In September 2000,UN General Assembly agreed to a Millennium Declaration. What was interesting about this declaration,as opposed to several other UN declarations,was that some specific timelines were set out in a section on “Development and Poverty Eradication”. In December 2000,General Assembly asked Secretary General to prepare a roadmap for implementing this declaration and by September 2001,such a roadmap was available. Effectively,it is this document that first set out what came to be accepted as eight MDGs: (1) Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (2) Achieve universal primary education; (3) Promote gender equality and empower women: (4) Reduce child mortality: (5) Improve maternal health; (6) Combat HIV/AIDS,malaria,and other diseases; (7) Ensure environmental sustainability; and (8) Develop a global partnership for development.
At that stage,there were 18 targets and 48 indicators,with specific timelines for all but goal 8. However,three additional targets were added in 2005. Nor have the indicators been cast in stone. As of now,there are 21 targets and 59 indicators. The MDG system thus means the 8 goals,plus 21 targets,plus 60 indicators. It is important to make this point because MDGs are usually thought of in terms of goals,which are necessarily too general.
“Success” or “failure” in attaining MDGs is a function of target or indicator used,more often the latter.
Criticisms of MDG framework bear mentioning. First,the bar was often set too high,compounded by the fact that while the base was 1990,the MDGs weren’t actually agreed to until 2000/2001. Second,progress towards MDGs has been usually,though not invariably,gauged in terms of developing countries as a group. This ignores significant heterogeneity within this category and MDGs would have been better targets had they been applied regionally or nationally. Last year,a World Bank study documented this varied progress across regions,with performance distorted by China and India. Indeed,within large countries,there are significant intra-country differences too. Third,given sectoral focus of many of the MDGs,they not only distorted resource allocation,they also tended to ignore the fact that development is an integrated whole. Extrapolating the argument,three out of eight goals are on health. Fourth,inordinate focus on targets and indicators has ignored other aspects. For instance,a focus on enrollment has sidelined the problem of quality of education. Fifth,Goal 8 has no time-bound targets. Sixth,MDGs ignore processes and institutional mechanisms for delivery. No doubt some of these criticisms will be addressed when MDG framework is revisited after 2015. For the moment,all we know is that food,fuel and financial crises may have thrown many developing countries off the MDG track.
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