Last week, the United Nations published its Millennium Development Goals (MDG) annual report on the progress that has been made towards the goals set by this roadmap to end poverty. As we know, there was plenty of good news, particularly about global health. In just the first decade of this century, deaths from malaria—a devastating disease among young children— were reduced by 25%. Two billion people gained access to cleaner drinking water. The prevalence of tuberculosis is likely to be halved by 2015, and improved access to health care and immunisation now prevents the deaths of five million children every year. All this on a planet that in 2010 reached the goal of halving extreme poverty, five years before the deadline established by the MDG.
Whichever way you look at it, these are impressive results, a testimony to the value of a set of goals that have brought together and guided the efforts of the international community in the fight against poverty. But this does not mean that we can rest on our laurels.
First, the inability of donors and governments to guarantee the economic and political resources required to fulfil the MDGs has meant that progress on some goals (such as universal access to primary education and reducing maternal mortality) lags far behind the expansive rhetoric of international officials. Some problems are rooted in the very design of the MDGs themselves: since they were launched in 2000, the MDGs have been criticised for being unambitious (and even irrelevant to the emerging regions, such as Latin America, that are home to most of the world’s poorest populations) and for ignoring variables considered essential to global progress, such as climate change.
What is more important, the MDGs have been of little use in evaluating and reducing the inequality and vulnerability gap that separates countries, communities and individuals all over the world. In an age of shocks affecting the economy, climate, energy, and food, the ability of a population to cope with sudden change is a key indicator of progress. Remember, for example, the crushing effect of the rise in staple food prices in 2007-2008, a phenomenon that drove 250 million people into hunger within just over one year.
Correcting these deficiencies has become a key objective in the debate about the future of the MDGs. The next generation of global anti-poverty goals, which will be launched when the current goals expire in 2015, considers such issues as adaptation to climate change, universal health coverage, and other more comprehensive social protection mechanisms. There is debate about the possibility of establishing measurable goals relating to inequality, a phenomenon that weighs heavily on the development and social integration of the world’s poorest communities.
Some of the axioms that underpinned the first generation of MDGs are no less true today: there is no way to ensure reasonable results in the fight against poverty without significant and sustained flows of international aid. As the MDG report noted, the fact that several countries (most notably Spain) are backpedalling on their aid commitments is very bad news.
[This post was published simultaneously on the 3.500 milliones blog]
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