Lord McConnell: Ending extreme poverty is within our grasp

Posted On: 
10th March 2015

Labour peer and former Scottish First Minister writes about the 0.7% international aid commitment and his recent trip to the Philippines with VSO

We reached a UK milestone in International Development this week with the passing of the Bill to enshrine 0.7% of GNI for Aid. It is a signal of our cross-party commitment to meet Britain’s historic obligations. And this law will also allow us to move from debating the quantity of UK aid to the quality of UK aid. Critical to that will be the agreement of new Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations in September 2015. They will be vital in shaping the direction of future development.

Tomorrow in Parliament, I will Chair a consultation meeting with Amina J. Mohammed, the Special Adviser on the SDGs for Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General. Our event is organised by those APPGs involved with international development and will be attended by MPs, Peers, NGOs, government officials and Ambassadors. It is a chance for us to influence the debate as we come closer to the final decisions on the SDGs, and I look forward to highlighting the importance of conflict prevention, climate action and capacity building if we are to end extreme poverty by 2030.

I have just returned from the Philippines. I was back for a second time as a Parliamentary Volunteer with VSO Bahaginan – the Philippines wing of VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) – to campaign with Beyond 2015 and support those locally fighting for justice and an end to extreme poverty.

On my return to Leyte, I was unsure what to expect. This island was the most affected by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 and on my last visit in February 2014, the population were still in shock. Beyond the main streets debris still covered land and buildings and farmers were beginning to panic over the replacement of the 32 million coconut trees that were lost, and the need to feed their families and start to earn an income again.

In Tacloban, the main town, commerce has now returned. There is a spring in the step of the people. Shops and schools are open again. The airport has been reroofed and is no longer a shell. Everywhere I hear praise for the UK. Between government humanitarian aid and private donations, the UK was the single largest donor following Typhoon Haiyan, or Yolanda as it is known locally. Our contribution was fast and targeted important priorities.

In Tolosa, Sante Fe and Dulag, local farmers were able to tell me that the new homes built since 2013 withstood the three smaller typhoons in 2014; some crops planted last year survived those fresh onslaughts; and rebuilding of local schools was now underway.

However, in each of the three areas – the scale and speed of replanting, the number of new homes and access to vital services – there are concerns. The capacity of national and local government is strained, and there is much still to be done.

For the longer term, the global community must take consistent action to slow down climate change and reduce the likelihood of extreme weather events. And we must also invest in disaster risk reduction and mitigation.

The new Sustainable Development Goals will succeed the Millennium Development Goals. The MDG’s addressed urgent deficiencies in basic provision and set targets for primary schooling, clean water, vaccinations, and maternal health. But we must now go further. In our world today – and the best example of this is the Philippines – if we are to invest in programmes that transform the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable, the SDG’s must prioritise climate change, conflict and inequality, and they must lead to capacity building that secures delivery of those targets.

There is a real opportunity in 2015 to effect change over the next fifteen years. This week in the UK, with a long-term commitment to meet our international obligations, and our engagement to deliver ambitious SDGs, we are taking the right steps. Ending extreme poverty is within our grasp. I hope we will stay the course.