Twelve years gone, and three years still to go: as the Millennium Development Goals’ (MDG) target date of 2015 gets closer, the debate is intensifying about what went right and what went wrong, and – perhaps more importantly – what kind of goals should be set for the future.
Some of the arguments were aired by an expert panel convened at Britain’s Institute of Development Studies (IDS) on 3 May. The Institute has just published a paper entitled Human Security and the Next Generation of Comprehensive Human Development Goals, which makes the case for adopting targets that are “more explicitly rights-based and participatory”, would focus more on equity and sustainability, and “insist on the centrality of employment and decent work”.
Gabriele Koehler, one of the authors, outlined an ambitious wish list for the next set of goals, integrating the much broader idea of “human security”. It would incorporate everything covered by the existing MDGs, and “we also have a much, much deeper attention to wealth and income inequalities, to social exclusion, to environmental goals… good governance is an important element… because one has to look at… governance [in] the states that we are expecting to deliver the public goods.”
Koehler would like to see the new goals being applied globally, not just to developing countries, since every country has pockets of poverty and exclusion, and she wants everyone - governments and the governed - to talk much more in terms of rights.
All this would make the new MDGs far more political than the current ones, which concentrate on uncontroversial goods, like safe motherhood and child survival, and do not open up the prospect of a government being sued if it cannot ensure a decent job and a safe environment.
But some governments are going down the road of social protection. India, for instance, has adopted the idea of a ‘right to demand work’, so state governments have to respond with an offer of one hundred days of paid employment per household, while Brazil recognises the right of citizens to a minimum standard of living.
Also on the panel was Romulo Paes de Sousa, until recently Brazil’s deputy minister of social development. He accepted that framing social goods in terms of rights was controversial, but argued that Brazil’s experience showed it was possible to change perceptions. “When I started to work with social protection in 2004, it was a big problem in Brazil and many countries,” he said.
“They think that social protection produces laziness and things like that. But it has changed. We still have that debate, but it showed that it is possible to change the perception that the public has of social programmes.”
There were calls for some of the existing goals - which are dominated by health and education, and where some targets have not been met - to be rolled over. But if the new agenda is to be wider, then some sectors may receive less attention in future
“The current, more health-focused MDGs have driven significant progress and investment in health globally,” Olga Golichenko of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance told IRIN. “The Alliance is concerned that the current health goals would be watered down to weak statements on health. We would like to see improved health outcomes of the poorest and most marginalized communities globally, through the provision of universal coverage and by implementing a rights-based approach. Those MDGs which are not achieved should not be dropped, and we need to build on the momentum and progress that has been achieved to date.”
In the audience at IDS was Richard Carey of the Donors’ Assistance Committee (DAC), one of the architects of the Millennium Goals in 2000. “Someone somewhere has to write the first word, and it could be you,” he said, urging everyone to get involved in the debate.
|Busan was a milestone in defining how a more diverse set of actors might agree on some of the nuts and bolts of delivering more effective development assistance|
He described how the MDGs were put together, building on commitments made in previous UN agreements, and suggested that the Busan agreement for Engagement in Fragile States, with its commitments to inclusive political settlements and the need to address injustices, could now provide a precedent for the acceptance of a human rights and political equity agenda.
At the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea’s second city, over 80 governments and international organizations agreed on a set of peace-building and state-building goals that establish a new approach to engaging with fragile states. More than 1.5 billion people are caught in cycles of poverty and violence.
Paul Wafer, who is working on post-2015 development goals for Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), was more doubtful about whether the Busan participants really had committed to a more political agenda, but said the process could point the way forward.
“Busan was a milestone in defining how a more diverse set of actors might agree on some of the nuts and bolts of delivering more effective development assistance. The process in Busan was interesting, in that it used a series of building blocks, creating coalitions of the willing around particular issues, and that could show a possible way forward for creating the successors to the MDGs," he told IRIN.
The time is short. Amy Pollard of the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD), who co-chairs the ‘Beyond 2015’ campaign, said the thousand days remaining were nothing, but at the same time warned that three years is a long time in politics. “It’s prudent to attempt to take the temperature of the political context globally, and what that might mean, [but] the context in which the post-MDGs will be negotiated doesn’t exist yet,” she noted.
“It’s 2012, and we are looking something that is going to happen as an inter-governmental process over perhaps 12 months in 2015-2016. And if there were to be a major world event, of the scale of 9/11, then that would be a game changer in terms of what might be possible.”