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The Millenium Dev’t Goals: Towards a better future
by Marie Olga Difuntorum

Why MDGs?

The path to development is not easy to tread. In fact, it’s a tricky route.

Since 1990, the annual publication of the United Nation’s Human Development Report (HDR) has allowed a worldwide discussion on the riddle of the development process. The debate has brought to light the development experience in more recent times of many countries, particularly developing ones that economic growth does not automatically translate to improved welfare.

With globalization as the new challenge for countries in the 21st century, uneven development was further magnified with some countries experiencing prosperity while many others falling deeper into poverty.

The discussions elevated to the fore the argument that the most important outcome and impact of development must be the advancement of human development, including reducing poverty.

In 1990, the United Nations defined human development as a process of enlarging people’s choices. The most critical ones are to lead a long and healthy life, to be educated and to enjoy a decent standard of living. Additional choices include political freedom, guaranteed human rights, and self-respect.

During the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, 189 countries adopted the Millenium Declaration through a resolution passed by the UN General Assembly. The Declaration recognized that even if globalization offers great opportunities for countries to improve their situation, its costs and benefits are not evenly shared. The proposed new world development agenda attempts to make globalization inclusive and equitable, and to reduce differences in achieving poverty reduction across regions, countries, and within countries.

The UN Declaration aims to re-orient development work towards eight goals: 1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; 2. Achieve universal primary education; 3. Promote gender equality and empower women; 4. Reduce child mortality; 5. Improve maternal health; 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; 7. Ensure environmental sustainability; and 8. Develop a global partnership for development.

The MDGs offer a new framework for development – for countries to identify and focus on where they lag in reducing poverty and advancing the other areas of human development. These goals do not propose a one-size fits-all formula towards reducing poverty. Instead, it advocates the alignment of development strategies and putting resources where they are most needed.

Progress towards achieving the MDGs

After the publication of the special issue on the MDGs in the HDR 2003, the UN has published several progress reports and special issues since 2006 to assess MDG achievements worldwide. The latest of these, the Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, is generally optimistic. It notes that since 2000, some goals have already been met and more targets are reachable by 2015, but challenges remain and need to be urgently addressed.

The report notes that worldwide, big gains in health have been recorded specifically declining mortality rates from malaria and tuberculosis and declining new HIV infections although many people were still living with HIV in 2011.

The target to halve the percentage of the world’s people suffering from hunger by 2015 is within reach while the proportion of undernourished people worldwide decreased between 2010 and 2012.

Nonetheless, accelerated action is needed in reducing further the mortality rate for children under five and maternal mortality rate, improving access to primary education to lower the proportion of children who are not in school, increasing access to sanitation facilities, and reversing the decline of the world’s resources and addressing environmental concerns with climate change.

The report continues to stress on disparities – the uneven progress in achieving the goals across regions and across countries, including groups within countries, specifically urban-rural gaps. With aid money dwindling, the report notes developing countries are the most affected, negatively.

For its part, the Philippines released its first MDG country report in 2003 and since then published three country progress reports (2005, 2007, and 2010).

The Philippines presented its latest country assessment in a workshop in South Korea in September 2011. In that report, five goals were identified with a high probability of being met by 2015, five goals with medium probability, and another five with low probability of being achieved.

The five goal areas that are likely to be met by 2015 include food poverty, gender equality in education, child mortality, malaria prevalence, and access to sanitary toilet facilities. The goal areas with medium probability of being achieved include income poverty, nutrition, dietary energy requirement, access to safe drinking water, and tuberculosis prevalence.

The greatest challenge is to achieve targets for the following with a low probability of being achieved by 2015: elementary participation, survival, and completion rates; maternal mortality ratio; access to reproductive health services; HIV and AIDS prevalence; and tuberculosis deaths.

The latest country assessment also identified remaining challenges that need to be addressed for the Philippines to achieve all its MDG targets by 2015. These include financing programs and projects towards addressing critical goals, improving the database and statistics for monitoring and evaluation, the need for convergence in activities of national government agencies, and translating the national goals at the local level towards mobilizing local resources to critical goal areas.

From MDGs to SDGs: Beyond 2015

Much remains to be done towards building a better future for the world by 2015 and beyond. Already, the UN has started the groundwork for a post-2015 world development agenda knowing well not all countries will achieve critical MDG targets and the gaps in reducing poverty will remain.

The post-2015 world development agenda, to be dubbed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will help in the transition after the 2015 MDG deadline. It will continue to set global and national priorities to put global and national resources where they are most needed towards reducing poverty.

This post-2015 agenda is also envisioned to push for the need to advance sustainable development that will be at the core of the new world agenda. This will include protecting the environment by addressing climate change and environmental degradation. It will give priority towards making growth more inclusive by creating sustainable jobs and livelihoods. It will continue to push for common and shared responsibilities for the international community in helping those countries with lower capacities to advance their development. It will draw on the MDG experiences of countries including best practices and areas for improvement.

Meeting all the MDGs by 2015 is an extremely difficult task. Building the future of the world without poverty will be even more daunting. While development needs to increase people’s choices, the paradox may be that limiting human wants and desires is necessary to reduce the stress on the world’s resources. Responsible growth that improves human well-being – not limitless growth that depletes the world’s resources – may yet prove to be the key towards achieving a sustainable and better future for the world.
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