Op-Ed: Increased efforts vital to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals

30 Apr 2010

The upcoming national elections in Solomon Islands provide an opportunity to reflect on the country’s commitment to attaining the Millennium Development Goals. Known as the MDGs, these goals are an historic promise made by 189 world leaders to set measures to dramatically improve the lives of billions of people worldwide by 2015. With only five years left, all countries, including the Solomon Islands, need to intensify efforts to both understand and reach these goals.

The Millennium Development Goals seek to eradicate extreme poverty; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development. The MDGs represent the most widely accepted framework for delivering and measuring development. 

The United Nations has been happy to note the interest shown by the Government in making these globally recognized goals a reality in Solomon Islands. With new elections coming up in 2010 we hope that all candidates and all future members of Parliament also share the interest in promoting the Millennium Development Goals, which recognize the right to development for all. Only through strong national leadership can these crucial goals be reached. While some progress has been made in Solomon Islands, there are still much that remains to be done in a number of key areas and we believe that the Millennium Development Goals is something that can help focus everyone’s efforts towards priority basic needs for all. Meeting the MDGs is a challenge for many countries but it is very clear that focusing domestic as well as development cooperation resources in this direction will make an enormous difference in human development.  

Budgets need to be MDG focused

During the Millennium Summit in 2000, Solomon Islands was among those 189 countries who committed itself to the Millennium Declaration and promised to bring the MDGs into its development and policy planning. It is hoped that policy makers of Solomon Islands will bear the MDGs in mind when national and provincial budgets are allocated. Giving a high priority to social services, health and education in budget planning is an investment in human capital, which will yield benefits for the country for many generations to come.

In order to make it possible to attain the Millennium Development Goals in the Solomon Islands, it is crucial that the goals are integrated into local development plans. The provincial governments need to play important roles in implementing measures that can enable the country to meet the MDGs. Through the Provincial Government Strengthening Plan, the Solomon Islands Government is reaching out to support local governments in all nine provinces, and it is hoped that this work will also lead to promotion of the Millennium Development Goals.

A continued effort to strengthen the provincial governments and their services is fundamental, as the provincial governments are providers of key services needed to attain the MDGs at the provincial level.

Solomon Islands and the MDGs

The latest statistics from the regional database Pacinfo show that 94 percent of all children in Solomon Islands attend primary school. This means that the MDG on universal primary education is within reach. The ratio of boys and girls in primary education has also evened out – a huge improvement from the situation in 1990. In secondary school, girls are still underrepresented, but significant progress has been made in the last twenty years. It is however, vital to ensure that the children also get the quality of teaching that is necessary to succeed in further studies and work.

Other MDGs show progress too. Data from Pacinfo shows that the prevalence in Solomon Islands of underweight children under five years has dropped sharply from 23 percent in 1990 to 11.8 percent in 2007. This is very close to reaching one of the targets under MDG 1. The MDG 4 aims to reduce child mortality by two-thirds for children under five years old, a target which has now been reached.  MDG 5 aims to reduce maternal mortality. Maternal mortality was reduced from 550 deaths per 100,000 births in 1990 to 96 deaths per 100,000 births in 2008.

Challenges remain

Despite progress on some of the MDGs, challenges remain. Solomon Islands is now one of the very few countries in the world without female Members of Parliament. This is one of many examples showing that the Solomon Islands has challenges ahead in achieving MDG 3, which aims for equal rights and opportunities for men and women.

MDG 7 aims to promote environmental sustainability. Unfortunately, deforestation and land degradation threaten the achievement of this MDG in Solomon Islands. In 1990, 98.9 percent of the country was covered by forest. In 2005 the number was 77.6 percent, according to Pacinfo. The UN recognizes that logging and timber export creates job opportunities and revenue. While sustainable logging may be encouraged, it is important to halt unsustainable logging, as it poses a major threat to the environment.

Lack of reliable data on several MDGs is another challenge for several countries, including Solomon Islands. Without quantifiable information, there is no way to measure the progress towards the MDGs. We hope and believe that facilitating and implementing proper methods for gathering of vital data on the MDG progress will be an urgent and high priority.

MDG Review Summit

Substantial improvements have been made many in countries all over the world with regard to achieving development goals, but despite these positive achievements, the promise is far from being kept.

During September this year, world leaders will gather at the United Nations for the Millennium Development Goals Review Summit. Heads of State and Government from all corners of the world - including Solomon Islands - will be invited to attend this meeting with clear MDG Breakthrough Action Plans. The Breakthrough Action Plans need to focus on strategies for how to expand and accelerate the progress towards the eight MDGs.

The recently published UN Report “Keeping the Promise” concludes that the shortfalls in progress towards the MDGs are not because they are unreachable, or because the time is too short, but because of unmet commitments, scarce resources and a lack of focus and accountability. Therefore, these goals can still be met if all countries work together to fulfill their commitments.

Many challenges on the way to attaining the MDGs remain, but there is still room for optimism. Through consistent commitment to the historic promise of the Millennium Declaration, and persistent hard work, the people of Solomon Islands, together with the Government, the Parliament, and development partners, can ultimately make great strides towards the Millennium Development Goals.

Mr Knut Ostby is the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, representing 10 Pacific island countries:  Fiji, Tuvalu, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.