By Connor J. Wangler
The Millennium Development Goals are often looked at as blanket targets for the entire world; however, each country must prepare its own targets and benchmarks in development. Such a process is difficult when a country’s political system must also juggle the roles of outside actors. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) offer policy advice and provide logistical support of specific projects. National development plans depend heavily on these roles; this relationship sometimes places foreign actors’ priorities above local needs. The International Trade Union Confederation and other critics of these institutions’ roles claim that they still promote pro-developed country policies that end up hurting the developing countries, such as labor market deregulation.
Sub-Saharan Africa is identified as the world’s second fastest growing region yet it is still unlikely to reach the goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015. This can be explained by it also being home to a majority of countries targeted by the MDGs. Other explanations focus on the roles of outside financial assistance; advice often comes from officials of developed countries that inhibit true progress. Many countries recognize the need to boost their progress on MDGs. South Africa has developed its own national plan of action, Vision 2014, to fulfill its commitment to delivering MDG success. Many argue that individual countries need to develop plans that focus on utilizing local resources and needs to deliver maximum progress. South Africa is attempting to bridge the divide in access to public resources created during the apartheid era. Its national action plan focuses on social spending in education, financial, and health and welfare services with assistance from NGOs and private corporations. These investments are critical to building and enabling a healthy, secure, and innovative population.
South Africa is also dedicated to involving its citizens through political conventions and national surveys. One outreach tool has been South Africa’s growing artistic community; see this song that was created in partnership with the UN mission to spread MDG awareness:
There are, however, unexpected bumps along the road to 2015. The food, fuel, and economic crises of 2008 sent shockwaves throughout the world. The Islamic Development Bank notes that increased prices of basic necessities made reducing poverty more difficult; coupling this with less foreign assistance and slowed economic growth prolongs MDG attainment. To keep the MDGs on track, individual countries must remain focused on developing local growth as best as possible and international assistance must persist. One way to assess whether countries are progressing in the MDGs is to assess human development indicators; this information gives insight to areas, such as education, income, and life expectancy, that are tied to reducing inequality.
Despite the positive notions associated with the MDGs, many still have concerns. Oxfam, an international organization focused on poverty reduction, raises concerns over the goals. One concern they raise is that reversal of government spending on MDG attainment by developing countries; many have failed to meet their spending targets they agreed to. Other criticisms raised by the group question whether progress can be attributed to the MDGs themselves and not some other factor or discourse that spurred progress, if there was any progress.
Clearly the MDGs have created a powerful political force that speaks to something every politician can understand: saving the world’s poor from their plight. With less than two years until the end of 2015, the question being posed now is “Where do we go from here?” Whether you support a global campaign such as the MDGs or if you desire more targeted, less politicized efforts, inaction as the result of uncertainty is unacceptable.