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MDGs – A long way to go still

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Heads of State and Government from all over the world wrapped up their special Summit on the Millenium Development Goals at the United Nations Headquarters in New York this week. The Summit, attended by our own Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and many of his Caribbean colleagues, was organized to review progress on achieving these goals so far and to chart the way forward in attaining them over the course of the next decade.{{more}}

Perhaps even before assessing where the world stands in relation to these goals, it would be more useful if they reflect on how well are these goals known among their own people. In other words, admirable targets have been set to enable all of the world’s peoples to be able to enjoy the most basic of human rights, but are they, the persons targeted, even aware of these targets and these rights? If we take our own country for instance, how many of us can say what these goals are? Constant publicity around them must surely be a way of keeping them in the public’s eye.

As it stands, St. Vincent and the Grenadines ranks favourably among the world’s nations as regards meeting targets set. This was pointed out by the Prime Minister in his address to the august body on Wednesday. This is not to say that all socio-economic problems in our country have been solved. Far from it! But it is heartening to know that real progress has been achieved here since the targets were set for the period from the year 2000 to 2015. Not all countries in the world can make that boast.

The success stories were spelt out by Prime Minister Gonsalves for all the world to hear. Take the first of the eight Millenium Goals for instance: “To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger”. Dr. Gonsalves pointed out that our country has far exceeded the targets set, specifically reducing poverty from a level of 26% to under 3% over the last decade. But the fact that 30% of our population is still struggling with less extreme forms of poverty tells us that we still have much further to go. Fully 98% of the Vincentian people have access to pipe-borne water today.

The UN had set a target of reducing the number of the world’s absolute poor by half by the year 2015. However, many countries are still struggling to achieve this. While the rate of poverty in the world has been reduced from 46% to 27%, there are still 1,400 million people living in absolute poverty the world over. The biggest challenges remain in sub-Saharan Africa, where the scourges of poverty and hunger are exacerbated by war, corruption and other human-caused afflictions.

The outstanding example of progress in education was raised as SVG’s banner to the world community by the Prime Minister. While we debate internally as to the efficacy of the much-touted “Education Revolution”, there is no denying the progress in this field. Goal 2 of the MDGs sets out the “Achievement of universal primary education”. In this regard, the Vincentian leader was able to tell the world that his country had far exceeded the target – all children completing a full primary education by 2015, moving from a 39% achievement rate to 100% in just 5 years. St. Vincent and the Grenadines has now also gone on to universal secondary education and plans to add early childhood education to this impressive accomplishment by 2015. Generally, though, most countries of the world have advanced in this area, with a global enrolment rate of almost 90%.

SVG also was able to report progress in many of the other target areas – “Promoting gender equality and empowering women”; “Reducing child mortality”; “Improving maternal health”; “Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases”.

But we should be far from satisfied with our own role in achieving Goal 7 of the MDGs – “Ensuring environmental sustainability”. While small developing countries like ours are not the biggest culprits where destruction of the environment is concerned, it is also true that we have a very long way to go in achieving higher levels of environmental awareness and thereby acting in a manner aimed at preserving and enhancing our environment.

Finally, we must congratulate our prime minister for his frank expression of the disappointment of most developing countries for the abject failures in relation to Goal 8. This goal speaks of a “global partnership for development”. But, as said by Dr Gonsalves, this will remain “unsustainable and unattainable” as long as the gap between pledges of support to underdeveloped countries and what assistance is actually provided continues. Poor Haiti, in its post-earthquake throes, best exemplifies how what is delivered falls far short of what is promised.

In addition, global economic, trading and financial policies, make it more and more difficult for poor and small countries to meet the basic needs of their citizens. That is why the debt burden of so many countries continues to mount, and why, with all the best intentions, they will find it almost impossible to achieve the MDGs. These political, economic and financial obstacles must be confronted if success is to be achieved.