Saturday, June 19, 2010

Millennium Development Goals: Each passing year, sanguine optimism has been giving way to persistent doom and gloom

By Ramesh Jaura
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) - The United Nations Development Programme has found the Stone of the Wise Ones to achieve in the next five years deep and far-reaching goals that range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education.

A set of targets known as the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was endorsed by the UN summit in the year 2000. With each passing year, sanguine optimism has been giving way to persistent doom and gloom spread by the brush of stark reality with which those who are targets of MDGs are confronted day in and day out.

With an eye on the target date of 2015, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is convening a summit on MDGs September 20-22, 2010 in New York. The name of the Stone of the Wise Ones that the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has discovered is the report titled 'What Will It Take to Achieve The Millennium Development Goals? An International Assessment'.

Launching the report on June 17 in New York, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said: "For those living in poverty, the MDGs have never been abstract or aspirational targets. They have offered a pathway to a better life -- a life with access to adequate food and income; to basic education and health services; to clean water and sanitation; and to empowerment for women. Put simply, advancing the MDGs is an important milestone in our quest for a more just and peaceful world."

So the stakes are high, she said, adding that in September the objective must be for world leaders to agree on a concrete action agenda that can take us successfully to 2015. "There is a range of tried and tested policies which ensure MDG progress. If they are backed by strong global partnerships, the world can achieve the MDGs."

The MDGs are eight internationally-agreed targets purported to reduce poverty, hunger, maternal and child deaths, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality and environmental degradation by 2015.

Drawing on evidence of what has worked in 50 countries, UNDP’s report provides an eight-point MDG action agenda to accelerate and sustain development progress over the next five years.


The eight points focus on supporting nationally-owned and participatory development; pro-poor, job-rich inclusive growth including the private sector; government investments in social services like health and education; expanding opportunities for women and girls; access to low carbon energy; domestic resource mobilization; and delivery on Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitments.

From the abolition of primary school fees leading to a surge in enrolment in Ethiopia to innovative health servicing options in Afghanistan reducing under-five child mortality, the report brings forward concrete examples that have worked and can be replicated, even in the poorest countries, to make real progress across the Goals.

The action agenda is undoubtedly of critical importance. But the eight points will continue to sound platitudinous in the absence of concrete steps to turn these into reality.

Clark listed the following eight points of the MDG action agenda:

1. We need to support country-led development.

2. We need to foster inclusive economic growth.

3. We must improve opportunities for women and girls.

4. We need to target investments in health and education, in clean water and sanitation, and in the professionals who run these services.

5. We need to scale up social protection and employment programmes.

6. We need to expand access to energy and promote low-carbon development.

7. Improving domestic resource mobilisation is critical for accelerating MDG progress -- whether by improving tax collection, broadening the tax base or innovative methods.

8. The international community does need to deliver on its commitments to provide development assistance as well as improve the predictability and effectiveness of aid.

There can be no gainsaying the fact that all the eight points are of critical importance. But they do not offer any new paradigms; they repeat the obvious.

However, the UNDP Administrator is right when she says: "Well-targeted and predictable aid is a catalyst for meeting the MDGs, and helping countries to build the capacities and programmes they need to attract private investment and the likely new sources of climate finance.

"The shortfall between the development assistance projected for 2010 and what was promised at the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in 2005 amounts to around 0.05 percent of the combined 2010 Gross National Income of developed countries. This gap can and must be filled, even in these challenging times. Some countries are living up to their commitments, but others are not."

Emphasizing the need for supporting country-led development, Clark said: To accelerate and sustain progress, development strategies must be locally-owned and based on broad national consensus. It helps immensely where a country’s institutions are responsive and accountable, and have the capacity to implement MDG policies and programmes.

Albania, for example, adopted an additional MDG, MDG 9, to strengthen good governance and improve accountability. This involves reforming state systems of public administration, legislation and policies to enhance their performance and advance development results.

"Development partners can help by supporting inclusive development planning which reflects the perspectives of the poor and marginalized; and also by supporting the strengthening of the local and national capacities needed to mobilise resources, deliver services and make evidence-based policy decisions," the UNDP Administrator said.

According to the UNDP international assessment, evidence suggests that rapid reductions in poverty and hunger result from economic growth which is job-rich, and which has a specific focus on agriculture in countries where large numbers of people live on the land. A fair distribution of income, assets, and opportunities also helps.


It sounds platitudinous because it is self-evident. This applies also to the statement: "In the developing world, 2.5 billion people depend on agriculture for their living. Boosting agricultural production can simultaneously reduce poverty and improve food security. To be more productive, farmers need fertilizer, seeds, extension services, secure land rights, and access to markets."

In UNDP's view, Ghana offers a good example of what has worked in this area. It has managed, through a nation-wide fertilizer subsidy programme, says UNDP, to increase its food production by 40 percent. This initiative has contributed to the nine percent decline in hunger in Ghana between 2003 and 2005.

Boosting farm production also requires improvements in rural infrastructure. As well, the conclusion of the global trade round in a way which works for poor people and countries would help.

Clark had a point when she said. "Recent decades saw a sharp decline in the share of official development assistance going to the agricultural sector. The G8 agreement at L’Aquila 2009 to invest in Global Food Security, however, was a very positive step away from that trend. It is now imperative that partners deliver on the commitments they made in L’Aquila in a timely fashion."


Improvement of opportunities for women and girls will be a powerful driver of MDG progress across all the Goals, the UNDP Administrator said. Evidence shows that children born to women with some formal education are more likely to survive to their fifth birthday, receive adequate nutrition, and be immunized and enrolled in school.

"In Viet Nam, for example, where I have just been, the children of mothers with primary education have a mortality rate of 27 deaths per thousand live births, while for those whose mothers had no education, the rate is 66 per thousand," said Clark.

The empowerment of women and girls must indeed be a top priority. That must include measures which reduce the burden of domestic activities and free women to generate income, care for their children, and send their girls to school; as well as offering broader political empowerment.

Some countries are tackling the issue through the introduction of constitutional quotas for women. One remarkable case is Rwanda, which has the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world -- over 50 percent of elected officials in the Chamber of Deputies, 35 percent in the Senate, and 36 percent in the Cabinet.

Undoubtedly there is need to target investments in health and education, in clean water and sanitation, and in the professionals who run these services.

According to UNDP, Rapid improvements in both education and health care have occurred where adequate public investment accompanied the elimination of user fees. Countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Nepal, and Tanzania, for example, all experienced surges in primary school enrolment after the elimination of user fees.

New global partnerships have increased mass immunization, the distribution of bed nets, antiretroviral drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS, and skilled attendance at birth.

Vaccination against measles, for example, reached 700 million children globally between 2000 and 2008, reducing deaths by 68 percent over the same period.

"We know that these interventions work. Now we need a concerted effort to bring them to scale and ensure that the gains can be sustained, even in times of economic downturn," said Clark.

Though the need to scale up social protection and employment programmes should be regarded as self-evident, UNDP obviously considers it necessary to point to some success stories: Brazil’s Bolsa Família and Mexico's Oportunidades cash transfer programmes increased both school enrolment and attendance rates, as well as reduced child labour. Their successes in education were achieved with the help of cash incentives for the enrolment of children in school.

"Rather than being seen as a drain on a nation’s budget, social protection needs to be seen as a critical investment in building the resilience to cope with present and future shocks, and maintaining hard won development gains."

This remark by Clark makes a lot of sense for several governments in the industrialized countries too.

There is indeed need to expand access to energy and promote low-carbon development. Expanding energy access has a multiplier effect on MDG attainment. It increases productivity; reduces smoke-related deaths; brings lighting to homes, schools and hospitals; and frees women and girls from time-consuming domestic chores like grinding grain, says UNDP.

It adds: "Expanding access to energy in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, and Senegal has created income-generating opportunities for women, while reducing the time they spend on collecting firewood and water and on other domestic chores."

Clark rightly points out: In a carbon-constrained age, growth based on reduced carbon footprints is also vital for all countries. To achieve that, a climate deal which generates significant funding for low-carbon energy and development solutions is essential -- and must not be allowed to fall off the international list of priorities.