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Little progress on MDGs

Little progress on MDGs

AN indicator of how low a priority human development is for the state is that there exists a special parliamentary task force on sustainable development goals. This may come as a surprise to many, including elected representatives. Even fewer may be aware that the shift to sustainable development goals — from the earlier Millennium Development Goals — has come under the present government’s so-called Vision 2025, an ambitious Planning Commission blueprint for development and economic growth that has found few takers among the country’s policy planners and decision-makers so far. The confusion and lack of interest can be gauged by the fact that a meeting of the special parliamentary task force on Tuesday, that was meant to shed light on the issue of climate change and its potential impact on Pakistan, appears to have roamed desultorily into the arena of Pakistan’s uneven and unsatisfactory performance in achieving the MDGs. Essentially, the country’s elected representatives and the state itself do not appear to have as yet grasped the basics of the huge development challenge that confronts the Pakistani state and society.

Some history and context may help. When the MDGs were mooted 15 years ago, there was a great deal of hope internationally that the eight goals could be substantially met by the developing world. Pakistan has by no means been the worst performer, but it has also at no point taken the MDGs seriously enough to ensure that sustained and meaningful progress has occurred. Of the eight MDGs — eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental stability; and develop a global partnership for development — Pakistan has managed some progress in the so-called targets and indicators specific to each goal. But none of that progress has been adequate compared to the goals, nor is there independently verifiable data to back up the claims of progress made by the government.

The reasons are not hard to fathom: no overhaul of the bureaucracy or administration that must help achieve the goals; no restructuring of the state’s finances to free up money for investments in people-centric development; no meaningful national conversation on what people-centric security really means. In the absence of any of that, it is impossible to imagine achieving universal primary education or ensuring environmental stability. Moreover, post-18th Amendment, there is a fundamental shift in terms of responsibilities between the centre and the provinces. Virtually all of the targets and indicators under the MDGs, and now the indicators for the sustainable development goals, are in provincial remit. There, predictably, Punjab is performing better than the rest, with Balochistan the worst off and Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa having decidedly mixed results. So far, human development has not been a priority for the provinces either, but perhaps the onset of local governments may help change that?

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2015

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