MDGS: Where Did We End Up And Where To From Here?

Over the past decade, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have provided a universal framework for the world to address extreme poverty. Developed in 2000, the MDGs have brought together governments, civil society and private sector under a common vision to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people. Tens of billions of dollars have been provided by governments and business leaders, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Initiatives, to work together towards a shared mission – a world without poverty.

The eight MDGs include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health among others. The current MDGs will expire at the end of this year and 2015 is being used as a time to reflect on that past decade’s progress towards meeting the goals and setting a new framework for post-2015.

Significant progress has been made across the globe towards the MDGs. The 2010 reports showed when averaged across the globe, the world had met the overarching goal of cutting extreme poverty by half. “The estimated share of the developing-world population living on less than $1.25 per day (the technical MDG measurement of extreme poverty) had dropped from 43 percent in 1990 to roughly 21 percent in 2010” (McCarthur, 2013).

However disparity begins to emerge when we delve deeper and examine how individual countries have tracked across each of the eight goals. The MDG Progress Index, developed by the Centre for Global Development Think Tank, compares individual country’s progress on the eight MDG indicators. Countries are allocated a score for each MDG target;1 for on track, 0.5 for partially on track and 0 for off track; and these scored are added together for a total score. A total score of 8.0 means a country is on track to meet all the targets in the index.

Countries at the top of the list in 2013 included Maldives, Cambodia and Sri Lanka with scores of 8, 7 and 7 respectively. Second from the bottom, however, lies Papua New Guinea (PNG) with a score of only 1. Only the Democratic Republic of Congo is ranked lower than PNG with a score of 0.5.

If we examine each of the MDGs separately and look at the data available, the following conclusions are drawn regarding PNG’s overall progress:

  • Poverty gap remains unchanged, with 2 million people still poor or facing hardship;
  • Whilst the net school enrolment rate has improved, the school retention rate has not shown any improvement and literacy levels remain low and unchanged;
  • Gender parity is far from being realised in education, business and government sectors;
  • Under 5 child mortality rate is high and increasing; and there is very low coverage of immunisations for children;
  • Maternal mortality rate is high; and there is a low and declining level of skilled birth attendant numbers;
  • HIV/AIDS rate is high, there is low reported use of condoms and low awareness of HIV/AIDS;
  • High malaria burden; and low use of nets and drugs;
  • High tuberculosis burden and low treatment success; and
  • Poor access to water and low access to sanitation.

So why is PNG one of only a few countries in the world to not make any progress towards meeting any of its Millennium Development Goals? And what does this mean for those working in PNG as we move into the new framework for post-2015 development.

One of the issues is with the nature of the MDGs themselves. According to Robin Davies from the Australian National University’s Devpolicy, “most of the development indicators they track don’t change much in a year, or else changes in them can only be discerned every few years. Some of the most striking findings in past reports have resulted from changes in methodology rather than changes in the world”.

Another issue is the absence of reliable data used to determine PNG’s progress towards the MDG goals. Due to capacity issues within institutions and government departments, data collection is often incomplete, not up to date, and not representative of the remote and regional areas. PNG is systematically placed in the category of “no data” in tables depicting the state of global development.

In addition to these ‘technical’ reasons, there are a number of national obstacles faced by PNG for the meeting of its MDGS. These include:

Geography – PNG is extremely geographically diverse and dispersed. The inaccessibility of its rugged interior regions hinders trade and limits political control, as well as the effect of communicable diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis on its population. Access to basic health and education services is difficult especially across the remote and rural regions.

Linguistic and Cultural Diversity – PNG is the home of over 850 languages. The delivery of education at all levels across such a diverse group of cultures and languages is fraught with difficulties. Without sufficient teachers, health workers, nurses, and other educators across these language groups, the delivery of universal primary education and healthcare is limited.

Governance and Corruption – PNG has numerous issues with corruption and governance. Ranked by Transparency International as 145th out of 175 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index, PNG has issues with law and order, revenue generation, and the facilitation of sustainable development and provision of basic services. PNG has also struggled to date to translate economic benefits from natural resource wealth into broad-based improvements in living standards.

Despite the many obstacles, the fact that PNG will not meet any of its MDGs by the end of this year, must serve as a wake up call that the ‘business-as-usual’ approach is not working. The post-2015 framework must take into account PNG’s unique geography and culture. It must recognise that a neo-liberal approach to development needs to be reconsidered and a more appropriate framework applied that focuses on human development and the provision of services. More overseas aid needs to be directed to the region that focuses on institution strengthening and reducing corruption as well as tackling the key issues of access to education, water and sanitation, and healthcare.

As we move into the post 2015 era, governments, donors, businesses and NGOs must continue to work together to improve development outcomes for the people of PNG. As difficult as this may be, and as complex an environment PNG is to operate in, the future of the nation and the region is dependent on innovation and new technology, collaborations and partnerships, and strong action focused on the delivery of basic services to remote communities, to improve outcomes for all Papua New Guineans.

Dr Genevieve Nelson, CEO, KTF