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The UN’s Annual Monitoring Report, analysing the progress made towards the Millennium Development Goals, was released recently. With only three years to go before the deadline is reached, now is an important time to reflect on the progress made – or lack thereof.
There was good news as the number of people in extreme poverty fell in all regions. In 1990, 47 per cent of the world was living on less than $1.25 a day, but by 2008 this had fallen to 24 per cent. Other targets on drinking water access and slum-dwellers were also met and exceeded respectively. With regards to health, there was positive news as levels of access to HIV treatment widened, rates of tuberculosis fell since 2002 and global malaria incidents, as well as deaths, decreased.
It also reports on other achievements in furthering primary school education and tackling child mortality rates. There is now greater equality between the number of girls and boys in primary education. Enrollment in primary school has generally increased, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa; between 1999 and 2010, enrollment rose from 58 to 76 per cent. In addition, more children are living past the age of five, with the number of under-five deaths dropping from more than 12.0 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010, worldwide.
Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, reflected positively on the results in the report: “These results represent a tremendous reduction in human suffering and are a clear validation of the approach embodied in the MDGs. But they are not a reason to relax.”
This is because despite these gains, progress was uneven and positive results were not shared equally across and within regions and countries. For instance, few or slow gains are being made in some areas such as secure employment, gender equality, maternal healthcare, child malnutrition, sanitation and hunger. Indeed, nearly half of the population in developing regions – 2.5 billion people – still lack access to improved sanitation facilities. At this rate, 2015 targets in this area will not be met. Meanwhile, estimates reveal that around 850 million people are living in hunger in the world. Alarmingly, close to one third of children in Southern Asia were underweight in 2010.
Ban Ki-Moon is right to be cautious, especially in current economic climates: “The current economic crises besetting much of the developed world must not be allowed to decelerate or reverse the progress that has been made. Let us build on the successes we have achieved so far, and let us not relent until all the MDGs have been attained.”
It was over a decade ago that world leaders agreed to the Millennium Development Goals and it is clear that much has been achieved. Nevertheless, as the 2015 deadline draws closer, it is also clear that there is still much more to be done. Not to mention looking forward and planning what will happen beyond 2015.
“Our governments are locked into the chains of the status quo” so said Jeff Sachs this week at the Rio plus 20 summit, “What we need are pioneers who don’t ask for permission.”
As the Rio+20 Summit comes to a close there is a mixture of sentiments in the air, none of which is excitement. Veteran policy makers at the summit tell me that ‘if everyone leaves the negotiation table unhappy, you have probably done something right.’ At a meeting of this size, the largest UN gathering ever, bold declarative commitments on behalf of our collective future were hard to come by.
The conference is largely about natural capital, how we divvy up resources like fisheries and forests, and negotiating around rights to use those resources. What we really need is a return to old virtues and bold declarative leadership. We have abandoned ourselves to markets and to politicians, and I am struck by a lack of vision.
I am in Rio because I was invited to participate in a high-level event on accelerating progress in the Millennium Development Goals (the agreed upon global platform to end extreme poverty around the World) through Youth Innovation. I was absolutely humbled by the visionaries in the room, many personal heroes: Marina Silva, Jeff Sachs, Ted Turner, Mohammed Yunus, and the Secretary General. What I saw in their stance was that each led first with bold actions in their respective fields- their collective actions will leave an enduring legacy on the world.
“Mohammed Yunus did not take the textbook of microfinance off the shelf, he wrote the textbook! But even before he wrote the textbook he did it so it wasn’t theory, it was practice, it was proved, it was demonstrated.” Sachs continued, “Our politicians are highly refined followers, that is their job in a democracy – they listen closely – they wonder what will get votes… okay that is the way it works, we have to be the one to tell them what gets votes!”
Later that day in response to the conference in general, a group of 200 gathered in protest, handed in their access badges and walked out chanting “the future we want is not found here!” It was the most declarative statement I had heard thus far, but I also realized that these valuable voices had just left the room.
The acute tension at Rio+20 is how do we break the quagmire? Twenty years ago declarations were born that have yet to come to life, and the stakes are high- our collective futures depend on them.
We need the visionaries to inspire the masses because the will of the masses drives the political will upon which these collective agreements are forged.
The future we want is found in leaders rising up. We need the bureaucrats and the protesters, we need the system and the movement; for in the tension between them lies a dynamic possibility. We no longer have a choice, as the future we want is no longer a question but a generational imperative. If we do not declare it with commitment and live boldly into our interdependence, we will face 7 billion people (and growing) all fighting for scraps from the table.
What I take away from Rio is that we need the collective table we all sit down at to listen and discuss, but we also need those willing to take a stand. We need them to shout with their actions and their words because the future we want isn’t just found at the tip of the politicians pen, but rather in the seeds sewn by a generation of global citizens. These citizens are committed to bold vision and innovative action taken on behalf of a collective future because our generation does not have the legacy to wait another 20 years.
My Keys to the future we want:
More transparency and accountability, and a more inclusive process- where the voices in the room are not simply those with access badges
More Social Enterprise- businesses that measure environmental and social impact, along with economic benefits
Political will- this is where the movement and the establishment can meet. If citizens can demonstrate they are informed, engaged and most importantly mobilized, their representatives take note
Global Citizens like you– informed, inspired, and taking action
*Image Above: Ted Turner, Above Left: Michael Trainer, Above Right: Michael Trainer and Mohammed Yunus.
For many, Easter is a time of reflection, and so we wanted to share a reflection on progress that the world is making towards the Millennium Development Goals from the UK's Department for International Development.
September 2011 saw the UN General Assembly host MDG Countdown 2011: Celebrating successes and innovations. UK Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell and USAID Administrator Raj Shah came together to celebrate the significant progress being made towards achieving the goals.
The clip released from the event charts the successes made across all 8 MDGs since they were first proposed at the Millennium Summit 11 years ago - with some of the most significant successes including: 1.8 billion people gaining access to safe drinking water and over 11 African countries showing a 50% drop in the number of malaria cases. The video reminds us that change on an immense scale has been achieved, but that in the run up to 2015 the momentum must not be slowed. We must continue to strive towards change; to achieve those remaining targets and to continue to save lives.
World leaders have gone home, the news is back to covering local stories, and the traffic in New York has returned to its usual crawl after last week’s MDG Review Summit.
After all the fanfare, the reports, the receptions and the endless speeches, we wanted to take a step back and ask – where are we at with the MDGs?
There are two big trends that we’ve pulled out and will focus on here:
Good, but not fast enough
It’s about more than aid
Good but not fast enough
Time and again, leaders took to their feet to declare the possibility that the MDGs can be achieved, but that we needed to work harder, faster, smarter, better . On education, on gender equality, on child and maternal mortality, on sanitation. And, although there’s no denying our potential to do each of these things, we need to take a step back and work out why we’re off-track on many MDGs.
To take the detail of just one example - child mortality has fallen to the still devastating figure of 22,000 children a day, down from 36,000 a day back in 1990. We’re off track on this goal largely because we made very little progress between the baseline year of 1990, and the actual setting of the MDGs in 2000.
In 1990, child mortality was 89 per 1000 live births. Fast forward to 2000, and it’s 77 per 1000 live births. Today, it’s 60. That’s a drop of 12 in the first 10 years, and 17 in the next 9. To quote UNICEF, “The annual rate of decline in under-five mortality has accelerated from 1.4 percent over the 1990s to 2.8 percent over 2000–2009.”
In the case of child health, what we’re doing now is working. Being off-track is a consequence of poor early progress, not failed interventions in recent years.
It’s in that context that the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, announced a new Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, a $40b pitch to reach our goals on child and maternal health. It’s an ambitious strategy that brings together governments of both rich and poor countries, foundations and business.
It’s well worth a read as a summary of the things that we know work, and how we can continue to make progress. But, it’s also worth noting that there’s nothing much new in there – either in terms of policy or financing. We know what to do, what’s missing is the ongoing political will and resources to ensure that promises are followed through on.
It’s about more than aid
Perhaps it was because the rich countries are a little strapped for cash at the moment, but for the first time in almost a decade, leaders were keen to talk about the non-aid elements of development.
President Obama was the most strident in this respect, outlining a new Global Development Strategy for the US, arguing that,
“First, we’re changing how we define development. For too long, we’ve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines that we delivered. But aid alone is not development. Development is helping nations to actually develop -- moving from poverty to prosperity. And we need more than just aid to unleash that change. We need to harness all the tools at our disposal -- from our diplomacy to our trade policies to our investment policies.”
“the purpose of development -- what’s needed most right now -- is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed. So we will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people. We will seek development that is sustainable.”
We wholeheartedly agree with the President’s statement here, and for anyone who’s seen the 1.4 Billion presentation, we talk about governance, aid and trade as essential ingredients to drive development.
Yet, despite the rhetoric moving beyond aid, there are as yet few signs that rich countries will follow with action. The US maintains massive subsidies on cotton, undercutting poor country farmers and keeping millions poor. The EU’s common agricultural policy prices out dairy farmers in places like Kenya, and the weak regulation of financial institutions around the world enables corrupt monies to be transferred without scrutiny.
As we work towards the MDGs, we need to recognise the sprit and implications of the eighth goal, a global partnership for development. It’s about more than just giving aid, it’s about changing the things that keep people poor.
Ten years into the promise, we’re seeing that change is possible, it’s happening, but it’s going to take more than just kind words and a small bump in aid. It’s going to take aid programs that are really focused on the poorest, it’s going to take trade and foreign policy that creates a fair playing field, and it’s going to take changes from every one of us to ensure that we hold our leaders to account whilst taking personal action in support of the world’s poorest.