Monday, 27 April 2015

The Millennium Development Goals and Disability

2015 is an important year for international development. On December 31st the Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000 are due to expire, a set of targets committing world leaders to pursue concrete, measurable improvements on global poverty, health, education and other key social issues. Since 2012, discussions have been under way to establish the 'Post-2015 Development Agenda', a new generation of Sustainable Development Goals that will be implemented after a United Nations Summit this September.

The MDGs, while partially successful, have often been criticised for what they omitted. The goals made no reference to many marginalised groups, in particular, people with disabilities (PWDs). Our work here in Ghana at the Resource Centre aims to help PWDs enjoy their fundamental rights and live as active and equal members of society. Given the upcoming expiry of the MDGs, I thought it would be interesting in this blog post to analyse their success, particularly here in Ghana, and how far they have met the needs of disabled people in the developing world.

The Millennium Development Goals:

Before the MDGs were created, no common framework for promoting global development had existed. International development, which largely emerged in the second-half of the twentieth century, had served primarily as a means of waging the Cold War by the United States and Soviet Union, where each provided economic and military aid to developing countries in the hope that they would adopt their respective ideologies. With the end of the Cold War in 1991, the international community looked to establish, in the words of then US President George Bush, a 'new world order...An era in which the nations of the world, east and west, north and south, can prosper and live in harmony.' Leaving behind a century of conflict, they would work together to tackle growing issues like poverty, gender inequality rising child mortality and more in the developing world.

It was at the 2000 UN Millennium Summit, the largest gathering of world leaders that had ever occurred, where all 189 member states agreed on eight time-bound targets in the 'Millennium Declaration'. The development goals are as follows:

These goals are comprised of twenty-one individual targets. For example, goal 1 the includes target to 'Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day', while goal five aims to 'Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.' Since the introduction of the MDGs a number of key achievements have been made, some of which are summarised below from the 2014 UN Millennium Goals Report:

- In 1990, almost half of the population in developing regions lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate dropped to 22% by 2010, reducing people in extreme poverty by 700 million.
- Over 2.3 billion people have gained access to an improved source of drinking water.
- 90% of children in developing regions now enjoy primary education.
- The likelihood of a child dying before the age of five has nearly been halved, saving around 17,000 children's lives every day.

The attainment of goal 1 is particularly impressive, with poverty being reduced in every region since 2000 (though it should be noted that these statistics are somewhat skewed by progress in China, who between 1981-2010 brought 680 million of their people out of poverty). However, as the report notes, the development agenda 'remains unfinished'. Tackling issues such as chronic undernutrition, the spread of HIV/Aids and environmental degradation worldwide has been largely unsuccessful, and progress made is uneven. Countries in Africa for example, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, have failed to meet most of the MDG targets.

Ghana and the Millennium Development Goals:

Ghana's progress in meeting the MDGs has been mixed. While more up-to-date figures are currently unavailable, in the last Ghana Millennium Development Goals Report published in 2010, goal 1 (halving extreme poverty) and goal 7 (halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water) had already been achieved. Steady progress was also being made toward goals 3, 4, 6 and in particular, goal 2 (universal basic education). As of 2015 almost 90% of Ghanaian children are in school, and the country spends 8% of its GDP on education, more than the UN’s 6% benchmark and the UK’s spending of 6.5%.  

However, a majority of the goals were 'unlikely to be achieved'. The environmental sustainability target for example was not met, with around 125,000 hectares of forest cover being lost in Ghana every year. Tackling maternal health and reducing child mortality to 41 per 1000 live births in 2015 too have fallen significantly short. Due to substantial regional disparities within Ghana, progress made has also largely been in the South. While overall poverty in Ghana declined substantially since 1991, dropping from 51.7% to 28.5%, no significant improvements occurred in the three northern regions where poverty remains endemic.

Poverty and Disability:

Poverty in these regions, like the rest of the developing world, disproportionately impacts people with disabilities, a fundamental issue that the Millennium Development Goals fail to acknowledge. In a 2009 report published by Sightsavers International, authors Diane Mulligan and Kate Gooding argued that the MDGs were not measured by 'universal achievement', but defined aspirations for only 'proportions of the world’s population'. Currently, 80% of PWDs live in developing countries, and it is estimated that 20% of the world's poorest people have a disability. Even here in Tamale, with a population of 350,000 over 37,000 are disabled. By excluding a category of people who cannot access mainstream social, economic and political life, and have limited access to almost all areas of development, Mulligan and Gooding suggest that the goals are 'inherently flawed'.

For example, out of the 57 million children worldwide estimated to be missing out on school, more than 40% are thought to be disabled, making the attainment of goal 2 impossible without meeting the specific needs of PWDs. Goal 3, to achieve gender equality, is also more difficult for women with disabilities who face 'double discrimination. Specific barriers to achieving the MDGs for people with disabilities exist in each goal. The new development goals, to be decided in September, must put mechanisms in place to ensure greater inclusion and support for people with disabilities in developing countries, and should include specific targets to monitor progress over the next 15 years.

The Next Generation of Goals:

After three years of global consultations with governments and civil society organisations, the sustainable development goals will come into force in January 2016 and last until 2030. While these targets are only tentative and the total number may change, so far they appear far more comprehensive than the MDGs and have a greater emphasis on making positive gains 'for all'. The goals are as follows:

1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for allages4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation10. Reduce equality within and among countries11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

The MDGs, while varied in success, have proven that with concentration and coordinated effort by the international community even the most persistent global problems can be tackled. While progress has been mixed, particularly here in Ghana, the goals have drawn attention and expanded efforts to help the world's poorest people. It will be interesting to see what commitments world leaders make in September, and whether the needs of people with disabilities are sufficiently accounted for in any future agreement.

Thanks for reading – next week Ben and Zainab will be writing about human rights!

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