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Sunday 19 September: Lord knows what will happen this week

Flew from London to New York this morning.  After a strong demonstration of Papal power back home – at least in his ability to dominate the British media for days – if felt somehow appropriate that the pilot announced himself as “Captain Lord”.  “We have a flight time of 7 hours 15 minutes.  I’ll get you there, on a wing and a prayer.” (OK, he didn’t really say that last bit.  But it would have been fun if he had.)

Arriving at JFK I find America is changing.  Not only has Delaware suddenly become a hotbed of electoral turmoil, but now I find the little green immigration form you had to complete on arrival has gone.  Disappeared, with nothing in its place.  After 20 years of coming here and fretting about not getting each letter within the lines on the form, I feel like I’m in a different country.

However, some things don’t change – and if it’s New York and it’s mid-September, it must be UN time.  This year the UN has a special session on the Millennium Development Goals – the targets it set for overcoming poverty, hunger and disease by 2015.  On the plane I read a dozen briefings and reports about the MDGs and the prospects for their success.  I plough through the acronyms (the development world LOVES acronyms).  There is the Lufwanyama Integrated Newborn and Child Health Project In Zambia (that’s LINCHPIN – well, just about).  And the ONE campaign have developed their TRACK principles for good aid – that’s “Transparent, Results-oriented, clear about the degree of Additionality and Conditionality, and audited by an independent mechanism to ensure promises are (here comes the K) Kept”.

Everyone basically says the same thing: there has been some startling progress made towads some of the MDGs by some countries, but not nearly enough of them and we’re not currently on track.  The Center for Global Development points to examples of success like Ghana, which reduced the number of undernourished people from more than 1 in 3 to less than 1 in ten, in the space of 14 years.  Or Malawi, which cut the risk of a child dying before five years old from 1 in 5 to 1 in 10, in 18 years.

If the stories of success are so clear, why is the overall picture not brighter?  Principally because many of the biggest countries – India, Nigeria, DR Congo and so on – are not making the progress they need (in fact Nigeria is making no progress at all). Until the big ones move further and faster, we will never get there.

Still, this is not the time for a glass half-empty.  World leaders are arriving here in force tomorrow – more than 150 of them.  They could choose to develop a clear strategy for keeping their promises and saving childrens’ lives, and then implement it.  Or they could turn away.    Watch this space.

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