The international development community is currently mired in intense negotiations, striving to find the right mix of objectives to throw in the pot that will form the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), binding UN member states into an agreement to tackle poverty at a global level. I want to comment on this debate by purposefully jumping this bubbling pot of ideas and look to 2030. What will aid look like? And who, if anyone, will still be left behind?
For those who have not been closely following international development for the past 15 years, this started in 2000, where 189 UN member states took a huge symbolic step following a landmark ‘Millennium Declaration’ and agreed on eight goals: the first of which was to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015. These were adeptly named the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs.
It is 2014 and the clock is ticking. Governments, civil society and donor organisations are striving to evaluate how effective the goals have been. The results are mixed, with successes marred with buts and caveated by poor data collection. If we take part of MDG3 (eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education) as an example, gender parity in primary schools has been achieved, but not in other levels of education. Despite the increased enrolment, due to a lack of monitoring data, governments and agencies have not been able to track whether these girls are staying in school.
Concurrently, organisations are scrabbling to influence the new Post 2015 agenda. Very few dispute that we need new goals. One of the main quoted successes of the MDGs is that it has given legitimacy to national campaigns and advocacy (especially in health and education), and focused worldwide attention on development. It is agreed that these new goals need to be different: more data driven, flexible to national contexts, led by the ‘Global South’ and that go beyond the face of the issues to the root causes of poverty and inequality. However, due to the multitude of interest groups, there are many conflicting opinions. The UN is holding consultations in over 70 countries through Open Working Groups (OWGs); and has commissioned a High Level Panel (HLP) of eminent persons that has produced a report on what it sees as the key areas for the SDGs, alongside an inspirational video.
The following is a prediction for 2030: a world with a population of 8 million; a world both scarred by wars, epidemics and glowing with economic opportunities and new global treaties. These predictions will shed some light on some of the areas that should not be neglected by the post-2015 framework.
The future of aid
By 2030 the international community will be closer towards the end of aid. Over the last decade, countries have reduced their dependency on aid, falling by as much as a third in the poorest countries. Some propose radical scenarios for the future, from the complete shutdown of all aid programmes, to an interactive and connected international aid network. I argue that development assistance will still be a mix of bilateral and multilateral, but based on mutual benefits and alongside trade and other agreements. This aid will not be monetary but will come in the form of support, technological expertise and training. Many commentators, including the World Bank, agree: stating that the rise in countries mobilizing their own resources (improving tax collection, investments etc.) to fund essential services will eclipse the need for overseas aid. As part of the ‘New Global Partnership’, promoted by the HLP, the SDGs should work to provide an open platform to facilitate this future exchange.
Women and girls
Despite the effort to steer the new goals towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, it is arguable that the poorest women and girls will still be disproportionately affected by poverty in 2030. The main barrier is the social and cultural norms that are not only embedded but interpreted into policy that perpetuates inequality. Development objectives should target and support local and national women leaders to challenge these traditions and attitudes that marginalize women and demand rights and access to employment, essential services and domestic decision-making. The UN women also have a fantastic paper on what this goal should look like.
Cancer and diabetes
Diseases synonymous with developed countries, cancer and diabetes are often overlooked in a developing country context and in post-2015 will be sidelined by the big 3: AIDs, malaria and TB. In 2030, countries will be feeling the burden of these ‘new’ diseases. According to the International Diabetes Foundation, 4 out of 5 people with diabetes live in the developing world. Research by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), as quoted by the Economist, has shown that ‘cancer kills more people in poor countries than AIDs, malaria and tuberculosis combined’. Although this is a sign that communities are living longer, this increasing burden will be disastrous if countries are not adapting their resources. The SDG on health must reflect this shift to support national health policies and programmes for cancer and diabetes related illnesses to ensure that sufferers are not left behind.
Conflict and climate change
An unlikely couple, both conflict and climate are similar in that they both have life-threatening consequences and are somewhat beyond the control of a set of international agreements on development. It is argued that conflict has to date been the most important factor obstructing progress on the MDGs. Quite rightly, one of the HLPs recommended objectives is to ‘ensure peaceful and stable societies’. The effects of climate, on the other hand, are not always well understood. Apart from the dramatic effect of natural disasters, temperature changes can slowly affect crop yields and lead to cumulative displacement as both population increases and conflict push the most vulnerable to the edges of liveable land. Many development NGOs have been acting to mitigate these effects, calling for more support to communities to plan for and adapt to the consequences of climate change. Escalating conflicts and the increased risk of dramatic weather conditions as a result of climate change in 2030 will mean that those affected will be in great need for recognition on an international level.
Some have already noted the lack of focus on the elderly in the post-2015 discussions. However, the world in 2030 will have a rapidly increasing elderly population; according to WHO estimates, the number of people age 65 or older will grow by one billion from 2010 to 2050, with most of the increase in developing countries. Despite the growing elderly population, it doesn’t come as a surprise that their voice in the post-2015 debate is not as loud as some. Access to basic amenities, economic security and protection are areas where the elderly will unduly suffer from being left behind, and the louder voices must take note.
In 2030, the globe will be a different place, with new, changing and complex issues. The SDGs must take this into account to be adaptable and focused on diverse regional and national contexts. The international development community has learnt from the MDGs, and should avoid the same mistakes. Unless the neglected become the included, the world will be struggling in 15 years time when a new framework is to be decided. In the meantime, all eyes are looking to the 68th UN General Assembly (24th Sept – 1st Oct 2014), where the final 2015 SDG proposal will be presented.