We’re not there yet – why we must keep current MDGs in sight

by Sara Harcourt
Monday, 3 June 2013 10:08 GMT

Bono, lead singer of the band U2 and ONE organisation co-founder (2nd L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) pose with youth representatives of the organisation ONE against human poverty, in Berlin April 8, 2013. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

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We can virtually end extreme poverty within the next generation but we can't wait for the post-2015 development goals - we must focus on meeting current targets, says the policy director at ONE

Last week, the United Nation’s High Level Panel (HLP) released its report on recommendations for what should follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after the deadline to meet them expires in 2015.

The report is a welcome first step in the official UN negotiations that will now move forward to galvanise a set of global targets for post-2015. The HLP report’s focus on eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 and ensuring no one is left behind is vital to move from current progress to addressing the needs of the poorest.

But while everyone’s attention is focused on post-2015, is the world losing interest in the current MDG targets?

ONE’s 2013 DATA Report: Financing the Fight for Africa’s Transformation, released this week, puts the spotlight on the current MDGs and tracks how countries are progressing. With less than 1,000 days to go to the deadline, it’s crucial that the world’s focus is on supporting countries to meet this set of goals, so they are best positioned by 2015 to embark on what comes next.

Sub-Saharan Africa is a region that is frequently admonished for lagging far behind on the MDGs overall. But ONE’s analysis shows that individual African countries have made remarkable progress. Sixteen sub-Saharan African countries are on track for halving extreme poverty (MDG1) by 2015. In fact, Ethiopia has already met that goal, lifting 10 million people out of poverty in the last decade alone.

Thirty countries in sub-Saharan Africa have improved their overall MDG performance in the past three years, showing steady progress towards the targets. But we’re not there yet. And some particularly large countries are lagging far behind and dragging down regional rates of progress.

So what can be done to help accelerate the process? ONE’s report analyses both sub-Saharan African and donor government spending in key sectors related to MDG progress – health, agriculture, and education. For Africa, this means tracking government spending against commitments leaders have made to allocate a specific percentage of their total government spending to these key sectors.

Where sub-Saharan African governments have mobilised resources towards these areas and come closer to meeting their commitments, they are also, on average, doing better on related MDG targets.

This is incredible news, but the downside is that most sub-Saharan African governments are far off-track in meeting these commitments. If over the next three years, sub-Saharan African governments increased spending on health, education and agriculture to meet their agreed targets, there could be an additional $243 billion available to invest in countries’ progress.

Imagine the difference even a fraction of that amount could make to meeting the MDGs if invested effectively in areas such as child immunisations, primary education, and productive agriculture.

The HLP report recognises that developing countries control the vast majority of resources for development and bolstering domestic resources is crucial for long-term development, but the report also asserts that donor countries have a responsibility too and promises on aid must be kept.

While development assistance steadily increased from 2000, aid to Africa from the OECD countries has been in decline in the past two years, and in 2012 this reduction was greater than the global drop in aid, indicating donors seem to be turning their back on the region at the most critical time for progress.

There is a clear opportunity in the next two-and-a-half years for the world to stand up and take responsibility for existing commitments, and to accelerate efforts and target resources towards meeting the current MDGs.

It’s vital that we don’t just focus on increasing the quantity of resources (although governments need to meet their spending commitments), but realise that quality and effectiveness of limited resources is just as important.

As we turn towards June’s G8 summit hosted by the UK in Lough Erne, ONE joins a chorus of voices in advocating for greater transparency and accountability of financial resources – be that aid, national budgets or natural resource revenues – to ensure that all resources are used effectively.

When citizens can see where the money is going, they can help set the country’s priorities and demand that development gains reach all people. We must also follow the HLP’s recommendations on improving data collection and statistics, so we can truly monitor progress.

The world can virtually end extreme poverty within the next generation, but we can’t wait for the next ambitious post-2015 targets. We must seize the opportunity now to sprint to the finish line.

Sara Harcourt is policy director at the ONE Campaign