Next Millennium Development Goals ‘should be more holistic’

Goals focused on wellbeing might have been more effective, argues the report Copyright: Guy Collender

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[LONDON] The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were conceived with an outdated, fragmented approach to international development, and a new way forward will be needed after their due date in 2015, according to a report.

"Patchy" progress towards achieving the eight goals reflects fundamental problems with the way they were set up, says the report, launched ahead of the international summit on the goals in New York next week (20 September).

In particular, they were not designed to interact and support each other, says the London International Development Centre (LIDC) and the Lancet, which have set up the Lancet–LIDC Commission, producer of the report launched this week (13 September).

The eight United Nations MDGs were agreed in 2000 and are due to be met by 2015. A UN report published in June showed that countries have made only partial progress. But a draft declaration, expected to be formally adopted at next week’s summit, maintains that the goals are achievable despite setbacks caused by the global financial and economic crises. 

"MDGs do address many but not all key development challenges," said Andy Haines, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "This report for the first time really casts an interdisciplinary spotlight on the MDGs, what they will have achieved and where we need to go afterwards."

"The broad picture of MDGs is patchy progress, and not at a pace capable of achieving the goals by 2015," said Jeff Waage, director of the LIDC, who added: "Is this just a matter of effort or are there fundamental problems with the MDGs themselves that will hamper their achievement?"

 The commission’s report identifies a number of common features across the goals that have limited their implementation, he said.

First, the goals were put forward as separate, unconnected targets by the relevant communities working in those sectors, and each community had its pre-existing aspirations. Secondly, the goals were brought together without broader analysis of what was needed for them to work as a set, or how the different targets might interact, according to Waage. 

As a result "there are considerable gaps between goals that undermine their capacity to achieve some interaction and synergy in development".

For example, the focus on children’s early years in the education goal has meant it could not support one of the aims of the health goal, to build the workforce of health professionals in higher education.

The report also highlights the plight of those not targeted by the goals — such as those living on just over US$1 a day.

Another key problem has been ownership, according to Elaine Unterhalter, professor of education and international development at the Institute of Education in the United Kingdom.

"Certain MDGs have powerful advocates at international level or in certain ministries in individual countries, but the other MDGs do not," she said.

The commission has concluded that future goals should be centred on ‘wellbeing’, which has human, social and environmental components.

"We propose a conceptualisation of development as a dynamic process operating at multiple scales and with multiple agents, involving sustainable and equitable access to improved wellbeing ," said Andrew Dorward, professor of development economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the United Kingdom.

But Anthony Costello, head of the Centre for International Health and Development at University College London, said the term ‘wellbeing’, was vague and might be difficult to define and measure.

He said there was a need to engage stakeholders in developing countries in any post-2015 plans.

And Viroj Tangcharoensathien, from the International Health Policy Program, Thailand, a country that has already achieved all of the goals, said it was crucial for all countries to achieve them before considering further, more ambitious action.

Link to ‘The Millennium Development Goals: a cross-sectoral analysis and principles for goal setting after 2015′[2.23MB]