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Saturday, December 7, 2013
- An annual report card on the ambitious U.N.-led initiative known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) says that in three areas – poverty, slums and water – the goals have been met ahead of the 2015 deadline, but persistent gaps remain, notably in the critical area of maternal health.
The report , released Monday, also says that the ongoing financial crisis has undermined progress on many of the goals.
“Some of the biggest challenges are the most difficult ones. It doesn’t mean we should give up,” Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former U.N. assistant secretary general for economic development, told IPS.
Based on data compiled by over 25 U.N. and international agencies, the report presents a complex and sometimes contradictory picture.
“I’m a little sceptical about how reliable our information is. For example, how do we understand a situation where poverty seems to be going down but hunger seems to be going up?” said Sundaram.
The official poverty line, as set by the World Bank, is one dollar a day. This decision was “arbitrary” and “convenient”, he said.
“A dollar a day might be enough for food in India but a dollar a day may not be good enough in Brazil,” he added.
Francesca Perucci, chief of the U.N.’s statistics planning and development section, told IPS, “Some developing countries, because of scarce resources, still face some challenges in ensuring that effective data collection programmes are conducted regularly and rely heavily on surveys sponsored and/or carried out by international organisations.”
According to the report, the proportion of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day fell from 47 percent in 1990 to 24 percent in 2008 (the most recent data available). If this pace continues, by 2015 the global extreme poverty rate would be below 16 percent – one billion people.
Water is another goal with positive results. In 1990, 76 percent of the world’s population had access to safe drinking water. This number grew to 89 percent in 2010. Estimates indicate that by 2015, 92 percent of the global population will be covered, which means that the goal would be fulfilled.
Finally, the target to achieve “a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers” had improvement but with mixed results. According to the report, the share of urban slum residents declined from 39 percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2012, which means that more than 200 million people gained access to improved water sources, sanitation facilities and better housing.
Nevertheless, even if the percentage of population living in those conditions has decreased, the absolute number of slum dwellers continued to grow, due mainly to intense urbanisation. It is estimated that right now, 863 million people are living in slums, a considerable increase compared to the 760 million in 2000.
“Even where the targets will be met by 2015, the job will not be done,” said Perucci. “The MDGs have proven to be an important framework for development and will be the basis on which to build the agenda for the post-2015 era.”
Progress for some of the goals is slow, revealing a more profound challenge. Maternal health, for example, is the goal with the least improvement. Reducing maternal deaths and advancing reproductive health requires different interventions, including transportation to hospitals, access to skilled health professionals and a minimum of four visits for antenatal care (recommended by the World Health Organization.)
“There has been visible progress in the provision of some reproductive health services, although not as rapid as in other MDG areas,” said Perucci.
Next, sustainable development goals
Every goal has different targets, for a total of 21 targets measured by 60 indicators.
“Some of the targets were not very ambitious, but quite modest,” Sundaram told IPS.
A key issue is data availability and accurate methodology. “We need to understand what is being reported, what those numbers mean,” said Sundaram.
But progress does not come only with better data, it also requires international cooperation. “With a continued political commitment, renewed partnership and the necessary funds, progress will continue,” Perucci told IPS.
The next step comes with the MDGs deadline of 2015, and the advent of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as discussed at the Rio+20 summit in June.
“We must not overburden the SDGs,” Sundaram told IPS. “If you have too many targets and indicators, the focus would be gone.”