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Poverty & SDGs

Fragile States Show Signs of Progress Toward MDGs

WASHINGTON, May 3 2013 (IPS) - Twenty of the world’s most fragile states, including those currently affected by conflict, have achieved one or more of the development targets outlined under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the World Bank said this week.

In a new paper, bank researchers offer findings that six more states are on track to meet individual development targets ahead of the MDG’s 2015 deadline.

“This should be a wake-up call to the global community not to dismiss these countries as lost causes. These signs of progress do signal that development can and is being achieved, even amid fragility and violence,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said Wednesday.

“But these challenges ahead for many countries are extremely tough. While these successes offer hope, the reality is that far too many fragile and conflict affected countries lag behind the rest of the world. We need to offer timely and critical support to improve the lives of people living in these fragile countries.”

The findings indicate significant improvements from a 2011 World Bank report that indicated that no low-income, fragile or conflict-affected country had achieved a single MDG.

The MDGs are eight international development goals, established in 2000 when all 193 United Nations member states and more than 20 leading international organisations agreed to a deadline for achievement by 2015.

According to the new report, the greatest progress has been on gender parity in education, the ratio of girls’ to boys’ enrolment in school. The analysis finds that eight fragile and conflict-affected states (including Guinea, Nepal, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Timor-Leste) have already met the goal to halve “extreme poverty”, those living on less than 1.25 dollars a day.

“The message that we feel these findings send is that fragile – and what some people refer to as ‘basket-case nations’ – can achieve and make progress in many of the areas associated with the MDGs,” Joel Hellman, director of conflict and fragile states at the World Bank, told IPS.

“It’s limited progress, but there are glimmers of hope that show that countries who make concerted efforts can and are making progress in individual areas. This is important because it highlights the areas that need further support in these countries. In addition, when you can see that progress tangibly, it creates further support for these goals.”

Hellman says the new numbers reflect both progress and better data-gathering and analysis on the part of the World Bank and the United Nations.

“We can’t make policies without information, and the MDGs have really galvanised countries and the international communities to support getting information to assess what is happening on the ground,” he says.

“With better information, we can start making better policy. Now that we have a lot more information about what is happening in these countries, this helps us assess where they are making progress in individual areas – targeting areas and sectors where particularly strong efforts have been made across the entire spectrum of targets associated with the MDGs.”

Still, Hellman cautions that there is a long way for these countries to go, noting that few of these countries will accomplish many more of the MDGs, with just 1,000 days left until the deadline passes. Further, these signs of success are in volatile countries, meaning that this progress could quickly be reversed.

Fractured model

Others suggest that this data could inadvertently paint an unduly rosy picture – and one that may not be filtering down to all of a country’s inhabitants.

“Countries are now in the midst of this global recession, facing really desperate conditions, so even in a country where you have growth, this growth is coming primarily from extractive industries, particularly oil, gas and mining,” Emira Woods, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank here, told IPS.

“So the successes on this list only represent the ‘one percent’, the elites who are benefiting. So for the World Bank to highlight that these countries are meeting at least one of the MDGs seems a bit superficial – remember, there are eight goals.”

Woods notes that countries of the global South need a role for government to determine their paths towards development, and she worries that the foreign direct investment-focused development model pushed by multilateral lenders has been shown to be detrimental to many developing economies.

“Foreign direct investment is mainly directed at extractive industries, and does not take into account environmental damage, worker’s health and rights, and the long-term cost for future generations,” she says.

“What we have seen is that this model for development continues to concentrate wealth in very few hands – often local elites – while large multinational oil, gas and mining companies benefit from an unregulated market where the role of government is kept out. Unless you change the fundamentals of those policies, countries will not be able to cut poverty in half.”

The alternative, she says, would create the space for national governments in developing countries to more actively choose their own development paths. This would include ensuring that those countries maintain the ability to protect particularly valuable sectors.

Countries with large rural populations and agriculture potential, for instance, need to be able to focus on creating opportunities for smallholder farmers to maintain their livelihoods.

“What we have instead, is the privileging of large corporations, many from the U.S. and Europe with heavily subsidised agribusiness, that create an uneven playing field where small landholders are unable to compete,” Woods says.

“The alternative is to have a local manufacturing base that creates jobs with liveable wages, so workers can feed their families and afford access to health care and housing. These are the elements of a stable community – and are needed not only in developing countries but even right here in Washington, D.C.”

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brittany larsen