Adopting a Global Development Agenda to Bring the Kin-dom Closer to Earth

Global Development Phase I: The Millennium Development Goals

As befits their name, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were born at the turn of the 21st century.  After decades of relying on trickle-down economics to help poor people around the world, the United Nations chose to focus squarely on addressing the causes and effects of poverty in developing countries. 

In 2000, the UN set a goal of achieving the MDGs by 2015 and made it the overriding objective of their global development policy. The eight MDGs were poverty and hunger reduction, gender equality and empowerment of women, universal primary education, reduction in child and maternal mortality, reduction of AIDS and other preventable diseases, improved environmental sustainability (especially water and sanitation), and creation of a global development partnership.

Making Headway on Meeting the MDGs

Amazingly, we have made substantial progress in achieving some MDGs:

  • We have reduced extreme poverty by half.  In 1990, nearly half of the people in developing regions lived on less than $1.25 a day; now less than a quarter of the people are still suffering extreme poverty.
  • 3.3 million lives have been saved through malaria prevention and treatment from 2000-2012, including 3 million children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa. Intensive efforts to fight tuberculosis have saved 22 million lives worldwide since 1995
  • By 2012, all developing regions have achieved, or were close to achieving, gender parity in primary education.
  • 2.3 billion people gained access to an improved drinking water source, achieving  the goal of halving the proportion of people without access five years ahead of schedule.  In 2012, 89 % of the world’s population had access to improved water sources source, up from 76 per cent in 1990.

But we have failed in some very significant respects.  We have reduced extreme poverty through benefits, but we have made halting progress on reducing hunger and providing decent employment.  Ten percent of the world’s people still lack any access to primary education.  Nearly half the population does not have access to adequate sanitation.  And we have not decreased child and maternal deaths nearly enough.                                              

Looking Closer: What does Meeting the Water MDG Mean?

Even when the MDGs have been met, we need to look closer. More than 3 million children die each year of diseases tied to dirty water, inadequate sanitation, and insufficient hygiene: more children than die of war, AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and primary malnutrition combined.  The water MDG on a global level has indeed been achieved, cutting the percentage of people without access to an improved source of water in half.  But hold the applause and the fireworks! 

First, remember that we’ve only cut the percentage in half – the other half still needs access to water.  Given fertility rates in the lesser developed countries, population growth is outstripping our gains. 

Second, the water provided is often not safe to drink or is insufficient for daily needs. 

Third, we have not met the sanitation goal – and water, sanitation, and hygiene education must be provided together to realize fully their health benefits. 

Finally, meeting the water MDG on a global level does not mean that it has been met for every important group, every country, or even every region. Poor people living in informal settlements and remote rural areas are not necessarily even counted in national statistics–and poor and marginalized people have often been ignored in provision of water service.   National, regional and global averages obscure the continued desperate situation of rural, poor, and marginalized people in many nations, especially lesser developed countries. For example, the vast majority of progress in Asia providing water service occurred in China and India – and even in those relatively rich developing countries, frequently the poor were not among those receiving service.  Finally, water infrastructure and service provision have not necessarily been delivered in a sustainable manner, so much of our progress may be temporary.

The next round of global development goals need to be better formulated.  We must set priorities to meet the needs of the most vulnerable peoples and countries first.  And we must fully fund the efforts to meet those needs.  This is what justice requires.

In the case of water and sanitation, we must demand universal access to readily available, affordable water of sufficient quality and quantity for each human being as well as adequate sanitation and hygiene education.  This is what the human right to water and sanitation, recognized by the UN Human Rights Council in 2010 requires – and so this is what our global development goal must include. 

Global Development Phase II: the Sustainable Development Goals 

As 2015 approaches, the UN is in the midst of an unprecedented effort to gain global input and consensus on the post-2015 global development goals that will supersede the MDGs.  The UN is seeking to set global development goals, not just for developing countries, but for every country. It is also seeking to integrate the post-2015 development goals with the sustainable development agenda that emerged during the past 20 years since the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development. 

Thus, the post-2015 global development goals will be Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) applicable everywhere, including the United States. These SDGs will essentially set the global development agenda for the next 15 years in every sector and every country in the world. They will truly shape much of the world economy. Drafts of the goals are already being circulated. Now is the time to pay close attention to the proposed SDGs and to ask the UN to adopt SDGs that truly reflect the coming of the Kin-dom.



Susan is the Director of the  Sustainable Environmental, Energy and Resources Law Program, Willamette University College of Law, and member of First Congregational (UCC) in Salem, OR. She represents the national UCC at the Ecumenical Water Network of the World Council of Churches. EWN assisted in UN adoption of the human right to water and sanitation and is involved in current implementation efforts. Susan is spearheading EWN efforts to formulate better global policy for water and sanitation and to foster water resources decision-making based on water justice principles.

Categories: Column Getting to the Root of It

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