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The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) given up? 

04 September 2010 12:54:45

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) given up?


By I. A. Rehman


The havoc wrought by the unprecedented floods will greatly increase the anxieties caused by the Planning Commission’s confession that Pakistan will not be able to achieve most of the poverty alleviation targets put together in Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


While the Planning Commission deserves credit for the recently released Draft MDG Review Report 2010 the situation revealed by it is quite bleak. The gist of the report is as follows:


MDG-1: Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger


“The targets for the Medium-Term Development Framework (MTDF) 2009-10 have not been met in the three indicators for Goal 1, and it does not look likely that the MDG target for 2015, more than halving the poverty target in five years, will be achieved”.


MDG-2: Achieving universal primary education


“The MDG target of achieving 100 per cent net enrolment ratio by 2015 requires an increase of 40 percentage points in the next six years (as) compared to 20 percentage points in the last 10 years. The completion/survival rate of students enrolled in primary schools also presents a dismal scenario which implies that almost half of the students enrolled in primary schools do not complete their education. The interim target for 2009-10 was set at 80 per cent and cannot be achieved. Pakistan’s literacy rate remains considerably short of the MDG target of 88 per cent by 2015


MDG-3: Promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment

At the current pace, the MDG target of gender parity in primary and secondary education is likely to be achieved by 2015. The MDG target in relation to youth literacy GPI also seems achievable. It is highly unlikely that the MDG target of female literacy will be met. Progress on achieving the target in regard to women’s share in wage employment is slow. As for the MDG target for women’s seats in parliament substantial progress has been made.

MDG-4: Reducing child mortality


The under-five mortality rate fell from 117 per 1,000 live births in 1990-91 to 94 in 2006-07. During the same period the infant mortality rate fell from 102 to 75. The results of immunising children against six preventable diseases are not very impressive. The targets for under-five mortality and immunisation are unlikely to be met. The target for saving children from dying of diarrhoea was achieved eight years ahead of schedule and the target of 100 per cent coverage by lady health workers is likely to be realised.


MDG-5: Improving maternal health


“For the maternal mortality ratio the MDG target for 2015 still requires almost a halving of the ratio…. what seems clear, sadly though, is that many of the specific targets for Goal 5 will not be met in the immediate future, and it will be challenging to meet the targets in 2015 unless Herculean efforts are made to do so.”


MDG-6: Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases


The target in regard to TB has been met, though the figure for TB incidence has not fallen from the 2001-02 level of 181 per 100,000 persons. The HIV/AIDS target is likely to be attained. Progress on malaria-related ‘issues’ has not been impressive.

MDG-7: Ensure environmental stability

The area under forests has only marginally increased and meeting the 2015 target is difficult. Pakistan has a long way to go to meet the target of 90 per cent of the people’s access to safe and improved water sources.

One should like to hope that the final version of the report will show an improvement in its argument and language both. There will be much sympathy for the Planning Commission because it is required (presumably) to cover up for the failures and incompetence of the implementation machinery, over which it has no control. It will not be a bad idea if the Commission is provided opportunities to monitor the execution of development plans and the utilisation of budgetary allocations instead of being called upon to write review reports only.

However, while writing such reports the Commission does not have to be afraid of being candid to the extent noticed in the present document. For instance, it has unnecessarily tried to shorten the gap between the current indicators and the targets by fixing unrealistic targets for 2010. The net primary enrolment ratio has never been higher than 57 during 1990-2009, but for 2010 it is 77.

Similarly, the completion ratio for 2010 is put at 80 while it had been less than 60 in five preceding years and exceeded 67 only in 2004-05 and 2005-06. The literacy rate has never exceeded 57 during 1990-2009 but in 2010 it is supposed to rise to 77. Similar tactics, though not on the same scale, are visible elsewhere.

Besides, the Commission should not try to obfuscate issues with imprecise expressions. For instance, after saying that “the costs of the war on terror have been estimated ranging from between (?) $ 35-40bn”, the report says the cost is “bound to be a non-trivial amount” (emphasis added). That could be called trivialising a serious matter.

The lack of progress on MDGs has been attributed to a number of factors: a sudden meltdown in the global economy in 2008, a spurt in oil and food prices, political instability in 2007 and 2008 (?), transition from a military-led regime to a democratically elected government (?), replacement of a ‘development paradigm’ with a ‘security paradigm’, war on terror, inflationary pressures, power crisis, et al.

As most of these constraints are unlikely to disappear in the foreseeable future, it is impossible to hope for the realisation of MDGs for a long time. Since in any emergency social-sector programmes are always axed first, there are genuine fears that the huge damage done by the floods will lead to further slowing down of MDG-related activities.

However, the international factors affecting Pakistan’s fight against poverty need to be given due attention. We will be quite justified in joining other disadvantaged countries to tell the international community that we cannot have the resources needed to rid a large chunk of humankind of the curse of poverty unless the advanced world redeems the pledges of transfer of technology and economic aid to these poorer (developing) countries that were repeatedly made in the past. But Pakistan must approach the world with clean hands, that is, it should demonstrate a firmer commitment to realising the MDGs than it has so far exhibited.

The government needs to appreciate the importance of the Millennium Development Goals, which simply mean freedom from poverty, hunger, ignorance and disease. From the point of view of a vast majority of the people these goals must receive the highest priority from the state, higher priority than allowed to maintaining good-for-nothing politicians and administrators in luxury and playing hide-and-seek with the world for unusable nuclear weapons. This relief from want and deprivation is a basic right of all citizens.

Besides, without a properly nourished, educated and healthy citizenry Pakistan and its people will never be able to realise themselves. If there is anybody in authority who cannot understand this he is not only a crank of the highest order but also a criminal who should have nothing to do with the affairs of the state.

(Pakistan’s leading media group Dawn published this article on Thursday, 12 August, 2010)