This year marks a milestone in the world of development as the Millennium Development Goals era comes to a close, paving way to Sustainable Development Goals. At the start of the new millennium in 2000, world leaders vowed “to spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty” by year 2015. This was to be accomplished through a framework of eight goals that have stood as the cornerstone of many development programmes since then.
Post the MDG, the same world leaders met this week in the 70th session of the United Nations in New York to not only review progress, but also to chart the way forward. Extreme poverty continues to be a challenge, with nearly 800 million people living on less than Shs125 a day, the global benchmark of poverty, and almost a billion people going to sleep hungry every night.
Yet it is widely acknowledged that the world produces enough food to feed everybody but many people do not have access to it. Hunger is therefore not caused by scarcity but by poverty and inequality with 98 per cent of the hungry living in developing countries.
Regardless, the MDG were not in vain and much has been achieved this far. This article highlights a few of the achievements. the global figure of extreme poverty has halved, primary school enrolment has increased, gender gap has narrowed, maternal and child mortality has declined while combating HIV, malaria and other killer diseases has gone a notch higher with more resources allocated to health globally. These are global problems that primarily afflict the developing world.
The MDG acknowledged that forging a global partnership would go a long way in attaining the desired development and formed the basis of goal eight. So far, official development assistance has increased by more than 50 per cent with Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and United Kingdom exceeding the UN development assistance target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income.
Environmental sustainability has gained greater focus, with ozone depleting substances almost eliminated and the ozone layer expected to recover by the middle of the century. Sanitation has improved in many countries, with the proportion of the population practising open defecation reducing by half. Access to clean drinking water has almost doubled, so has the people with access to tap water.
That said, the world can ill afford to relish the gains and take a rest. Besides human dignity means no one should be left behind, because no one is a statistic. As the MDG come to a close, it is recognised that although significant achievements have been made on many of the targets worldwide, progress has been mixed and at best uneven across regions and countries. Millions of people have been left behind, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.
The Sustainable Development Goals will build on the achievement of the MDG and complete what was not achieved for the next 15 years. It recognises that despite significant progress, critical gaps remain, particularly for those in greatest need. Themed “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, it is anchored on the three pillars of people, planet and prosperity. Within these three pillars are 17 goals that are supported by 169 specific targets.
The theme, goals and targets are indeed noble. The resolve to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet can only be described as splendid and ambitious. The first goal is the eradication of poverty, which is recognised as the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement to sustainable development.
It is an agenda of unprecedented scope and historic significance with the potential to redefine the concept of “free market” as practiced today. Most of the inequalities today are perhaps the making of free market, with guarding of interests taking greater prominence than human dignity and environmental concerns. The exercise of economic power and protection of self interests rule the world, and are sometimes clothed in diplomatic speak. The new agenda calls for a new way of thinking.
Goal 17 seeks to strengthen the means of implementation through a revitalised global partnership for sustainable development. It calls for strengthened resource mobilisation both at domestic and international level from multiple sources. Developed countries are urged to fully implement their official development assistance commitments, including the commitment by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income for official development assistance to developing countries. More significantly though, the importance of facilitation of access to market in order to increase export of developing countries is recognised. So is the need for capacity building as re-emphasised and articulated by President Uhuru Kenyatta in his address to the United Nations General Assembly this week.
The potential in the new world agenda is immense. And true to its word, “we can be the first generation to succeed in ending poverty just as we may be the last to have a chance of saving the planet”.