Much of the developing world, including our own country, remains caught up in a seemingly endless cycle of political instability, internal strife, and growing external debt. Despite spurts of economic growth, the vast majority of citizens in developing countries continue to be deprived of basic amenities such as the opportunity to obtain an education, availability of health facilities, and even access to clean drinking water and sanitation.
Back in 2000, the United Nations Millennium Declaration had tried to put forth a collective goal with tangible targets for improving the lives of the deprived multitudes across the globe. With the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs fast approaching, progress on achieving these goals remains mixed at best, according to the latest UNDP report on the MDGs, which was prepared this year.
The world has reduced extreme poverty since 1990s, when almost half of the population in the developing world used to live on less than $1.25 a day. This rate has dropped to 22 per cent by 2010. Between 2000 and 2012, an estimated 3.3 million deaths from malaria were averted. Over 2.3 billion people have gained access to an improved source of drinking water between 1990 and 2012. Similar progress has been made in education, including that of girls, and other MDG goals such as improving sanitation facilities for the poor.
Nonetheless, ensuring that poor people across the world have access to the basic facilities, which was the underlying objective of the MDGs, still remains elusive. While a quarter of the world’s population has gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, a billion people were estimated in 2012 to still be resorting to open defecation due to lack of toilet facilities.
There are other growing threats which the MDGs have not been able to contend with effectively. Global emissions of carbon dioxide have continued their upward trend, and such emissions in 2011 were almost 50 per cent above their 1990 level. Millions of hectares of forest continue being lost every passing year, and many species are being driven closer to extinction. Renewable water resources are becoming scarcer by the day.
Progress on hunger is not sufficient. In countries like our own, hunger has become an increasingly serious concern over the past decade. Thus, meeting the target of halving the percentage of people suffering from hunger across the world by 2015 will certainly not be possible. One in four children is still affected by chronic malnutrition. Much more needs to be done to reduce maternal mortality given that almost 300,000 women died in 2013 from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. While maternal death is easily preventable, much more needs to be done to provide adequate care to pregnant women. The World Health Organisation last year estimated that the world needs another seven million skilled healthcare staff for improving access to basic health services. How this human resource investment will be achieved remains uncertain, especially when international donor agencies like the World Bank are in favour of curbing rather than enhancing public funding.
Moreover, while International development assistance had nearly reached $135 billion in 2013, the highest level ever recorded, aid is actually shifting away from the poorest countries towards those which are more capable of servicing their debts. UN development agencies need to assertively engage with other multilateral and bilateral development aid agencies to more effectively channel aid to achieve internationally endorsed human development goals like the MDGs, otherwise they will continue to remain mere aspirations for the foreseeable future.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2014.
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