Making The Development Goals Reality

At the recent United Nations meeting, the body adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which set the guideposts for the next 15 years of development. From eradicating poverty to making cities more livable, the goals are laudable but to be realized there must be an improved system of integration, argues Paul Weisenfeld.

“The hardest, last-mile problems of international development persist because they are complex and require a multidisciplinary approach. Improving food security, for example, requires addressing multiple facets — availability, access, utilization and stability — in a coordinated way. Increased agricultural productivity for smallholder farmers means little if markets do not function or diets remain nutritionally inadequate,” he writes.

Critics of the UN’s implementation of development goals contend the previous set of benchmarks were never reached, despite UN officials’ contentions.

“Yet even on their own terms, the achievements have fallen short of the goals. Despite the positive spin in the UN evaluation report, on current trends it will take another decade for child mortality to fall by the target of two-thirds, for instance. Many of those most in need of the MDGs — the poorest and those living in fragile, conflict-torn states — benefited least,” argues Andrew Jack in the Financial Times.

“Just as important is how far the MDGs themselves have influenced what successes have been achieved. Most notably, if the single-greatest driver of declining global poverty since the turn of the millennium was the remarkable internal economic growth of China, then the MDGs had next to no influencing role,” added Jack.

One of the most ambitious and important goals is to make cities more livable, particularly with more than 6.4 billion people living in cities today. But every city has different problems, which necessarily means different solutions.

“Much of the process of the 21st century has to be about taming the demons that come with density,” Edward Glasser, an economics professor at Harvard University and the author of the book, Triumph of the City, tells CityLab.

“There certainly is a role for public policy on the upside of cities. Think about investment for infrastructure in the developing world [and] in education, which are all crucial for productive cities,” he notes.

However, he adds, the priority problems in most developing nations are not crime, but simple sanitation and a lack of clean water.

“No crime wave is as deadly as a cholera attack. Typically you move up the hierarchy of urban problems, so for the poorest parts of the world, sanitation is the most important area. But as you move up, like in Latin America, we’d be more worried specifically on the crime front.”

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