Tag Archives: MDGs

Goal 6 Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Rising to the Challenge: Enabling Access to Clean and Safe Water Globally
By Justin D. Brookes and Cayelan C. Carey

Justin D. Brookes is Director of the Water Research Centre at the Environment Institute, School of Biological Sciences, at the University of Adelaide, Australia. Cayelan C. Carey is Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, United States of America.

Access to clean, safe and secure water resources is an essential prerequisite for communities to prosper. While access to water and sanitation is often taken for granted in developed countries, this basic right is denied to many across the globe every day.

Goal 6 Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Goal 6 Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Sustainable development goal (SDG) 6, as formulated by the United Nations Open Working Group, presents an ambitious, yet achievable mission for the next two decades: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” We propose that this goal can be achieved by applying four principles: 1) Separating drinking water from wastewater; 2) Accessing and treating drinking water to remove chemical and biological contaminants; 3) Protecting and restoring freshwater ecosystems; and 4) Guaranteeing water access and water rights.

1. Separating drinking water from waste water
Historically, the single biggest factor contributing to the increased longevity of humans was the separation of drinking water from waste water. Building sanitary infrastructure has enabled communities—and in turn, economies—to flourish, free from the burden of waterborne disease. Yet, today a staggering 1 billion people still do not have access to improved sanitation, in spite of the fact that it would reduce disease and infant mortality. There are many examples of successful sanitation projects in the developing world when financial resources and engineering are available. They demonstrate that it is possible to separate water for drinking from waste water in regions that traditionally have lacked this infrastructure. Although many challenges remain to ensuring adequate sanitation for all, building sanitary infrastructure is a critical step needed to achieve SDG 6.

2. Accessing and treating drinking water
Having water available at home or within short distances obviates the need to cart it from other sources, often over long distances. A direct result of greater water accessibility is a substantial increase in time available for productive work, attending school, developing a business, or raising a family. This is particularly relevant for women and children who spend significant time gaining access to water when it is not piped to their home. Ultimately, water will require treatment before drinking, but this challenge can be overcome with adequate resources for filtration and disinfection. In particular, point-of-use devices that are robust, reliable, require low maintenance and are widely available are needed to enable treatment for small drinking water systems. In tandem with principle 1 above, this will ensure there are multiple barriers to pathogens, offering greater protection to consumers.

3. Protecting and restoring freshwater ecosystems
We must also be cognizant of the relationship between ecosystem well-being and human health. Most of the world’s fresh waters have already been degraded due to unsustainable withdrawal, contaminants, climate change, nutrient pollution (eutrophication), and other human activities. The net result of human misuse and mismanagement of fresh waters is decreased water quality and inadequate quantity for consumption. Preserving and enhancing the ecological integrity of our freshwater lakes, rivers, wetlands and groundwater is critical for ensuring that pollutants and pathogens do not contaminate drinking water supplies. Functioning freshwater ecosystems have many built-in mechanisms that help naturally clean water that we need for drinking (e.g. riparian buffers that absorb stormwater run-off). As with principles 1 and 2 above, developing sanitary infrastructure is pivotal for protecting fresh waters from eutrophication, which is one of the greatest challenges to functioning freshwater ecosystems. Balancing the maintenance of natural capital and the provision of ecosystem services with development and increased productivity is the key to ensuring the future sustainability of our water resources.

4. Guaranteeing water access and water rights
Economic development inevitably requires water resources. However, it is imperative that planners and Governments are considerate of the needs of diverse water users, including communities, agriculture, industry, mining and the environment. All development and land use changes have consequences. For example, land clearing will alter river flows, increasing the risk of flooding. Similarly, deforestation will decrease evapotranspiration, reducing precipitation needed for agriculture downwind. As the need for water for agriculture and industry increases, it is critical that we develop water-sharing agreements to ensure equitable access for all water users, including the environment. These agreements will require negotiations across local, regional and national boundaries and must include participants representing all stakeholders, such as community and industry leaders, and scientists. While these discussions may be difficult, they are not impossible and will help ensure adequate water access for all.
Implementing the United Nations Post-2015 Development Agenda

Tremendous progress has already been made towards meeting SDG 6. As nations have become more prosperous, they have undertaken sanitation and drinking water improvement programmes. Nevertheless, the astonishing statistics regarding the number of people who still lack sanitation and access to safe drinking water emphasizes that this problem remains one of the greatest humanitarian challenges.

Leadership is required at every level to implement water reform: within the household, within municipalities and within Governments. The solutions for supplying potable water and sanitation vary depending upon the available resources, the size of the communities and the scale of the desired improvement. We advocate both “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches. Top-down water quality improvement and water allocation may appear as an imposition, but are often accompanied with more resources and provide the legislative framework necessary for sustainable development. “Bottom-up” improvement is also desirable as communities take responsibility and stewardship for the water resources and land for which they are custodians.

Education is the common prerequisite for water quality improvement. In developing nations, educating women and children in every household on the benefits of hygiene and sanitation is a fundamental first step for building awareness and implementing change. Advancing water quality in villages, towns and cities requires engineering, but also understanding of the close links between water quality and quantity, and land management. In developed nations with more advanced water treatment infrastructure, the educational focus should be on improving water sustainability and developing policies required for water reform.

Human water use across the globe is coupled with social and natural systems, both by the globalized economy, trade and capital, as well as by the global water cycle and climate systems. Therefore, local and regional water use cannot be managed in isolation. The responsibility of developed nations is not just to provide financial aid, but also to assist developing countries in building human capital with the skills necessary to improve water quality and sanitation. Developed nations can help research and advance new water treatment technologies, providing sustainable solutions for water management. Investment of time and resources to the development of low-cost, robust and reliable point-of-use devices is urgently needed.

Water reform needs to address the protection of water quality through prudent land management and the allocation of water between different users. Equitably sharing water resources between human consumers, the environment, industry, and agriculture is complex

The SDGs

The SDGs

and requires strong water governance and policy so that the needs of both upstream and downstream users are met. This is further complicated by the fact that rivers flow across local, regional and national boundaries. Integrated water-trading markets are one tool that enables water to be bought and sold as a tradable commodity. This practice, however, does not consider water for the environment, which needs protection through policy and legislation.


Water sustains life, but clean, safe drinking water defines civilization. Achieving SDG 6 promises dramatic improvement to the quality of life and longevity in some of the world’s poorest nations. If we declare that access to clean, safe drinking water is a basic human right, then providing the necessary education, infrastructure and support to ensure the success in achieving SDG 6 is the responsibility of us all.

Goal 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Achieving Gender Equality and Empowering Women and Girls: Is SDG 5 Missing Something?

By Gita Sen

Gita Sen is Professor of Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, India, and Adjunct Professor of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, United States of America.

Goal 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

In a paper entitled “No empowerment without rights, no rights without politics”, that was written for a Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) assessment project, we argued that: “…progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in the development agenda requires a human rights-based approach, and requires support for the women’s movement to activate and energize the agenda. Both are missing from Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 3. Empowerment requires agency along multiple dimensions—sexual, reproductive, economic, political, and legal. However, MDG 3 frames women’s empowerment as reducing educational disparities. By omitting other rights and not recognizing the multiple interdependent and indivisible human rights of women, the goal of empowerment is distorted and “development silos” are created…”.

We also drew attention to “women’s organizations…[as] key actors in pushing past such distortions and silos at all levels, and hence crucial to pushing the gender equality agenda forward. However, the politics of agenda setting also influences funding priorities such that financial support for women’s organizations and for substantive women’s empowerment projects is limited” (Sen and Mukherjee, 2014, p. 188).

Much has changed since the MDGs were first formulated soon after the Millennium Declaration in 2000. Or has it? It is undoubtedly true that, as compared to the formulation of the MDGs, the sustainable development goals (SDGs) has been a more open and more inclusive process driven by United Nations Member States, and generating intense and wide debate. And yet, when it comes to gender justice, the goals sound eerily similar. MDG 3 committed to “Promote gender equality and empower women”; SDG 5 (as agreed thus far through the process of the General Assembly’s Open Working Group (OWG)) (United Nations, 2014) calls to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. However, two important differences at this level are the explicit inclusion of girls, and of the word “all ”, which can be used to address the challenges faced by the most marginalized and oppressed. More differences appear at the level of the targets under the goal: whereas MDG 3 had a single target focused on education, SDG 5 proposes a range of targets to end discrimination, violence and harmful practices, recognize and value unpaid care work, participation and leadership in decision-making, and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. How SDG 5 and its proposed targets will finally translate into indicators, and whether these will be effective and usable for monitoring (where the rubber hits the road) remains to be seen.

Nonetheless, despite advances over the MDGs, there is still a worrying limitation to SDG 5: the absence of a clear recognition of the human rights of women and girls. This piece is being written even as the battle over the affirmation of women’s human rights and the role of women human rights defenders has been bitterly fought at this year’s meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). What happens at the CSW is important because it is an established institution for review and monitoring, and because it is under the aegis of UN-Women, which will be the main operational arm for meeting SDG 5.

The Political Declaration of the CSW (United Nations, 2015), which is the main outcome of the meeting, includes human rights in a non-operational chapeau; once more in paragraph 2 where it recognizes that the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women are mutually reinforcing for the realization of the human rights of women and girls; and again in paragraph 5 where human rights of women are listed as one of the 12 critical areas of concern (of the BPFA). The attempt to thread human rights throughout the document did not succeed, although neither did the attempt to remove all mention. But the main operational paragraph (paragraph 6) where Governments pledge to take action contains nothing explicit on human rights, nor does any other paragraph.

Even the limited mentions of human rights in the Political Declaration were only agreed upon after protracted negotiations against arguments such as those of an observer State that women’s human rights are only one among the 12 areas of the BPFA and should not be given special mention. That the human rights of girls and women should be contentious 15 years after the Millennium Declaration, and 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women, is a product of backlash. This backlash attempts to roll back the advances and very real changes in norms and frameworks for realizing women’s human rights, agreed by consensus among Member States during the United Nations conferences (at Vienna, Cairo and Beijing) of the 1990s. While funding to translate these norms and frameworks into practice has been woefully inadequate as noted by Sen and Mukherjee in their articles, the norms themselves are essential to have in place.

Human rights are contentious because, unlike policies and programmes, they are often more

The SDGs

The SDGs

clearly justiciable, and can be used to hold Governments and others to account for their acts of commission or omission. The backlash against women’s human rights has been led by Member (and observer) States of the United Nations with poor records on discrimination against women, as well as laws, policies and practices that sustain gender inequality across a wide spectrum of issues. A telling reminder of who is principally behind the backlash was the Political Declaration’s refusal to recognize the key role of women’s human rights defenders who often risk their liberty and their lives to protect and advance the human rights of girls and women at risk. However, the fault is not only here. The refusal by other Member States to recognize that economic, social and cultural rights are interlinked and inseparable from civil and political rights is also a serious challenge to advancing towards the fulfilment of SDG 5.

Finally, one also has to ask the question: where’s the beef? Each SDG (as enunciated in the OWG’s report) has its attached targets and means of implementation. Those linked to SDG 5 mention legal reforms and technology (5.a, 5.b and 5.c), but there is no reference made about funding. Given that a major weakness in the fulfilment of MDG 3 was the inadequacy of funding, the challenge of funding SDG 5 will remain as a major stumbling block unless it becomes central to its means of implementation.


Fukuda-Parr, Sakiko, Alicia Ely Yamin, and Joshua Greenstein (2014). The Power of Numbers: A Critical Review of Millennium Development Goal Targets for Human Development and Human Rights. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, vol. 15, no. 2-3, p. 105-117.

Sen, Gita, and Avanti Mukherjee (2014). No Empowerment Without Rights, No Rights Without Politics: Gender-equality, MDGs and the post-2015 Development Agenda. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, vol. 15, no. 2-3. p. 188-202.

United Nations, Report of the Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals, 12 August 2014 (A/68/970). Available from http://undocs.org/a/68/970.

United Nations, Economic and Social Council (2015). Commission on the Status of Women. Political declaration on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women.

5 March. E/Cn.6/2015/L.1.

First published in the UN Chronicle, Department of Public Information, United Nations.

World Environment Day 2015 Sustainable Consumption and Production “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet Consume with Care”

June 4: Zambia joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Environment Day, a number of activities took place between June 4th and June 5th 2015., The United Nations in Zambia, Ministry of Environment and Tourism and Natural Resources, Standard Chartered Bank and Youth United Nations Association (YUNA), organized a tree planting exercise as one of the activities during the Environment Week, this event took place at the National Heroes Stadium.

The 2015 global theme was “Sustainable Consumption and Production “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet Consume with Care”, Zambia localized the theme to “13 Million Dreams Consume with Care”. A number of activities were conducted around the country and there was participation from various partners including government ministries.

Tree planting exercise at Heroes Stadium, Lusaka. Photo credit/UNIC Lusaka

Tree planting exercise at Heroes Stadium, Lusaka. Photo credit/UNIC Lusaka

At the tree planting exercise, Mathews Kalabo the representative of the United Nations Youth Association said the issue of the environment knows no boundary and affects the world at large, he also shared the efforts, that the three Organizations are implementing to combat climate change, citing the 5000 trees has been planted so far, in 6 provinces out of 10 in Zambia. He said that YUNA has been leading the cause in combating climate change with the support from Standard Chartered bank, the UN and Government in the country. He appealed to the ministry to consider the creation of green projects for the youth as well as green jobs to sustain the Environment and future generation, He further recommended Government for the strong partnership with ILO on Youth Empowerment through green jobs.

The UN representative Mr. Jonathan Wesley Roberts, the Chief Technical Advisor in Integrated Land Use Assessment of FAO highlighted some projects that the UN is doing in partnership with the government in promoting sustainable land use while protecting the environment, he also commended the efforts of other government partners in their efforts to help serve the environment.
The Honorable Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports Hon. Ronald Chitotela was the guest of Honor, in his remarks he thanked the three organizations on what they are doing to respond to climate change effects. He further said the Government of the Republic of Zambia is very willing to work with the International Community, Civil Society Organizations and the private sector in creating awareness on issues relating to climate change and the environment. He also urged citizens to consume with care in all areas of the production for sustainable development.

Standard Chartered Bank Zambia Chief information Officer Mrs. Musonda reiterated that as a bank they are committed to supporting activities related to the environment in Zambia and to continue with developmental partnerships for noble causes like tree planting with the United Nations and Government.

Other activities included an exhibition were various organizations showcased what activities and programs that they are doing in relating to the theme and the issue of climate change and match past to create awareness for world environment day.

The Sustainable Development Goals and a Healthier 2030: Goal 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

By Lauren Barredo, Irene Agyepong, Gordon Liu and Srinath Reddy

Lauren Barredo is Manager, Sustainable Development Solutions Network in New York City. Irene Agyepong is Professor at the School of Public Health, University of Ghana in Accra. Gordon Liu is Director, China Center for Health and Economic Research, Peking University in Beijing. Srinath Reddy is President, Public Health Foundation of India in New Delhi.

Health is fundamental to human development. All people, regardless of social status, consistently rank good health as a top priority,1 and healthy people are critical to sustaining societies. It is therefore not surprising that four of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) directly relate to health.2

Goal 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Goal 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Nonetheless, as with many other global targets, alongside strengths and successes there are also challenges and weaknesses. Progress has been uneven, both within and across countries. Although chronic undernutrition, child and maternal mortality have fallen significantly, there is still much to be done. Public education and rapid diagnostic testing for HIV/ AIDS has reduced the number of new cases, and more effective treatments allow HIV-positive people to live longer. Yet access to treatment needs to become more widespread, new cases need to be prevented, and stigma and discrimination reduced.The MDGs were successful at focusing global attention and resources on specific, pressing world challenges, including hunger, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS and malaria. These issues were placed at the top of the global agenda, inviting international agencies, Governments, non-governmental organizations and civil society, private firms, and other stakeholders to come together in order to achieve the goals. As a result, extreme poverty fell by half, there has been significant progress in the fight against malaria and tuberculosis, and over 2 billion people gained access to safer drinking water.

The MDGs encouraged specific interventions benefitting subpopulations, namely pregnant women and children under 5 years of age, rather than all people. Some countries, however, sought to improve indicators through investments in their health systems to support the entire population, which resulted in dramatic progress in the health of all people at all ages. Other countries focused interventions on delivering health services largely to pregnant women and young children, and saw fewer improvements in the overall health of the general population. A new agenda is needed to prioritize equity in outcomes, and address health systems in addition to targeting specific diseases.

Further, the global burden of disease has shifted greatly in the past 30 years, increasing the need for a focus on health systems. Non-communicable diseases such as stroke, cancer and diabetes are responsible for a growing share of both mortality and morbidity in both developed and developing countries.3 In fact, rapid economic growth in many developing countries has left them facing a challenging dichotomy; in poorer, more remote areas there is much to be done on the MDGs agenda, while diabetes and heart disease are rising in more affluent cities. Even within households, family dynamics may result in some family members suffering from caloric or micronutrient deficiency, while others are obese. Looking forward, we need a post-2015 agenda that can support countries in addressing all of these issues.

Medical research has shown that health issues once relegated to the back burner play a much larger role in our overall health and well-being. Mental health is one such issue. There is a growing consensus that we need to work more to reduce the stigma of mental illness and offer mental health services to people. Addressing indoor and outdoor air quality, water quality, and other environmental determinants of health is another example. Tackling these issues is critical to safeguarding global health, and needs to play a larger role in the post-2015 agenda.

We therefore recommend a post-2015 development agenda that both reaffirms commitment to the MDGs and expands beyond them to cover new issues that merit urgent global attention. The formulation of SDG 3—ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages—can easily accommodate such a broad agenda. The current text, which includes numerical targets for child and maternal mortality, can revitalize action to complete the MDGs agenda. Targets addressing non-communicable dis- eases, substance abuse, and environmental health will raise global awareness about the importance of these issues and spur progress.

Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the current goal is the target on universal health coverage (UHC). This is vulnerable to the critique of being too broad and therefore difficult to attain or to measure. However, ambitious targets are often needed to inspire progress. While the MDGs prioritized specific interventions for pregnant women and children under 5 years of age, UHC promotes healthier lives for all through investment in health systems. There is a growing body of evidence that investments in health systems are key to better health outcomes.4

In brief, UHC strives to ensure that all people have access to needed, quality health services without suffering financial hardship. It supports increased equity in health outcomes, as it allows even the poorest people to afford needed care. It supports taking a life course approach by addressing health issues at all ages. When properly implemented, it meets demands for primary care for all people, and supports promotive, preventive, curative, palliative and rehabilitative services. Finally, UHC can be implemented in such a way as to capitalize on social and environmental determinants of health, including behavioural choices (diets, exercise, air quality, tobacco use, etc.).

A focus on UHC for the next 15 years could be truly transformative for both rich and poor countries. It is vitally important that health improvement accrue to everyone, not just certain groups. Causal analyses from 153 nations show that “broader health coverage generally leads to better access to necessary care and improved population health, with the largest gains accruing to poorer people.”The World Health Report 2010 demonstrated the catastrophic effects of health care costs, with nearly 150 million people worldwide suffering financial hardship and 100 million being pushed below the poverty line as a result of out-of-pocket spending.6 UHC focuses attention and efforts on removing financial barriers to care, working towards universal access, and ensuring that no one forgoes needed treatment due to cost.

Of course, setting global goals and priorities can only go so far. The real test will be how the goals are implemented, and how progress is monitored and evaluated. Given the broad goal of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, Governments, international organizations, and other actors need to be pragmatic about how to implement policy and monitor progress. Agreement on global goals and targets, as with all policy decisions, will inevitably be a political as well as technical process, even with buy-in by participating stakeholders. The tension between the political and technical has to be managed for goals and targets to become implementable, so that it is possible to track and monitor implementation.

Discussion over what indicators to use and how to finance the SDGs is ongoing. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN, www.unsdsn.org) has proposed a framework of post-2015 indicators. They need to be clear and straightforward, selected with consensus from a diverse group of stakeholders, and based upon existing data sources. These indicators should measure outcomes as much as possible, and be disaggregated by a wide range of socioeconomic variables (age, gender, urban/rural, etc.) to ensure equal progress. In addition, Governments should support calls for a “data revolution” and move as much as possible towards annual reporting of publicly available data. New technologies such as mobile phones and remote sensing make it increasingly easy to rapidly collect and analyze high-quality data; the post-2015 agenda should take advantage of this.

We have been given an opportunity to establish an ambitious, equitable development agenda for the next 15 years. Global political processes are on track to deliver a meaningful outcome, which could be transformative for global health. As we move towards September 2015, stakeholders must hold Governments accountable to fulfil their promises for a substantial agreement, and begin working together to implement the SDGs.


1    John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs, eds., World Happiness Report (New York, Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2012).

2    Here we count MDGs 1 (poverty and hunger), 4 (child mortality), 5 (maternal health), and 6 (HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and TB).

3    Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), GBD Compare, Seattle, Washington, University of Washington, 2013. Available from http://vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-compare.

4    World Health Organization, Everybody’s Business: Strengthening Health Systems to Improve Outcomes (Geneva, 2007). Available from http://www.who.int/healthsystems/strategy/everybodys_business.pdf.

5    Rodrigo Moreno-Serra and Peter C. Smith, “Does progress towards universal health coverage improve population health?” The Lancet, vol.

380, no. 9845, (September 2012), pp. 917–923. Available from http://


6    World Health Organization, Health Systems Financing: the path to universal coverage. World Health Report 2010 (Geneva, 2010). Available from http://www.who.int/whr/2010/en.

First published in the UN Chronicle, Department of Public Information, United Nations.

Sustainable Develpoment Goals: Goal 1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere

By Charles Kenny

Sustainable Development Goal No.1: End Poverty in All its Forms Everywhere.

Sustainable Development Goal No.1: End Poverty in All its Forms Everywhere.

In September 2015, Heads of State will convene at the General Assembly of the United Nations to agree upon a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs). The first target of the first SDG proposed by the Open Working Group (OWG) of Member States is to “eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere” by 2030. The second target is to reduce at least by half the proportion of people living in poverty according to national definitions. These are noble and historic targets for global progress—they deserve their status at the top of the list. At the same time, they illustrate issues affecting a considerable number of the 169 development targets proposed by OWG, such as how do we measure them and are they plausible?

These two questions are linked. How we resolve the challenges of measurement will have a profound impact on the targets’ power to motivate as well as on the likelihood that those targets will be met. Poverty lines at the national and local level are frequently revised upward, and there are good reasons for this. This approach, however, risks the possibility that steady development progress will not yield poverty reduction, simply because the poverty line keeps moving too.

As OWG suggested, extreme poverty is “currently measured as people living on less than US $1.25 a day”, although that is unlikely to be the case for long. The “official” extreme poverty line and the number of people living below it are calculated by a (well-meaning) cabal in the bowels of the World Bank headquarters. They are working on a revision that could have a dramatic impact on the dollar consumption figure, declared as the “extreme poverty line”, as well as on the number of people living below that threshold.

In the past, the global extreme poverty line established by the World Bank was set to reflect the value of national poverty lines in the world’s poorest countries. The original 1990 “dollar a day” poverty line was “typical of low income countries”1 at the time. In 2008, it was updated to match the latest available average national poverty line of the world’s 15 poorest countries, converted at an exchange rate designed to reflect the different prices of the same goods and services across countries.

The World Bank is in the process of proposing a new global line and other poverty numbers based on more recent national poverty lines, as well as on data from a 2011 global survey of prices. By the time the World Bank decides that it is ready to release the numbers—a process, which has previously taken up to two years—the global extreme poverty line may be at US $1.75 a day or higher. The new data suggests, however, that the prices of goods in poor countries are lower than we thought. This in turn may suggest a dramatic decline in the number of people living in poverty—by as much as a third (from 1.2 billion in 2010, a number based on the old price data and poverty line, to below 900 million, a number calculated using the new data provided by the Brookings Institution).

One thing is clear: if we are to “eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere” by 2030, we will have to use an entirely different approach to setting the planetary extreme poverty line than that used by the World Bank in the past.

Imagine that we are in 2030, and we are looking at the national poverty lines of the world’s 15 poorest countries. How likely is it that they will all be set at a level below the consumption of their very poorest citizens? They shouldn’t be set that low. The idea that countries, which most optimistically will still have an average income that is a fraction of that of the poorest people in Europe or the United States of America today, would declare that they have no poor is simply ridiculous. Under any international definition of extreme poverty based on the most recent national poverty lines of a number of countries, there will always be poor people in the world—including all of those living in poverty according to the national definition in the countries used to set the global “extreme poverty” line. This suggests that a zero poverty goal using the World Bank ’s current methodology could never be met.

If we’re going to set a zero goal for global poverty in the post-2015 development agenda, it has to be an absolute goal, and not one set relative to national poverty lines, and the process of setting the new global poverty line should be open, transparent and participatory. For years the World Bank has kept secret the data it uses to measure global levels of income and consumption. The Bank decides when and how to incorporate data from income and price surveys, and it also chooses the method to calculate the poverty line. As part of the process of setting the sustainable development goals and the data revolution that must underpin it, shouldn’t the world’s poor and Governments of developing countries have some input into defining “what is poverty”? The process is also urgent: we will set the goal in September 2015, after all.

Could we meet a target to eradicate absolute poverty below a certain threshold? That depends on the level at which it is set, of course. A number of analysts, however, have attempted to calculate the likelihood of wiping out the US $1.25 a day poverty line, using old prices and poverty numbers. If there was strong growth in the poorest countries over the next 15 years and those countries saw rapidly declining inequality, perhaps as few as 2 per cent of the population of the developing world would be left living below US $1.25 a day by 2030. Of course it is far too optimistic to predict that every poor country will see rapid growth and declining inequality over the next 15 years—some will fall victim to bad governance, low commodity prices, or civil unrest that derails progress. Thus, the real number will be considerably higher.

The gap could still be overcome with transfers—simply giving money to families which saw average incomes below the US $1.25 threshold. The definition of who is poor, however, changes rapidly over time, depending on seasons, weather, health care access, escalation of violence and just bad luck. Rather than the representative surveys currently taken every few years, maintaining a global $1.25 consumption floor would take many surveys a year covering the entire global population at risk.

More plausible than an accurately targeted program is one that provides support to a far larger group at risk of falling below $1.25 a day. That, however, would raise the price tag, of course. We would then have to find a way to transfer the money: mobile banking has spread rapidly, but most of the world’s poorest people still don’t have access to banking services. This is not to say that ending extreme poverty by 2030 is impossible, but rather that it would take an immense effort. In fact, to date, we haven’t even agreed upon a definition of “extreme poverty” that we could plausibly eradicate.

Meanwhile, there is a similar, if less severe measurement challenge with the second poverty target of reducing at least by half the proportion of people living in poverty in each country according to national definitions. How those definitions are calculated varies considerably across countries. In the United States, for example, the number is meant to reflect the same (inflation-adjusted) income over time. In many other countries, however, the poverty line is explicitly or effectively a relative line. As average incomes increase, so does the income below which people are defined as poor. In those countries, halving the proportion of people living in poverty can only be accomplished through a dramatic reduction in inequality.

That’s not a bad thing, as inequality has been rising within countries across the world, and we should reverse the trend. The work, however, is yet to be done in order to show that the scale of inequality reduction required to halve the number of people living below a relative poverty line is plausible in most (or even many) countries. The last thing we would want the SDGs to encourage is to “lower the bar” of national poverty lines, whereby countries would meet the SDG target by making their official poverty line a steadily smaller proportion of average incomes over time. That speaks to the potential advantage of setting an explicit relative target at the country level—reducing the gap between the bottom 40 per cent and the top 10 per cent in every country by 25 per cent, or closing the gap between the median income and the mean income by a third, as it might be.

Therefore, for the first two targets of the first of the Sustainable Development Goals, there is considerable work to do before September 2015. Before we set the goal, we should fix the goalposts.


1 Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion, “The developing world is poorer
than we thought, but no less successful in the fight against poverty.”
Policy Research Working Paper, No. 4703 (Washington, D.C., World
Bank, 2008). Available from http://go.worldbank.org/EXMW4AJY40.

Charles Kenny is Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, Washington, D.C.

Remarks by the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms. Janet Rogan At the launch of Action 2015 Campaign 15 January 2015, Zingalume

The Oxfam Country Director

Members of Civil Society present

Colleagues from the media

Ladies and gentlemen

I am delighted to have been invited to address this important gathering on behalf of the UN in Zambia. This gathering is important because of the pivotal role that Civil Society Organizations play globally to enhance human development and promote human rights. Launching the Action 2015 Campaign is linking CSOs in Zambia to CSOs around the world so they can all raise their voices and together be part of making real change happen.

UN Zambia Resident Coordinator Ms. Janet Rogan

UN Zambia Resident Coordinator Ms. Janet Rogan

2015 is a very significant year. It will see the end of the Millennium Development Goals and the launch of a new set of Sustainable Development Goals to succeed them. Many of you here today will already have played a role in the dialogues that have been taking place here, and worldwide, about the Future We Want. 2015 will see three major international conferences: the first, in Addis Ababa in July on Financing the new Sustainable Development agenda; the second, in New York in September on the Sustainable Development Goals; and third, in December in Paris, the Global Climate Change Summit. Together these three major international conferences will set the international agenda on a new course up until 2030.

Today we are looking forward to that new agenda, but let us not forget the agenda that is not yet quite over. Zambia has made significant and steady progress on several Millennium Development Goals. These include primary school enrollment, which increased from 80% in 1990 to 93.7% in 2010. Zambia is also on track to achieve gender parity in primary school enrollment and in literacy among 15-24 year olds. For HIV and AIDS, the number of Zambians infected with HIV has dropped to 14.3% of the population and this figure is expected to drop further once the 2014 Demographic Health Survey data set is published.

In contrast to this progress, there are still Millennium Development Goals not yet achieved in Zambia. Poverty levels remain very high. Over 42% of Zambians are still extremely poor. There are low levels of completion at secondary school level; and continued gender inequality. Girls are particularly vulnerable – levels of early marriage and early pregnancy are at crisis point. Over 67% of the population has no access to improved sanitation facilities. Although there is still a little time for improvement in these areas before the final evaluation of the Millennium Development Goals which is underway, it is clear that these goals will not be met.

In fact, although the Millennium Development Goals will end this year, the needs which they are addressing will not. The SDGs will therefore build on the Millennium Development Goals in areas of poverty, health, hunger, illiteracy Action 2015among youth and so forth. But there will also be a focus on building peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, with access to justice for all, and building accountable and inclusive institutions. The SDGs will target the rule of law and participatory, representative, transparent and honest government at all levels. They will also address climate change, ecosystem degradation, and other environmental threats.

This wide and cross-cutting agenda is one reason why there are 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, as opposed to the 8 Millennium Development Goals and their 21 targets.

There has from the beginning been criticism that the Millennium Development Goals were introduced without enough consultation at the local level and were essentially imposed top down. So this time round, the process of designing the Sustainable Development Goals has been widely consultative, not only at the top levels of governments, but right down to the grass roots.

National consultations have been held in around 100 countries, including Zambia, reaching out to those in the poorest and most marginalized communities, who are not usually asked for their views on global agendas. Nearly 5 million people around the world have described ‘the World We Want’. In New York, there has been an Open Working Group of governments, including Zambia, which each fed in consolidated views from their country and region. Here in Zambia consultations around the country showed people’s priorities to be:

  1. quality education with life skills
  2. better health care
  3. equality of income, gender, access and opportunity
  4. better job opportunities and an enabling business environment
  5. an honest and responsive government
  6. eradication of poverty
  7. access to clean water

These are complex, qualitative goals and they show that people themselves are looking for change in the way that development is designed and delivered. They want development pathways that are cross-cutting, meaningful and sustainable; that speak to quality of services not just numbers of services provided.

For example, it is a good first step to ensure that all children have access to schooling. But are they leaving school with qualifications and skills that enable them to get a job? Sustainable development is about inclusivity, quality, and progress. There are on-going consultations led by the UN system on what it will take to implement this wide and ambitious Sustainable Development agenda. Apart from governments, there will need to be engagement of civil society, academia, communities themselves, to translate the global agenda into local action. There will be a need to invest in governance capacity, to involve the private sector, to engage local people to monitor progress actively including at the local level. All governments will be held to account by their people for progress in sustainable development in their country.

So what does the post-2015 sustainable development agenda mean for CSOs in Zambia? 2015 is the year of debate and decision on the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Conference in September will adopt the new set of SDGs. So there is still time to feed into the global debate views from the local level here. The Zambian government has taken a leading role in the global debate and design of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals. So the first thing you can do as CSOs is to engage with the government as it participates at the global level by mobilizing debate and helping people at the local level to articulate clearly their concerns and priorities.

The second thing you can do is to start already to think about how the new Sustainable Development Goals should be localized into meaningful ambitious Sustainable Development Goals for Zambia. The same process happened for the Millennium Development Goals: the top level global targets were each localized into targets for each country, relevant to local circumstances. The third thing you can do is prepare to engage with the government, the UN and other development partners as we start to implement sustainable development programmes in the future. Development is not a one-way street. It is not something that should be done by governments or international organizations to people. It needs the participation of people in the process. It needs regular feedback on how it is going – is all that activity actually making a real and desired difference to people’s lives? CSOs have a key role to play in helping bring about that dialogue throughout a development programme – from the very outset, determining local needs and priorities; and all the way through the implementation process, including evaluation of how effective it was at the end.

Let me end on a youthful note. Those who will be particularly affected by what we do in the Sustainable Development agenda are the youth. Children in high school today will be in their 30s in 2030, which is the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals. They will have families of their own, who need to be fed, clothed, educated, employed and treated when they fall sick. If governments, with the support of international organizations, deliver on the Sustainable Development agenda to create the world that people have told us they want, then that world in 2030 will be a very different place and it will Leave No-one Behind. In 2015, the UN in Zambia will intensify our outreach to Zambian youth to make sure that we hear their voice. I encourage all CSOs, and particularly those involving the youth, to be a part of sustainable development, to raise your voices. The Action 2015 Campaign is a great place to start!

The UN Zambia in celebrates 68 years of existence

The UN in Zambia celebrated 68 years of existence with a string of activities from October 18 to 29th 2013. Under the UN4U umbrella a discussion was organized and conducted at the University of Zambia, Great East Road Campus.

UN Concert: LtoR Second Lady Charlotte Scott, UN Resident Coordinator Kanni Wignaraja and First Lady Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata, sing the theme song for the concert "Youth Arise"

UN Concert: LtoR Second Lady Charlotte Scott, UN Resident Coordinator Kanni Wignaraja and First Lady Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata, sing the theme song for the concert “Youth Arise”

The UN Resident Coordinator in Zambia, Ms. Kanni Wignaraja had a discussion with 300 students on the work of the United Nations, Post 2015 Campaign and Acceleration of the MDGs and the signature issues for 2014-2015 in Zambia under the themes “state of inequalities” and “the condition of young people” all focusing on the youth on Oct 18, 2013. Bulk sms was also used to inform the general public on this significant day in the United Nations by reaching out to 100, 000 mobile subscribers who received some “did you know” facts about the UN.

A free concert was organized at the Barclays Sports Complex that was graced by the first lady Dr. Christine Kaseba-Sata and second lady Ms. Charlotte Scott. The concert was dubbed “A young Zambia Arise”. Some of Zambia’s renowned artists performed and educated the mostly youthful audience on the MDGs and post 2015 agenda as a way of raising awareness, about 500 people attended the free concert.

A formal event took place at the Taj Pamodzi Hotel on October 29, 2013, with the UNDP’s Goodwill Ambassador His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway; the Vice President of Republic of Zambia, Dr Guy Scott, M.P; the First President, Dr Kenneth Kaunda; the First Lady, Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata; Chiefteness Nkomeshya, the Guest of Honor the Foreign Affairs Minister, Hon. Wilbur Simuusa; Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and senior government officials present, the High Commissioners and Ambassadors and other cooperating partners of the UN where also in attendance.

In his remarks the Crown Prince expressed his gratitude at the work that the UN is doing in Zambia and the strides it is making through the various partnerships with government and other cooperating partners, he also reaffirmed

his country’s continued support to the United Nations and the Republic of Zambia.

The out-going Resident Coordinator Ms. Kanni Wignaraja gave a special thanks to the Government and the People of Zambia for their unwavering commitment and support to the United Nations and for its resilience in shaping the future it wants. 250 guest were in attendance.

UN Zambia Launches Post-2015 Development Campaign, focused on the priority issues of inequality and the condition of young people

LUSAKA, September 19 – The United Nations in Zambia launched its Post-2015 Development campaign, focused on the priority issues of inequality and the condition of young people in Zambia. This follows the national dialogues on the Post-2015 Development Agenda held across the country earlier this year.

Following the results of these consultations, the two issues were adopted as the UN Country Team’s ‘Signature Issues’ for 2013-2014. Zambia falls in the group of countries with high inequalities. 52 per cent of Zambians are below 18 years. The country has the largest population of young people ever in its history.

“Zambia’s young population and its robust economic growth present extraordinary possibilities for the country to fast progress towards becoming a Middle Income Country with high human development. However, reducing the current state of inequality as well as key challenges in education, health and employment as faced by young Zambians is essential to get there,” said the UN Resident Coordinator in Zambia, Kanni Wignaraja.

She added, “As we move ahead at full steam towards the MDG deadline of 2015, development actors, including the government, private sector and civil society, must make bold and determined decisions on the policy and investment choices that will have the highest impact on reducing poverty and inequality. Zambia can be among those exceptional countries that have made this happen.”

The UN in Zambia will organise various events, including a UN Day Music Concert and school outreach activities during the month of October, to create further awareness and motivate young people to get more engaged on these issues and shape their future. The 2013 UN Day Music Concert will be held on 19th October at Barclays Sports Complex. A number of Zambian musicians will work with the UN team to take this campaign forward.