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Beyond Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a new development agenda? panel discussion at LIDC Conference

In 2010 LIDC brought together an interdisciplinary team of experts from Bloomsbury Colleges to produce a report published by the Lancet: ‘The Millennium Development Goals: a cross-sectoral analysis and principles for goal setting after 2015’.

On 23 May 2013, at the first LIDC Bi-Annual Conference, we brought together MDG experts from Bloomsbury Colleges to revisit the findings of the Lancet-LIDC Commission and examine progress on the MDGs since the report’s publication. Secondly, we looked beyond 2015: What should be the shape of future goals?

Prof. Jeff Waage opened the session by reminding participants of the 2010 LIDC-Lancet Commission on the MDGs and the resulting report. The report pointed out a lack of interaction between goals and sectors, as well as a problem with equity and participation. Now, three years after the report was published, a lot of new ideas are circulating, including around sustainable development goals. This debate is driven to a large extent by the civil society who are trying to bring Southern voices into the discussion.

Hugh Waddington from 3ie began by saying that MDGs were successful because they were a culmination of 20 years of efforts and as such involved a lot of ownership by the relevant stakeholders. The goals were part of a results-based agenda, with specific targets, which shows that a culture of measurement is now present. We need good quality evidence for new goals as well, whatever they may be.

Prof. Angela Little from the Institute of Education talked about the second MDG, focused on education. Net primary enrolment went up from 80 to 88% over 10 years and the gender parity index has improved as well. However, in the last few years progress on MDG 2 has stalled and now we know that the target will be missed. Little argued that the principles set in the LIDC-Lancet report still hold. Equity must be addressed in new goals and issues of ownership (who sets the goals) are just as valid. There is a lot of discussion on the MDGs in policy circles, NGOs and at Bloomsbury Colleges, but these are mostly Northern voices, not necessarily including any Southern perspectives. Holism is still a problem, and we need more synergy between individual goals and better integrated planning. Ultimately, MDGs should not serve to legitimise international organisations.

Prof. Andy Haines from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said that health was at the heart of the MDGs, but the picture of achievement is mixed. Undernutrition is still a problem and rising food prices have only made it worse. Substantial progress has been made on child survival, but it is unlikely that the goal can be achieved. Progress has also been noted on HIV/ AIDS; TB and malaria have been a success; water and sanitation have improved. Maternal mortality is falling, but progress is slow.
Universal health coverage is a big question in discussions about future goals, but definitions vary as to what universal health coverage actually is. What is clear is the need to reduce the cost of healthcare for the poor.
The MDGs have not been very successful at linking sectors and e.g. connecting health to social factors. We need to look at policies that promote environmental sustainability or increase resilience AND improve health at the same time. For example, interventions that promote public transport, walking and/ or cycling integrate both. More sustainable agriculture is needed to address both stunting and obesity.

Prof. Elaine Unterhalter from the Institute of Education talked about gender and the MDGs. Gender-based violence is still a massive global issue, she argued, and the MDGs have always been criticised for not taking it into account. Progress is problematic with respect to women’s employment, as measures of success are unclear: most women work in the informal sector and as such are not captured in employment statistics. There are in fact no MDG targets directly relating to jobs or employment. Furthermore, we need to ask ourselves the question of who it is that speaks on women’s issues. Are goals and indicators good for women? If we introduce equity as a new goal, will gender be part of it?
The speaker argued that what is needed is a gender-specific goal AND a gender component in each goal going forward.

Colin Poulton from SOAS addressed MDG 1 on halving poverty and eradicating hunger. Poulton pointed out that the target was achieved in 2010 at the global level, although these statistics are contested. While the goal was achieved 5 years early, it was mostly as a result of the development of China and Southeast Asia, with Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of Asia lagging behind. The inequality issue needs to be addressed in new goals. Agriculture must be sustainable, not based on fossil fuels - this could be an intermediate indicator for all goals.

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