion has been committed over the next five years to promote women’s and children’s health. Yet we face the usual question – is this new and additional money, or is it just a sum total of what everyone is already doing? Is it a genuine change of behaviour, or a different way of counting the same thing? Will it save more lives, or is it business as usual? Unless aid budgets are set to rise – of which we have seen no indication (often the opposite) – this would simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul. A particularly cruel trade-off when it involves the world’s poorest people.

I want to be positive about this Global Strategy, and work to sure it is fully implemented and funded. It is a genuine achievement to get actors to prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable and focus political attention on women and children. If implemented the potential is enormous, and the prize is huge -– 16 million lives saved by 2015, 33 million unwanted pregnancies prevented, 120 million children protected from pneumonia, and 88 million from stunting.

But if someone could do a translation and a few calculations for me, it would be most welcome. And translating the strong statements we heard at the event on water and sanitation this morning into stronger action on building toilets and water sources would be great too.

Fuller analysis in the next few days, but until then visit the official website for all announcements.

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