By: Rachel Cernansky, winner of the Women Bloggers Deliver contest
The Millennium Development Goals are set to expire in 2015, which means it's time to start looking ahead to what happens once they do. And looking back to see what good they've served. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a report in July, highlighting progress achieved toward the goals so far, including:
• malaria-related deaths have dropped by 20 percent, worldwide – from nearly 985,000 in 2000 to 781,000 in 2009;
• deaths of children under five have dropped by 35 percent from 12.4 million in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009; and
• HIV infections declined by 21 percent between 1997 and 2009.
The report also stated that "… by 2015, the global poverty rate should fall below 15 per cent – well under the 23 per cent target.”
Despite these advances, Ban also pointed out that progress has been unevenly distributed and the world's poorest populations have been the most neglected. According to the report, children from the poorest households in the developing world are more than twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday as children in the richest households. For populations that are poor, female or living in a conflict zone, the probability that a child will not attend school is significantly increased. And, of all the MDGs, MDG 5 – to improve maternal health – is the most off-track.
To move forward, it’s important for any development framework that replaces the MDGs to put development issues like poverty, hunger, disease, lack of gender equality and universal education into proper global context. By recognizing the crucial role that universal education and gender equality play in the cycle of poverty, the Millennium Development Goals dig deeper than traditional aid schemes tend to do. But they have not dug deeply enough. Extreme inequality between the global north and south is a major driving factor in some of the world's most pressing social problems, and it needs to be addressed head-on.
The development world needs to recognize that national economies around the world are interconnected. If a rich economy is able to grow itself by taking advantage of lower wages, more relaxed or unenforced labor laws, and substandard working conditions in other countries, then any effort to eradicate poverty in those same countries is doomed to fail. You cannot build a school to boost universal education down the road from a sweatshop that continues to exploit workers, for example, and expect legitimate social progress.
Oil companies, as another example, tend to operate under different environmental standards in developed nations than they do in developing nations. They cannot allow continuous spills into a nation's water supply, as several companies have done for decades in Nigeria, and build a community or maternal health center as a way to compensate for the damage. This model of "giving back" will continue to be a band-aid for problems like poverty and poor maternal health, rather than a solution. And tolerating an unequal playing field means the most vulnerable people are going to suffer the most.
There needs to be a greater recognition that the world's social problems do not exist in a vacuum, and that they're very directly related to how governments and economies are run. There also needs to be a greater understanding that all of these issues are connected to each other--that women's equality issues are economic issues and that both are environmental issues, and so on. These problems cannot be viewed in isolation, or any solutions to address them will forever be stumped before the real goals are met.