Last week I was invited by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)to participate in an evaluation exercise of progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the Asia-Pacific region (hereinafter the region) in Bangkok. In this article, I would like to share the progress on the attainment of MDGs in the region, including those being pursued in Pakistan.
In the year 2000, 191 member countries of the United Nations adopted the Millennium Declaration and committed themselves to working collectively towards the amelioration of the sufferings of billions of poor individuals around the world. In 2001, a team of UN experts created quantifiable targets for the MDGs.
There are eight MDGs: Goal 1: eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; Goal 2: achievement of universal primary education; Goal 2: promotion of gender equality and women empowerment; Goal 4: reduction in child mortality; Goal 5: improvement in maternal health; Goal 6: combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and polio, and: Goal 7: promotion of environmental sustainability. Goal 8 – developing a global partnership for development – deals with the resources that the developed world has committed to provide to the developing world to enable them to achieve all the seven MDGs. These MDGs are to be achieved by 2015.
As regards the progress towards the MDGs in the region, it is well known that the Asia-Pacific region has emerged as a growth pole for the world economy. It is equally true that after a decade-long steady growth, the region was hit hard by the events of 2008-2009 namely food, fuel crises and global economic meltdown Consequently, the region paid a heavy price for the misgovernance by others in terms of loss of income and human suffering and endangerment of the development gains of the previous decade, especially progress towards achieving the MDGs. The region, nevertheless recovered better than other parts of the world, and continued to grow strongly.
A sustained higher economic growth has enabled the region to make considerable progress towards achieving the MDGs targets, especially in poverty reduction. Between 1990 and 2009, the region succeeded in reducing poverty ($1.25/day) from 50 percent to 22 percent. In other words, the number of people living below the poverty line was reduced from 1.57 billion to 0.871 billion. Put differently, the region succeeded in taking 700 million poor citizens out of poverty within two decades and, as such, surpassed the poverty reduction target ahead of time.
The region has also achieved the targets of reducing gender disparities in primary, secondary and tertiary education, preventing the rise in HIV prevalence, stopping the spread of tuberculosis, improving environment and halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water.
Notwithstanding these successes, there are areas where the region is lagging behind in achieving the MDGs. For example, the region has yet to ensure that all children complete primary education, preventing people from going hungry, stopping children dying before their fifth birthday, and preventing mothers dying from causes related to childbirth. The region still has a long way to go towards empowering women and girls, and promoting sustainable development.
Disparities between urban and rural areas of the region are also pronounced and daunting. Achieving the MDGs will require equitable and inclusive economic growth – growth that reaches everyone and that will enable all people, especially the poor and marginalised, to benefit from the economic opportunities. Although, the sustained higher economic growth in the region has succeeded in reducing poverty, it has nevertheless increased inequality. The GINI coefficient – a measure of inequality, has increased from 32.5 to 37.5 since the 1990s.
The rise in inequality partly reflects the transition from agriculture to industry and service, in which there are more significant wage differentials as well as rapid technological changes putting a premium on higher levels of education thereby leaving fewer opportunities for low-skilled workers. Rising inequality could become a significant obstacle for the achievements of the MDGs.
Although the region has made impressive progress on many MDGs indicators, the progress nevertheless has been uneven. The chances are that not all the countries in the region will achieve all the targets of MDGs by 2015. Furthermore, there are countries still lagging far behind; some of them are making slow progress and yet some of them are ‘off-track’ and may not achieve the targets by 2015. Pakistan is one of the countries that falls into the category of lagging behind and making slow progress towards achieving the MDGs.
Pakistan’s performance towards achieving the MDGs is, at best, not up to the mark. Pakistan has adopted 19 targets and 41 indicators but could publish data for 33 indicators altogether. Of the 33 indicators, progress is lagging behind on 20 indicators, slow on four indicators, off-track in one, on-track in three and ahead of the time in five indicators.
Pakistan may not achieve Goal 1 (eradicate extreme poverty and hunger) and its progress is slow in Goals 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Pakistan’s progress towards achieving the MDGs has been stalled since 2008. Never in the last four and a half years have the country’s political leadership, whether it is the president, the prime minister, any cabinet minister or the country’s economic managers such as the finance minister or deputy chairman, Planning Commission uttered a single word on the MDGs. Perhaps they are oblivious to the fact that there exist MDGs which the country committed itself in 2000 to achieving by 2015.
The business of politics is booming in Pakistan but the shops of economics have closed down. No one within or outside the government is taking any interest in salvaging the economy let alone thinking about the attainment of the MDGs. How can a country with such a fragile economy aspire to achieve the MDGs?
The writer is principal and dean at NUST Business School Islamabad. Email: ahkhan@nbs. edu.pk