Sustainable Development Goals To Combat Global Poverty

(This post was produced and written by our new Framing the Global staff member, Zachary Vaughn.) 

As the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) project draws to a close the international community considers what the future of development will be.

Adopted at the 2000 Millennium Summit, the Millennium Development Goals consist of eight key targets to address poverty across a range of issues.  While the project’s overall goal of halving world poverty by 2015 is likely to be met, some question the effectiveness of the goals and their indicators.

This concern is not new.

Since 2010, reports suggest that the success of MDGs can be primarily pinned on the surging economies of China and India. Countries in Africa have not had the same kind of economic success. This divide, combined with lack of African autonomy, illustrates what Andre Gunder Frank terms the “development of underdevelopment.”

Others have criticized the legitimacy of results claimed by international development leaders. One such critique has been of Jeffrey Sachs, economics professor at Columbia University and advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Sachs proposed and implemented the development of model villages in Africa to address poverty on a community level addressing issues of health, education, and agricultural innovation. The lack of clear indicators and comparison villages that did not receive aid made it difficult to come to any conclusion about the model villages’ success.

Reducing the complexity of poverty to solely economic issues is seen as problematic as well. Human rights failures have been suggested as another source of economic inequality. In the case of China, Human Rights Watch reports the on the continued existence of the nation’s black jails. The facilities are designed to “reeducate through labor” those in opposition to the Chinese government, although China claimed to have closed the jails in 2013.

United Nations staff in Bonn, Germany, working to raise awareness of the UN MDGs 2015 deadline.

For all their criticisms, the MDGs have produced some successes, such as increasing the number of girls attending primary schools and carving inroads in the fight against AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

It is these successes that form the basis of a new international project to combat poverty — the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs consist of seventeen targets meant to address the various forms of poverty over the next fifteen years. Organizers say the SDGs will be shaped by more of a localized, bottom-up approach than the MDGs were.

While the SDG goals are yet to be ratified by the international community — that will be addressed in September 2015 — they are already causing some contention, with concerns ranging from the number of goals to the effectiveness of achievement measures to whether some countries may want to acknowledge certain goals at all.

Perhaps the key difference, though, is the perceived focus on human dignity and rights rather than on economics.

Hilal Elver, reporting in The Guardian, calls for human rights to be a central component of all SDGs, stating “a shift is needed from a development model based on charity and aid to one based on human rights, reinforced by accountability mechanisms.” Such a framework might allow the international community to truly address the goals it claims to uphold as universal.

Will the SDGs prove more successful than the MDGs? Only time will tell and the clock starts now.