Sep 4, 2014

These 8 Goals Were Set To Develop The World, But 14 Years Since, This Is Where We Stand

By Pooja Parvati   /   Humanitarian

Many of us might be familiar with the music of ‘The Beatles‘, ranked the best-selling band in history with estimated sales of over 600 million records worldwide and named the greatest artists of all time by the Rolling Stone in 2004. Of the over-300 songs that the Fab Four (as the quartet of John, Paul, George and Ringo were known) recorded in their nearly 10-year long career, there is one song called ‘Hello, Goodbye’. Urban legend has it that an assistant manager wanted to know how they wrote their songs and Paul McCartney (song writer and singer) demonstrated this by asking the assistant to sing from a distance the opposite of whatever McCartney sang as he played the instrument – black and white, yes and no, stop and go, hello and goodbye! McCartney later explained the song calling it an illustration of everything and nothing; and how the answer to everything was simple. Others felt the song was a reflection of the growing rift between the musicians.

In so many ways, this song to me expresses the nature and inherent contradictions of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were known for their simplicity, measurability and had an end date but, at the same time, they were criticized for ignoring structural factors that led to conditions of poverty, inequality, and vulnerabilities. Without looking at issues of political freedom, rule of law, access to justice and accountability, many labelled the MDGs as Minimum Development Goals, as they catered to just the bare minimum. Of the eight goals, seven were directed to the developing countries (most of which are in the Southern hemisphere) and only one on what the developed North should do thereby widening the rift between the North and the South. It was also felt that the goals were finalized without adequate consultations.

Fourteen years into the MDGs, we still find that :
  • About one in five persons in developing regions live on less than $1.25 a day. India holds the dubious record of having the maximum percentage of poor (32.9%) in the world.
  • Every day in 2013, 32,000 people had to abandon their homes to seek protection due to conflict.
  • One out of every four children suffers from some form of chronic malnutrition.
  • A billion people are still defecating in the open. This is particularly worrying with a decisive causal link drawn between poor sanitation and hygiene and malnutrition.
  • Almost 300,000 women died globally in 2013 from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
  • The planet remains at serious risk. Global carbon dioxide emissions are almost 50 percent above their 1990 level, millions of hectares of forest are being lost every year, many species are closer to extinction than ever before and renewable water resources are becoming scarcer.

Since early 2012, the UN facilitated active dialogues with government, NGOs, private sector, and other actors to influence the post-2015 development agenda and made this process open and participatory. With less than 500 days before the new set of goals come into effect, let’s see how the eight MDGs compare to the latest ‘zero version of new goals’:

Phew, that is some list! If the new goals are accepted in their present form, which is doubtful, it would take a prodigy like Tathagat Avatar Tulsi to recollect all 17 of them. Imagine pop-quiz shows going crazy with questions like “Rank the following goals in their order!”

As Mr. Amit Narang, Indian Counsellor representing the country in most of the negotiations said, “Where is the filter and how can we have such long-winding goals? There will be no recall value. More so, the detailing comes in the indicators”. This finds resonance with NGO groups like Social Watch that calls for prioritization. On the other hand, well-meaning activists push for ‘language’ (i.e. insertions of words that make mention of specific constituency, theme or issue) and substance.

Times have changed since 2000 and it maybe makes sense to put down all that we want to change as goals to look like one bulky bag of gifts. But what might be more relevant is a frame to hold this new picture. So I say let’s detail the principles guiding these goals a bit more. I also hope the new list of goals does not mirror the Hello, Goodbye song and we see coherence and content in the post-2015 development agenda. What do you say?

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