Delegates from the 140 member states of the UN convened at a summit in New York City from September 20 to 22 to discuss the progression of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) just 5 years prior their conclusion. These goals, which were established in 1990 to stretch until 2015, include but are not limited to: halving the proportion of people in the world living on a dollar a day, as well as those suffering from extreme hunger; achieving universal education with a particular focus on equality of education for girls and women; reducing child mortality rates by two-thirds; reducing maternal mortality prevalence by three-quarters, particularly by ensuring universal access to reproductive care; halting the spread of malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS and beginning to reverse it, with an emphasis on universal access for HIV/AIDS treatments; promoting environmental sustainability; halving the proportion of people who do not have access to clean drinking water and sanitation; improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers; and, lastly, promoting fair international trade and partnerships between all nations for the betterment of developing nations and all.
As it currently stands, the world is on target to meet several of the goals such as that of halving the proportion of those that live on a dollar a day, promoting more access to clean drinking water, as well as the halt and reversal of tuberculosis. And though many of the targets are below where they might have been expected to be, more prominence has been placed on repairing long standing shortages such as universal education and child mortality than ever before, with tangible results. Not all stated goals have seen a significant approach towards their targets, however. For instance, world hunger prevalence has actually increased no doubt in response to the global economic recession. Hunger has also become more frequent in specific countries fueled by conflict, such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has seen a drastic increase of 29% of the population suffering from extreme hunger to 70% in the past ten years. Maternal mortality rates, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have not fallen nearly as much as was to be hoped by this time, and nor has access to proper maternal and postnatal care increased enough. Furthermore, although the UN is currently on target and has improved the lives of the slotted 100 million slum dwellers, there are more slum dwellers worldwide than there were when the MDGs were first crafted.
Officials list a variety of reasons as to why the MDGs are not as successful as might be hoped, one of which could be because of a lack of investment in women. Typically, women in Africa produce up to 20% more than their male counterparts. Further, young girls who are educated show a definite inclination towards taking more preventative measures against HIV/AIDS, as well as an ability to care for their own children more effectively, which would inarguably help to deplete levels of both maternal and child mortality. More of a concerted effort to help women would aid all of the MDGs, and particular with reduction of poverty, universal education, and maternal and child health.
Another reason given to explain the slow progress within sub-Saharan Africa in particular is that this region of the world started out at such a higher rate for child mortality, hunger, poor maternal care and for poverty in general. However, this is no excuse; if anything, this barrier to success should have encouraged that much more of a concerted effort being directed at sub-Saharan Africa. Of the fifteen countries worldwide with the highest child mortality rates as of 2010, 13 of these are in Africa, with Sierra Leone being of most dire need for assistance. The root causes of far too many of these deaths are easily preventable: malaria, tuberculosis, tetanus, diarrhea, pneumonia, and so the list goes. An estimated 1 in 4 children in Sierra Leone does not make it past their 5th birthday, an incomprehensible statistic. The still-high maternal mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa are yet another treatable reason that children in sub-Saharan Africa in particular are still dying in shocking numbers . Again, Sierra Leone is among the highest in the world for maternal mortality; most of these deaths would be prevented simply by offering better prenatal care, as well as making midwives or other birth attendants more accessible. It is no coincidence that most countries with high maternal mortality rates also have high infant mortality rates, as the one contributes to the other. If the primary caregiver in the family dies, children under 5 immediately have a far higher risk of death than their peers who still have mothers.
But these statistics are much more than simply numbers; they are actual children, and mothers, and families who are still not being given all the assistance that is necessary despite implementation of programs to help reach the MDGs. At the current projected rates, it appears that most of the MDGs will, in fact, not be met by their deadline of 2015, and that, even though significant strides have indeed been made in implementing new policies to safeguard the lives and rights of many of the world’s poorest inhabitants, it will not be enough.
Africa Faith and Justice Network in its advocacy underscores the fact that attaining peace is imperative to achieving and sustain the MDGs. For example, in 2002 war-related deaths were second highest in the world in the continent of Africa. These wars have other, even more damaging effects; forced internal and cross border displacement is an enormous problem in Africa today, which leads to the spread of infectious diseases, including, but not limited to HIV/AIDS. These problems are detrimental towards the economy and political progress of a nation and even an entire region. Peace is linked to progress, innovation and prosperity. Without first promoting continuous peace, addressing the targets of the Millennium Development Goals will only act as a bandage on a gaping wound. Without addressing the root of so many of Africa’s burgeoning problems- conflict- there can be no measurable, sustainable success.
By Julie Albert, Intern