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The future we want

March 12, 2013

school girls in Swat 290x230
At a United Nations summit held at the turn of the century, the UN agreed on eight ambitious goals designed to rid the world of the worst extremes of poverty. They set themselves a deadline of 2015 to meet their targets and 189 UN member states agreed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as they were called.

Today, with less than two years remaining before the deadline of 2015, the UN is already conducting post-2015 consultations on what should follow this ambitious agenda. However, while the MDGs have helped to focus attention on poverty, it is clear that economic inequality is on an upward trend. International and inter-regional class divides have become too deep to ignore.

MDGs progress has too often failed to reach those most in need: women and girls, those living in extreme poverty and those living in remote or rural areas. It is also clear that some issues, such as environmental sustainability require much greater resources and political commitment to achieve progress, given the new challenge of climate challenge and the growing need for energy.

Supporters of the MDGs argue that meeting all the targets by 2015 was always going to be a huge global challenge, and several are unlikely to be met, “but they have proved highly effective at galvanising global commitment and have achieved significant progress in many places around the world”.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is not one of those places. According to the UNDP, Pakistan lags behind on 25 indicators and is on track on only eight indicators to complete the unfinished MDGs agenda (the targets were set by each individual country). First the good news: Pakistan has achieved the target of access to improved water resources when three sources of improved water are taken into account: tap water, hand pumps and electric motor propelled water. Pakistan also has one of the highest ratios of women parliamentarians in the South Asian region. The proportion of women in the national parliament (National Assembly and Senate) is 19per cent. Similarly prevalence of HIV among adults is low and incidence of diarrhea in children under five years age has been low (10 per cent).

Now for the bad news: the proportion of the population below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption has increased in the past four years. This is a core indicator for assessing the level of food insecurity in the country. The reasons that contributed to food insecurity in the country include the two-digit inflation (and a much higher food inflation) over the last four years, which has significantly decreased the purchasing power of the people, especially the poor.

Progress has also been slow on gender equality and women’s empowerment, especially when it comes to the Gender Parity Index (GPI) for youth literacy, secondary and primary education. Finally, the progress on the indicator related to the reduction of child mortality is “completely off the track”. Currently in Pakistan, the number of deaths of children under 1 year of age per 1000 live births is 75 against the target of 40. Neonatal mortality in Pakistan is actually increasing.

Volatile economic growth, persistent inequalities and lack of structural transformation in the last decade have all contributed to pulling the country back, coupled with internal conflicts and growing environmental issues. Environmental degradation costs the country at least three per cent of the annual GDP, with a disproportionate impact upon the poor and most vulnerable. There is also around $7 billion loss each year due to security related expenditures, while Foreign Direct Investment in the country has been on decline from $ 5,152 million in 2008 to $ 2,205 million in 2010.

Pakistan has achievedthe target of access to improved water resources
Pakistan has achieved the target of access to improved water resources

We also have a tax to GDP ratio of less than 10 per cent, which is far less than the regional average of 15-25 per cent. According to the UNDP, “the limited fiscal space constrains the government’s ability to spend more on social sector and development priorities”. We also have glaring regional disparities (net primary enrollment in Punjab is 61 per cent as compared to Balochistan 44 per cent and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 52 per cent). Today, 60 per cent of Pakistan’s population is under 30 years of age and there are over 3.5 million new labour force entrants each year.

Pakistan is not expected to live up to its promises on meeting most of its MDGs targets. Now, as the target date of 2015 nears, global consultations have started to discuss and propose the post-2015 development agenda that will succeed the MDGs framework.  The discussions include global and regional face to face consultations with diverse stakeholders, online thematic consultations and national consultations in more than 100 countries including Pakistan. The objective of the entire consultation process is to get feedback from diverse stakeholders “on the contours of the post-2015 development agenda” according to UNDP-Pakistan.

The UNDP is leading the consultations process in Pakistan on behalf of the UN Resident Coordinator and consultative meetings have been held with government representatives, experts and civil society organisations in Islamabad, Lahore, Quetta, Karachi and Peshawar. All the different views have been noted on a webpage  and everyone is encouraged to join the discussion.

The main messages emerging so far are: the MDGs framework is useful – but needed focus on localisation, availability, accessibility and reliability of data for reporting. There was also a need for political ownership and a role for civil society. Naturally, in Pakistan peace and personal security was ranked as the number one goal in a survey that was conducted online during the consultation process. There were also calls for clear implementation plans with roles and responsibilities at the national and global level.

The main output of all these consultations will be a Key Messages Report on the Pakistan specific priorities for the post-2015 development agenda. This output will be submitted to the UN before 31st March 2013. Incidentally, a Pakistani, Homi Kharas, is the lead author and Executive Secretary of the High-level Panel to advise on the global development agenda beyond 2015. Kharas is responsible for compiling the report of the High-Level Panel, which has been tasked with providing recommendations on a global post-2015 agenda. Kharas holds a PhD in economics from Harvard University and has 26 years of experience with the World Bank. His most recent co-authored books are 'After the Spring: Economic Transitions in the Arab World' and 'Catalysing Development: A New Vision for Aid.' Unfortunately, he left Pakistan many years ago.



The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues. She can be reached at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.