Nationalizing the MDGs [Archives:2008/1154/Viewpoint]

May 12 2008

A few weeks ago, I had a very gloomy picture of Yemen's development progress compared to what I thought we are supposed to achieve according to the Millennium Goals Yemen committed to in 2000. However, through a training course by the UNDP's regional office and the Bahraini Ministry of Social Affairs, I realised that our concept and understanding of the MDGs are not accurate. If we were to take the first goal relating to poverty reduction; which includes the rreduction by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day, there are two ways of looking at it. The first, it either means each country around the world is to half the number of its poor people, or we could focus on a few heavily populated countries and eliminate the poverty in them. For example, India and China alone consist of half the world's population and if those two countries improve the situation of its poor, the world in general would have achieved the first millennium development goal. Statistically it would be correct to say that the world's poverty has been reduced by half although it was only reduced in two countries.

The other question is why one dollar? And if we were to really check who lives these days under one US dollar a day in Yemen for example, we would find very few people, because one dollar which is almost equivalent to 200 Yemeni Riyals, is very less money. And considering the prices, it would be safe to say that one-dollar could only buy one light meal and nothing else. My estimation is that there are less than 7 percent of the people living under 200 Yemeni Riyals a day in Yemen. But does this mean that if we decrease this number by half we have achieved the first goal?

And what happens in those countries where there is no poverty, like Bahrain where there is literary no one living below 1 dollar a day, should they cross that goal from their checklist and say that they do not need to work on poverty since there is no poor people according to the UN's definition?

What about the other development goals? What if we as Yemen don't want to work on the environment goal, number seven, which ensures environmental sustainability? What if we want to work on decreasing growth rate as a goal instead?

The answers to all those questions are there in the Millennium Development Agreement, which is a more general framework from which the eight goals and their indicators were developed.

The idea behind developing the MDGs is to create tangible, measurable goals that are common in the developing world. There is a concept relating to the MDGs that most of the leaders in the developing world do not realize fully. In Yemen, we complain about not being able to achieve the goals, while what we should do is examine whether these goals are what we need to achieve with the targets and indicators given. There is something called the national poverty number which is a translation of the one dollar poverty indicator in reality. And hence, the measurement of poor people would be based on how many people are living below the poverty national line defined by each country according to its living standards.

Also since Yemen is a poor country with limited resources we can breakdown the goals to objectives that could be achieved. So instead of halving poverty how about reducing it by 20 percent by 2015?

There are many things that our decision makers and intellectuals should keep in mind while planning development goals. Rather than beating ourselves for not achieving the international goals, we should create a national achievable version and translate it into strategies and work on development in line with the world, but by our own terms.