The United Nations recently issued The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015, the latest assessment of progress towards the eight MDGs. In short, they have had mixed results. This article is part of a blog series reflecting on the MDGs and the U.N. report. These are produced in partnership with our colleagues at RESULTS (our parent organization).
>>Authored by Sabina Rogers and Maeve McHugh with support from Anushree Shiroor from RESULTS UK
MDG 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
The overall number of people living in poverty in developing countries fell by more than half since 1990. The rate dropped to 14 percent in 2015 and the absolute number to 836 million people. There has also been significant progress made towards curbing hunger worldwide.
Target 1.A: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day
Looking at the regional distribution of data, poverty reduction was concentrated in eastern and southern Asia thanks to immense poverty reduction measures in China and India. Progress is less apparent in other regions. In sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of the population still live in extreme poverty, and in western Asia, extreme poverty is actually expected to increase between 2011 and 2015.
The mix of progress and failure provides some guidance to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Namely, they must continue the campaign around eradicating extreme poverty while also confronting challenges that hinder progress in the regions that have seen marginal improvement.
While the world met its goal of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, we must now look with a narrower lens at those remaining in extreme poverty. We must ask what changes must be made to the policies that did not succeed.
Full and productive employment
Target 1.B: Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people
This target faced various challenges. First, the global labor force grew, and continues to grow, faster than employment opportunities. The global working-age population that is employed actually declined 2 percent between 1991 and 2015. (The 2008-09 global economic crisis certainly didn’t help.)
Youth (15-24 years) are especially affected by unemployment, with three times as many unemployed than adults. Young women are especially affected by unemployment and have few employment opportunities. They face unequal access to work as well as unequal pay, inadequate social protection, and unsatisfactory access to assets. These factors all contribute to women’s overall greater vulnerability of living in poverty.
Additionally, the situation is precarious for both those living just above the $1.25 a day line and those working in vulnerable employment conditions (i.e., unpaid family workers and own-account workers). Half of the developing regions’ workforce live on less than $4 a day, necessitating improvements in social protection programs and policies that see beyond extreme poverty. We need to take into account what comes after.
Target 1.C: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
Progress has alternated between slow and rapid declines in the proportion of undernourished people since 1990. Current estimates indicate that approximately 795 million people are undernourished globally, and for the developing regions, the proportion of undernourished people is projected to drop to 12.9 percent, or 780 million, in 2014-2016.
The vast majority of undernourished people live in developing regions. They experience various risks of food insecurity, namely natural disasters, volatile commodity prices, rising food and energy costs, and periods of economic stagnation, among other difficulties.
Addressing child health, specifically, is an important challenge to tackle in order to end hunger. While the proportion of underweight children under the age of five has been halved, the absolute numbers are still high at 90 million. Furthermore, sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia are home to nearly 90 percent of all underweight children.
The world has made immense progress in improving the lives of millions of people since 1990. While MDG 1 can be called a qualified success, the targets must remain a linchpin in the post-2015 agenda. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 is to “End poverty in all its forms everywhere.” However, the SDGs, which are to be approved at the U.N. General Assembly next month, need to address the shortfalls in reaching the MDGs within regions and the individual factors that combine to cause people to slide back into poverty.
SDG 2 proposes to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” While the MDGs considered only one aspect of undernutrition in children (i.e., underweight), we now have a better understanding of other forms. We know that stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, as well as overweight and obesity are all important factors to track. These indicators in the SDGs are more reliable than “underweight” alone in predicting growth, development, and well-being of children.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) has also set targets to reduce multiple forms of malnutrition by 2025. If we want the world to commit resources and take action to meet these targets, indicators must be built into the proposed SDGs to track these multiple forms of malnutrition the WHA is seeking to address.
However, early signs point to the inclusion of merely one or two undernutrition indicators as was the case with the MDGs. This will lead to a very limited body of data with which to understand progress in achieving SDG 2 and an inadequate basis on which to measure and predict children’s growth, development, and well-being. Indicators on reducing stunting, wasting, anemia, and overweight that come under SDG 2 as well as promotion of exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of infancy within SDG 3 will give a much more accurate picture of actions being taken, and progress made.
Looking beyond 2015 and the MDGs, it is clear that microfinance has a role to play in supporting achievement of the SDGs. It can be a tool to generate sustainable growth and ultimately create self-sufficiency for poor and vulnerable households.
When proper targeting is employed…
When integrated with important non-financial services like health…
When coupled with government programs like conditional cash transfers…
When the business model measures “success” in terms of their client’s well-being…
When these measures are taken, then microfinance institutions can work directly with individuals living in the very conditions the SDGs are aiming to address. Those living in extreme poverty or fighting hunger can use microfinance as a tool to mitigate the risks they face and seize opportunities to build lasting and positive change in their lives.