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Moving beyond the Millennium Development Goals

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The United Nations flag flies outside its New York headquarters. US Aid Images under a Creative Commons Licence

The new framework for international development may be the biggest opportunity for positive global change in our lifetimes – but it could be about to become a missed opportunity.

Last month, the United Nations held a meeting to assess progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and to chart the way forward after they expire in 2015. Both the outcome of this meeting and the High Level Panel report published earlier this year have laudable aims, but so far lack the substance to make them reality.

The positive outcomes so far are commitments to one process and a universal set of goals, an integrated approach, and a focus on sustainable development and human rights. But there is a distinct lack of ambition or new ideas on either how to maximize the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals in their last 15 months, or how to move beyond them in a new framework.

Especially worrying is the lack of concrete measures to explicitly address inequality – instead, we have the wholly inadequate desire to ‘leave no-one behind’. This suggests that we’re all on the same journey towards growth and prosperity and it’s only a case of making sure everyone’s on board.

In reality, reducing inequality is the key to leaving no-one behind. We live in a world of finite resources: the more the minority has, the less the majority has. Over the last 15 years inequality has been growing at an alarming rate; today the wealthiest 0.1 per cent of people own approximately 81 per cent of the world’s wealth. Reversing this trend, therefore, is vital if we are to truly leave no-one behind. And it requires a genuine commitment to a different way of doing development – one that recognizes and seeks to address the root causes of poverty and inequality.  

Yet tackling inequality is conspicuously absent from the meeting’s Outcome Document, and the report released earlier this year lacks a goal on reducing inequality. To put it starkly, the global structures that sustain inequality will not be challenged by the new framework. 

This failure to recognize that the structures – social, economic and cultural – that shape and define who is poor and excluded need to be addressed is not a minor problem in a report with no impact. It could mean the difference between billions more people living healthier, happier lives, or not.

Sarah Edwards is Head of Policy and Campaigns at Health Poverty Action

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