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.