Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Critiques of the Millennium Development Goals

With all of the news that we've had about the Millennium Development Goals lately it's time we get around to the dissenting opinion. There are many critics of the MDGs, people say they are biased against Sub-Saharan Africa, prone to data failures and more.

One of our favorite writers Katie Nguyen of Reuters Alert Net, gives us this round-up of the MDG critique.

One weakness is that, though the MDGs were established as numerical targets - for example, to reduce the number of women who die in childbirth by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015 or halt the spread of malaria by 2015 - the lack of reliable data in poor countries means progress is difficult to measure. This is especially true, aid experts say, for goals relating to maternal and child mortality as well as malaria and tuberculosis.

The problem of incomplete data has been recognised in Africa where most people are said to die or be born "without leaving a trace in any legal record or official statistics". In rural Africa, there are few hospitals, home births are common and assistance from a midwife or another health official rare.

"To have a good coverage of registration of vital events (births, deaths, marriages) you need to make sure that you have the offices of the registrar closer to the people; otherwise it will be very difficult for them. If they have to walk 15, 10 km to register their newborns they will not do that," Dimitri Sanga of the African Centre for Statistics at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) told AlertNet.

Although set for the world as a whole, countries are being judged on their own performance against the MDGs, provoking controversy over the fairness of specific objectives, especially for sub-Saharan Africa, and whether the continent could have met them in the relatively short timespan set.

"The application to the country level was not the intention, but the fact it's being done is not necessarily a bad thing because it gets countries to aspire to things," said ODI's Steer.

A point often cited is that China had almost halved poverty (defined as income of less than $1.25 a day) from its 1990 level by the time the MDGs were set. Yet sub-Saharan Africa is on track to fall short of all the goals despite its economy growing faster than it has for a generation.

Many development experts say the MDGs' biggest flaw is that they focus on the ends without paying enough attention to the means.

For example, the goal of universal primary school education is about "bums on seats" rather than strengthening institutions so that they are capable of providing schooling in a sustainable way.

"The institutional viability of developing country education ministries is far more important than the number of schools constructed, textbooks printed, or even children in the classroom," said Andrew Natsios, former head of U.S. development agency USAID, in a paper published in July called "The clash of the counter-bureaucracy and development".

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