I am very grateful for the opportunity to address the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs today on the outcome of the millennium development goals review summit which I attended last week along with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power. We look forward to discussing the outcome of the summit with the committee and the important role which Ireland played both nationally and in co-operation with Secretary of State Clinton, the US Administration, the UN Secretary General and our partners, especially those in Africa.
The millennium development goals are a series of detailed development targets, agreed by the international community in 2000, against which we must measure progress on the eradication of poverty by 2015. It is universally agreed that there has been progress since 2000, notably on primary school enrolments, child health and the treatment of HIV and AIDS. However, it is also clear that the numbers of people living in hunger and poverty continue to increase and that we need to refocus our efforts if we are to meet the goals in five years' time. The highlight of the summit from our point of view was the important international high level meeting on the global hunger crisis which I chaired with Secretary Clinton, in co-operation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. I proposed that we co-organise such an event when I met with Secretary Clinton at Farmleigh during her visit to Ireland last October. Its success marks a new step forward in Ireland's development policy and an important broadening of our already close relations with the United States.
Members may recall that over a year ago the Taoiseach asked the ambassador in the United States to undertake a strategic review of our relationship with the United States. In that context we were anxious to pursue other areas of substantial partnership with the United States, beyond the more historic issues dominating the bilateral exchange. This event and the closer co-operation on hunger can be seen in that context. I have met Secretary of State Clinton on a number of occasions since she came to office and she feels Ireland has a particular contribution to make in the field of hunger. She was very much taken by the hunger task force report published two years ago with the help of the Department and Irish Aid. This has given Ireland a distinctive lead in terms of advocacy on the issue of hunger and it is in this area that the US sees a partnership with Ireland can bring added value and help to galvanise other countries and non-governmental organisations across the globe. I thank Irish Aid officials and my colleague, Deputy Peter Power, for their input into the preparation for that meeting.
We had an intensive three days at the summit. In addition to plenary sessions at which the heads of delegation of all the participating states delivered their national statements, there were detailed discussions in round table format addressing the key elements of each of the millennium development goals. From early this year, Ireland had been deeply engaged in the preparations for the summit at national, EU and international level. We have worked closely with the Irish development NGOs to ensure that Ireland's total contribution to poverty reduction across all sectors was well reflected in the outcome. I was very pleased that there was strong representation at the summit by Irish development organisations, notably Dóchas, Concern, Trócaire and Gorta. We met them in formal session in New York.
One of the key principles informing our input to the summit was the need to achieve all of the millennium development goals universally in order to reduce global hunger and poverty. Ireland believes strongly that progress on any one goal will be sustainable only when supported by progress in others. In our preparations, therefore, Ireland placed a central emphasis on the global hunger crisis, which we believe is impeding progress across the full range of development goals. The first millennium development goal commits the international community to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015, but with just five years to go some 1 billion people in the world still face the crisis of hunger. These are children, mothers and fathers who do not have enough to eat and whose futures are in peril every day. There are 92 million more people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa today than there were in 1990.
The report of the Government's hunger task force, which was launched at the UN just two years ago, has galvanised international attention on the hunger crisis. Its recommendations were very clear, and the Government has accepted them. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, has been actively implementing the hunger task force recommendations right across Irish Aid over the past two years. We firmly believe that smallholder agriculture is the essential and missing element to addressing hunger and income poverty. We also need to recognise the particular vulnerability of women and children to hunger and food insecurity and the fact that women are themselves the main producers of food in developing countries. A total of 80% of smallholder farmers in Africa are women and it is also women who have the primary responsibility for children and the family.
The second principle underlying Ireland's approach was that the millennium development goals are simply not delivering for the most vulnerable. It has been estimated that the goal to reduce maternal mortality by 75% will take over 50 years if poverty rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain at their current level. It is essential in our view that priority be given to regions and groups that are making the least progress. We have argued that a substantially increased proportion of global overseas development aid should go to sub-Saharan Africa and other least developed countries. A total of 80% of our own aid programme is concentrated on sub-Saharan Africa. I will be raising this issue with EU colleagues in the coming weeks and months because it is a fundamental advocacy issue. Not enough world aid or a significantly sufficient proportion of world aid is directed at sub-Saharan Africa. There is a lot of aid but in our view it is not targeted at the most vulnerable and this is a key policy objective for us to argue at the international fora of which Ireland is a member and where we have influence.
I believe that Ireland succeeded in ensuring a strong focus on these priorities throughout the three-day summit. They are reflected clearly in the statement which I delivered to the summit, but also in the outcome document which was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly. Ireland focused its political level input during the summit on the issue of poverty and hunger. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, participated in the first of the round tables discussions on poverty, hunger and gender equality. He focused the discussion on practical steps the international community can take to tackle under-nutrition. This prepared for the major international meeting the following day which I co-hosted with US Secretary of State Clinton and which marked the launch of a new partnership between governments, civil society and the private sector to address under-nutrition. The meeting was also addressed by the UN Secretary General, by the Foreign Minister of Uganda, Sam Kutesa, and by representatives of international civil society, including Tom Arnold of Concern. The second part of the meeting was chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, and by the head of the US aid programme. It explored in detail the interventions which have already been successful in numerous countries, and heard from development ministers and international experts on hunger and nutrition. Under-nutrition remains one of the world's most serious, but least addressed, problems and yet, we know what needs to be done to tackle it. We know that the first 1,000 days, the period beginning with pregnancy and continuing until a child is two years old, is the critical period. Under-nutrition during this time results in irreversible long-term damage to a child's development. This period of 1,000 days was identified by the hunger task force as a priority area for action. It is also a priority for the Obama Administration. Together we have placed it clearly on the international agenda. The new partnership we launched is based on the scaling up nutrition framework, which is led by the UN Secretary General. It will focus on those countries and regions which are making the least progress. The fact that this event was held at such a high level, including participation by the Secretary General of the United Nations, signifies the importance which we attach to the issue of global hunger. It has undoubtedly enhanced significantly the already high reputation of Ireland's aid programme.
Ultimately the success of last week's meetings and discussions can only be measured by the impact on the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable on our planet. We must ask where we go from here. Official development assistance is an essential, but not the sole, contribution to international development. The international target is to devote 0.7% of GNP to overseas development aid by 2015. Last year, Ireland provided 0.54%, in very difficult budgetary circumstances. We are committed to achieving the 0.7% target by 2015. As I informed the UN General Assembly, since 2000, Ireland has provided some €6 billion in official development assistance. This is an extraordinarily large sum of money. It is without precedent in any other decade since the foundation of the State. The global economic crisis has simultaneously hit the least developed countries and imposed pressures on development budgets world-wide. In these circumstances, it is essential that we focus rigorously on the effectiveness of our aid and that we prioritise key sectors.
We will continue to focus our overseas development aid spending on the poorest and most vulnerable, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. We will devote 20% of the Irish Aid programme to the fight against hunger. We will work hard to galvanise further international support and action for accelerated progress on hunger and under-nutrition. Secretary of State Clinton and I undertook to return to the UN General Assembly in 2013 to report on the progress that we have made. I look forward to hearing the views of the committee on how we can work together on Ireland's role in the renewed effort to achieve the millennium development goals. I believe that Ireland played an important part in this international effort last week in New York. The challenge now is to build on this in the years up to 2015 and beyond, working in partnership with countries and communities in the developing world.