Wednesday, May 6, 2015

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Experts Weekly: What Should be in the Post-2015 Development Goals?

With the expiration of the MDGs fast approaching, Think Africa Press asks a panel of experts what direction the next set of goals should take to help Africa develop.
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The children are the future. Children in in Chatimba, Malawi. Photograph by khym54.

The 2015 expiry date for the UN's Millennium Development Goals is fast approaching. With this in mind, many have already entered the heated debate over what the MDGs actually achieved and what still needs to be done. The global poverty target may have been reached well before the deadline, but other areas (such as sanitation, improving healthcare systems, and particularly reforming global partnerships) have conspicuously lagged behind. Other issues such as mental health, access to information, industrial development or inequality were left out of the MDGs entirely.

Think Africa Press asked a number of experts: What should be in the post-2015 goals that were left out of the MDGs to help Africa move forward?

View from the analysts:

Malcolm Langford, Research Fellow, University of Oslo, and Visiting Professor, University of California (Berkeley)

The MDGs were a tight and focused framework. So many issues were naturally excluded. However, the opportunity of revising the agenda in 2015 creates a window of opportunity to rethink the approach. For Africa, two things seem critical:

The first is that any post-2015 agenda should be fairer towards Africa. In the MDGs, the most exacting commitments concerned reduction of poverty and disease in developing countries. Developed countries made only vague and unquantified promises to help with aid, trade and debt relief. This needs to change in 2015. We need to see real commitments by developed countries in areas like fair trade, migration for low-skilled workers, climate change, financial and corporate regulation and transfers of technology. We also need to avoid a framework that too often stigmatises Africa for being ‘off-track’ but fails to recognise important progress on the ground. One way to avoid this is to set more ambitious and relevant targets for middle-income countries. This way, all countries are in the same boat.

The second is that the post-2015 agenda must focus on areas that are real issues in Africa. If the MDGs contributed anything, it was to give a boost to critical but neglected areas such as maternal health and sanitation. What excluded issues need a boost today? At the top of the list for Africa should be access to secondary education, social protection, and support to small-scale farming and other livelihoods, as well as more social equity. For some MDG targets, none of the reported progress has reached the poorest of the poor. But the real issues are not just socio-economic rights and goals. Good governance and civil and political rights were conspicuously absent from the MDGs even though they were present in the Millennium Declaration.

States and international institutions that ignore these issues do so at their peril. The Arab Spring should act as a warning. Egypt and Tunisia were officially ‘on track’ to reach the MDGs, but corruption, lack of democracy, unemployment, inequality and high food prices were the real concerns of citizens.

Carlos Oya, Lecturer in Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

The 2015 deadline to achieve the famous MDGs is very close. We already know which ones will be achieved and which ones not, and all the development wonks are now busy discussing a post-MDG agenda and what targets should be prioritised. It is clear that something has to change and too many people have grown tired of the often trumpeted MDG targets.

Essentially, these universal targets were useful to force the aid ‘community’ (or industry?) to get its act together and substantially expand aid for worthy causes such as health, education and poverty reduction. And we now know that the universal poverty target has been achieved well ahead of the 2015 deadline, for example. Well done. But this has happened essentially because poverty has fallen significantly in countries that were not particularly affected by aid and that usually did not follow the classic policy templates promoted by aid agencies (for example China and much of East Asia). In other words, the MDG agenda was not really necessary to achieve this important target. And what is the point of these universal targets anyway? What do they really mean for individual countries? Actually, in practice, very little. Let developing countries and their governments and organisations decide their own targets and let aid agencies contribute to them if they want. Let politics and social struggles do the rest.

David Sogge, independent researcher currently associated with the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre

The expiring goals have two main merits. Firstly, they draw attention to some serious problems. Secondly, while by no means dethroning ‘trickle down’ economics, the MDGs imply that the problems are too urgent to wait for market forces to do the job – they require instead reinforcement of the public sector.

But the expiring goals also have two main demerits. Firstly, they largely neglect equity – fairer distributions of income, assets and socio-political influence. Secondly, and related to the first, they focus on symptoms and technical matters rather than on what drives the problems. Some of those drivers operate internationally, far outside the control of those tasked with achieving the goals.

What would remedy these shortcomings? Without denying difficulties and risks, I think national and especially international authorities (who have, after all, lobbied most vigorously for global goals) should face up to the skewed politics that frustrate even non-ambitious policies like the MDGs. Setting aside here the important matters of how to get valid data, and how to adjust goals region-by-region or country-by-country, here are some targets worth debating and refining:

By the year 2025, relative to baselines around the year 2000:

· Distributions of income, as measured by polarisation indexes such as the 90:10 (top 10 % to bottom 10 %) ratio, should be significantly more equitable.

· Possession of vital assets (namely skills/education, land, housing and physical infrastructure) should be significantly more equitable.

· Health and nutrition status disparities across income groups should be significantly reduced.

· Domestic tax scope and fairness (for example, as measured by the “Plato Index”) should show improvement.

· Global taxation and asset recovery systems should be nearly complete. (a) Financial secrecy jurisdictions (tax havens) should be on the way to extinction; (b) Worldwide verification of beneficial ownership of financial and other assets should be possible thanks to corporate registry systems; (c) A global corporate tax system (such as Unitary Taxation) should be up and running; and (d) the essence of Article 20 of the UN Convention against Corruption, which criminalises illicit enrichment, should be part of all national legal systems, and significant repatriation of stolen assets should be under way.

· Statutory redistribution systems should be under construction. A ‘social protection floor’ guaranteeing everyone’s access to basic healthcare, child benefits, income security for working-age people and the elderly/disabled should be available on an ever-widening basis. For the lowest-income countries, a global fund to initiate and provisionally sustain such a ‘social protection floor’.

Sound utopian? Not necessarily. After all, some of these objectives (such as on taxation, asset recovery, and social protection) are already getting serious attention. Not only policy activist NGOs, but also task forces under auspices of the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and progressive donors such as Norway, are developing approaches. African activists and journalists – exemplified in Think Africa Press – are facing opportunities to influence outcomes of the debate.

View from the NGOs:

Kate Dooley, Senior Advocacy Adviser, Post-2015 & Multilateral Institutions, Save the Children

The first task for all regions of the world after the MDGs expire is to finish the job we started – the world may have halved extreme poverty but now we must eliminate it. Save the Children believes the post‑2015 framework should aim to eliminate extreme income poverty, end hunger and preventable child and maternal deaths, and ensure universal access to quality health, education and safe and sustainable water and sanitation.

However, we must also address new and emerging challenges as well as critical issues that did not feature in the MDGs. These include tackling inequality, delivering an inclusive and sustainable economic path, ensuring open and accountable governance, and ending violence against women and children.

Currently the fastest growing continent, Africa has the opportunity to lift millions of people out of poverty. But this will require a transformative approach by national policymakers as well as global cooperation, ensuring even the very poorest benefit from development and can hold their governments to account for delivering on their commitments.

Inequality is one of the key development challenges undermining progress towards poverty reduction, and is today at historical highs globally. Recent Save the Children research found that the gaps between the richest children in some countries can have as much as 35 times the income available to the poorest; and that inequality has a magnified effect on children. Rising inequality is not only an obstacle for poverty reduction; it is also bad for sustained economic growth as confirmed by researchers at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The new development framework must contain goals explicitly aimed at reducing inequality and ensuring equitable progress towards eradicating poverty, hunger, and preventable child deaths.

Environmental degradation, resource scarcity and climate change has also undermined progress at both the macroeconomic and household level, with 48 million people being pushed below the poverty line in 2011 alone because of food price hikes, caused in part by climate change. Climate change is the biggest global health threat to children in the 21st century, and poses severe threats to their rights to survival, protection, development and participation. Delivering growth that is both socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable is the critical challenge of our time. It will require the decoupling of economic growth from primary resource use and the environmental impacts associated with their production and consumption. This will be a difficult transition that will take time. We suggest the post-2015 framework help to enable this transition through goals or targets aimed at achieving resource efficient and environmentally sustainable growth in key sectors, such as energy and agriculture.

Dominic Haslam, Director of Policy & Strategic Programme Support at Sightsavers

The post-2015 development goals must promote healthy lives for everyone. Good health and wellbeing are critical for social and economic development. Good health enables children to attend school, parents to support their families through employment, and communities to prosper.

There’s no doubt that the MDGs have led to real progress in improving health and reducing mortality. However, health gains have been unequal, with many vulnerable groups (such as disabled people and conflict-affected populations) lagging behind. Many health areas have also been overlooked, including Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and mental health.

A key reason for this is that the MDGs failed to strengthen health systems. Funding has mainly been invested in disease-specific initiatives rather than in creating the general conditions for good healthcare – the health workers, hospitals and medical supplies that make up a healthcare system. Many healthcare systems are chronically under-resourced. In many African countries, less than 10% of those who need them have access to eye health services.

Good healthcare systems will prove even more important post-2015. Ageing populations (in both developed and developing countries) mean more people are vulnerable to age-related problems, such as cataracts. The massive rise of Non-Communicable Diseases (e.g. cancer, heart disease, and diabetes) in developing countries requires strong healthcare systems that deliver safe, quality care. Many of these diseases can leave people at risk of disability – for example, diabetes can cause blindness. Therefore it is essential that any post-2015 health goals add a focus on morbidity to the current (and vital) drive on mortality.

Better health systems will ensure people have access to the healthcare services they need, when they need them, without experiencing catastrophic financial costs. It’s critical that health systems are prioritised if a post-2015 framework is going to lead to better health – for everyone.

Tony German, Executive Director of Development Initiatives

Since the original MDGs were conceived, a revolution has occurred. Technological advances are making it easier for governments, businesses and society to share information and for citizens to use it, holding decision-makers to account and making more informed choices about their own lives.

At the recent High Level Panel meeting in Monrovia, a number of groups articulated the need for more of a focus on information and voiced frustration with the fact that aid and other resource information is often out of date. The lack of reliable, timely and accessible information on poverty eradication is a significant challenge, severely limiting the ability of policymakers to track progress and ensure that their decisions are both evidence-based and effective. Development Initiatives believes that without an explicit push to improve the quality and timeliness of information, any efforts to establish a transformational post-2015 agenda will only ever be directed at an incomplete, and potentially inaccurate, picture. The inclusion of a stand-alone goal on open information would provide the post-2015 framework with the opportunity to make a quantum leap in the way that development occurs, creating the preconditions for many other governance and development outcomes to come about, such as reduced corruption and improved service delivery as well as allowing more local solutions to emerge.

To give just one example: in Uganda, a newspaper information campaign enabled schools and parents to monitor the government’s handling of a large school grant programme. This contributed to a rise in the amount of money actually reaching schools from 20% in 1995 to more than 80% in 2001, when information was published detailing where the money was going.

A goal on information would draw upon the growing movement for open government and public support for openness as a means of monitoring budgets and taxes. One of most significant networks, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), was established in 2011 as a collaborative effort of governments and civil society organisations to secure concrete governmental commitments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies. In just over a year, 57 countries from all continents, covering 25% of the world’s population, have signed the OGP, making over 300 specific open government commitments.

We are at a critical point to make access to information a reality. The next High Level Panel meeting will be held in Bali later this month. We hope it will recognise this increasingly important issue.

Ken Bluestone, Political and Policy Adviser, Age International

Reading the MDGs, one could conclude that no one lives to be old in Africa. Nothing could be further from the truth. People in Africa, like all parts of the world, are living longer. While the youth population currently continues to grow, this will not always be the case. The UN predicts that by 2050, there will be more people living globally over the age of 60 than under 14 for the first time in human history. There is no reason to believe that this trend will not continue in Africa.

This is a cause for celebration. This reality also presents countries at all levels of economic development with serious challenges that are entirely ignored in the current MDGs.

In order for any post-MDG framework to be successful, it must recognise who is living within the family, community and nation. Very little evidence and data is gathered on people in later life. Successful policies for tackling poverty mean knowing where poverty lies. With ageing can come greater physical frailty, mental illness, isolation from the community, and loss of economic livelihood. Consequently, better data disaggregated by age group is essential (60+ as a measure is not sufficient).

Experience of the past decades in Africa has also shown us that older people have a significant contribution to make. Due to the effects of HIV, conflict, and economic migration, generations of younger people have survived and been raised thanks to the productivity, indomitable spirit and strength of their grandparents. The MDGs do not recognise these contributions. Research in South Africa shows that minimal social pensions benefit younger generations in households enormously, as well as the older recipient.

More than anything else, we must change our attitudes to ageing. Older people should not be victimised for living longer. A strong human rights focus to development that explicitly recognises the rights of older persons is long overdue.

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...And not a single African asked what should be in the post-2015 development goals for the continent? Try asking only African "experts" their thoughts on President Obama's fiscal policy and  then go ahead and publish same in an American website/magazine without the voice of a single American among them. It made me sick reading through the names and designations of your so-called "experts". Thank you.

Hi Anne, thanks for your comment. That's a completely legitimate critique. In fact, about half the 'experts' we contacted were African so we were equally disappointed that none were able to contribute to this Experts Weekly.