Opinion and Analysis

It’s time the UN reviewed development goals

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A section of Mukuru kwa Reuben slum in Nairobi. One of the Millennium Development Goals is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Sub-Sahara Africa is yet to meet the goal. File

A section of Mukuru kwa Reuben slum in Nairobi. One of the Millennium Development Goals is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Sub-Sahara Africa is yet to meet the goal. File 

By Anita Makri

Posted  Wednesday, January 30   2013 at  18:30

In Summary

  • The targets set in 2000 should be examined as the 2015 deadline approaches.

The countdown to the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda is a time for debate about how the development community and countries around the world should collaborate on improving wellbeing, sustainability and social justice from 2015.


Look beyond the proposals and the wrangling over priorities, imagine a new development framework in place and fast-forward two decades: how many questions will we be able to answer about what has and hasn’t worked?

The value of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is clear when we reflect on progress made in the past decade or so: with the benefit of hindsight, answering questions about the MDGs’ impact has been far from straightforward.

The challenge is bound to be greater for the next set of goals, which, as currently conceived, will draw on a broader set of development objectives compared with the MDGs’ human development focus.

Although scientists and political leaders are right to target what needs to be achieved first, it is not too soon to consider how progress might be measured. The scientific method can be a guide, and proposals by stakeholders eager to shape the new goals a good place to start.

In recent weeks, discussions about the future course of global development have been gathering steam, led by the UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and running alongside a separate process to develop the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that was launched at the Rio+20 summit last June.

An evolving list of proposed goals includes numerous issues — from climate change to education to peace-building — championed by governments and organisations around the world.

Issues around measuring progress and results have not been ignored: this list includes several proposals on how targets and indicators might be developed, with many of them focusing on inequality and wellbeing.

In addition, a 2012 report by the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda outlines ways to develop goals, targets and indicators for addressing inequalities.

The report also highlights the need to invest in disaggregated data collection and analysis, and to develop methods — using new technologies and social media — that complement household surveys by monitoring at the community level.

But before building on existing methods, and while considering targets and indicators, it is vital to address obstacles at the root of countries’ capacity to monitor progress and results — the infrastructure to collect, analyse and use data for decision-making.

Critics of the MDGs have argued that lack of data, difficulties in obtaining valid measurements ,and the use of national averages that obscure inequalities within countries and populations have made it difficult to determine how much progress has been made — particularly in poorer parts of the world.

These are drawbacks also acknowledged by MDGs advisor Jeffrey Sachs. For example, nearly half of Sub-Saharan African nations have not carried out any household surveys for 10 years, according to Caroline Anstey, managing director of the World Bank.

And last month, health experts speaking at the launch of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 in London said lack of information infrastructure in the developing world means little is known about even a basic measure such as causes of child death.

The case of health-related MDGs shows that evaluating results can be difficult even where there is a strong tradition of empirical analysis.

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