Progress of MDGs hard to measure

In a moment of rare candour, officials from a regional United Nations body and the Asia Development Bank (AsDB) admitted that studies to gauge progress of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are hampered by out-of-date information. The revelations came during the launch of a report to assess progress of countries in Asia-Pacific at midpoint to the 2015 deadline for achievement of the MDGs.

“In many countries, the data provided at the national level is not reliable,” said Raj Kumar, principal officer at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), based in Bangkok.

It echoed the view of Pietro Gennari, chief of ESCAP’s statistic division, who presented the region’s MDG report card. “There are still many data gaps in the MDG database. The data is scattered over time and across countries,” he said during the launch of the 56-page report published by ESCAP, the Manila-based AsDB and the UNDP. “Social data in countries can be more difficult to collect when the mechanisms are not there,” Jean-Pierre Verbiest, AsDB’s country director, Thailand.

The revelations of this information black hole drew caustic responses from civil society organisations that have been monitoring the UN-led MDG campaign. What is also troubling to

civil society organisations is that the confession comes after large amounts of money have been spent and a global bureaucracy created around the MDG campaign since 2000.

The call for the MDGs arose from a need to set time-bound goals in specific areas to improve the quality of life for the world’s weak and marginalised living in the developing world, where the planet’s majority resides. The first goal was to cut by half the number of people living in extreme poverty or who live below the income of $1 a day by 2015.The second and third goal dealt with education, where all children, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling and the elimination of the gender gap in primary and secondary education by 2015.

The last three of the eight MDGs called for action to halt the spread of global killer diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, ensure environmental sustainability and to create a new “global partnership” for development between the developing and the industrialised world. This week’s report on the Asia-Pacific region warned that the child mortality, malnutrition and maternal health care remained a daunting challenge, with the limited progress on slashing child malnutrition being on par with the numbers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The region accounts for 100 million of the world’s malnourished children, which is 65 percent of the world’s total.

“Getting information on social issues is much more difficult than getting economic data,” says Kumar of ESCAP. “This is not a priority for most governments. And they do not see it as a good thing, too, about why they should reveal information about child mortality and malnutrition at home.”

This information gap was another feature that the MDGs set out to resolve. “When the MDGs were introduced, it meant for the first time as an attempt to measure government polices and targets,” says Verbiest of AsDB. “At that time we knew there was data missing. And one of the achievements of the MDGs was to get accurate data and measure it.”—IPS