A HUB FOR IDEAS, DEBATE AND RESOURCES ON HOW THE WORLD IS DOING ON INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT GOALS
Influencing progress towards the Millennium Development Goals
Dr. Renosi Mokate is an Independent Consultant and former Executive Director of the World Bank Group.
If we are to accelerate progress towards the MDGs, and sustain the gains made to date, we need to focus on the areas that are lagging behind and on cross-cutting areas where progress will have the greatest impact across a range of goals.
As we approach the 2015 deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there is much debate on how to influence the pace and extent of progress towards them. In my view, we need to strike a balance between fast-tracking efforts to meet the MDGs that are off-track and building a foundation for sustainable progress post-2015.
Clearly, we need greater commitment and a sense of urgency, particularly to address the lack of adequate progress in sub-Saharan Africa. And if we are to sustain the hard-won progress that has been made towards the MDGs, we need to strengthen the capacity of countries and the global community to prevent and resolve conflicts. Indeed, few MDGs can be achieved without peace, stability and sound governance.
A focus on sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa is lagging behind on some key goals. According to the United Nations MDG Report 2013, poverty rates in other regions tumbled from 1990-2010, while rates fell by just 8% in sub-Saharan Africa. Extreme poverty rose by 42% and nearly half the population still lives on less than $1.25 a day. If current trends continue, only eight of the 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa will achieve the MDG target of reducing under-five mortality rates, with neonatal mortality now being a key driver of infant mortality. Sub-Saharan Africa also has the highest maternal mortality rates worldwide.
Such regional averages, however, mask the progress that has been made, and continues to be made, by individual countries. What matters is that their progress is not undermined by conflict and lack of security.
As the global community redoubles its efforts to address the MDGs that are off-track, national successes need to be shared with countries that are struggling to keep up. The global partnership for development that is represented by the MDGs has a vital role to play in providing resources and facilitating efforts by sub-Saharan African countries to harness and share their knowledge on what works and what does not, to help fast-track the implementation of effective strategies across the region.
A focus on conflict
If we pursue ‘business as usual’ approaches, it will not matter whether we double or even treble the resources to achieve the MDGs – it will not be enough. We need a greater recognition of, and response to, the specific national and institutional contexts within which we seek to achieve the MDGs.
Above all, we need to address the situation in fragile and conflict-affected states. The failure of the MDG agenda and the global community to provide speedy, effective and adequate support and resources to conflict and post-conflict countries has been a major impediment to the achievement of the MDGs. The impact of armed conflict and state failure in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has exacerbated and created poverty, as well as undermining citizens’ access to food, nutrition and basic services such as health, education and housing. It is no wonder, therefore, that according to the New Global Partnership Report (NGPR) ‘half the world’s extreme poor live in conflict-affected countries,’ a serious concern, given the UN MDG 2013 report’s finding that the ‘number of people uprooted by conflict or persecution is at its highest in 18 years.’
It is critical to refine the approach to conflict and security if we are to sustain the gains made in pursuit of the MDGs. Conflict is a particular threat to efforts to increase access to services, protection and empowerment for the most vulnerable and women and children. Without stable and sound governance, little progress will be made on this issue before 2015. On the contrary, in time of conflict it is the most vulnerable, women and children who are most likely to lose whatever gains they might have made.
Here, the strengthening of global partnerships to prevent conflict and/or promote their speedy resolution is essential, as is encouragements for the embedding of sustainable democracies. Both need to be incorporated into the MDG efforts in the run up to 2015. While such efforts may not help us hit the 2015 deadline itself, they will help to sustain the gains already made and create a foundation for post-2015 successes.
The long-term negative impact of conflict on children and youth requires a special response from countries and the global community, given the life-long consequences, not only for those affected but also for their own children. This requires approaches that focus, very specifically, on these children – in sharp contrast to the somewhat blanket approaches used to achieve the MDGs. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, for example, special efforts have been made to provide education, health care and other services to former child soldiers and other children exposed to the horrors of war, as they are reintegrated into normal society.
A focus on women and children
The empowerment of women and children is essential for progress of the MDGs that are off-track. Maternal and child mortality can be reduced significantly by preventing child marriages and improving access to reproductive health. The importance of this can be seen in sub-Saharan Africa’s adolescent birthrates – the highest in the world – and the increased risk of maternal and newborn mortality as a result of early childbearing. As well as leading to pregnancy at too early an age, child marriage undermines girls’ education, pulling them out of school and, in turn, undermining the future prospects of families and societies. We need to ensure that child marriage is not only illegal, but that the laws against it are enforced effectively.
To conclude, I believe that there are three over-arching areas of focus that are critical for the achievement of the MDGs:
• a focus on the areas with the greatest cross-cutting impact, including the empowerment of women and children
• a focus on areas where the solutions have been tried and tested, and
• a focus on building a sustainable foundation for future success through stable governments and sound governance.