12:00 AM, October 31, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 09:12 PM, October 30, 2013

MDGs in the LDCs: Six lessons for post-2015

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Debapriya Bhattacharya and Towfiqul Islam Khan

AS the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) draws near, the state of delivery regarding these development targets has become a matter of renewed and intense debate. Both national governments and the international development community are preoccupied with generating the 'final push' towards accelerated implementation of the MDGs. At the same time, there appears to be an explicit understanding that the MDGs are going to continue beyond 2015 in one form or another. In this regard, the state of attainment of MDGs in the least-developed countries (LDCs) -- one of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups of countries -- remains a matter of special developmental concern.
At the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), we have recently made what is possibly the first attempt to take a close analytical look at progress towards achievement of MDGs in the LDCs . We selected and analysed 14 MDG indicators (out of the 49 relevant to LDCs) for all the 49 LDCs in the paper. The study developed the MDG Progress Index (MPI) based on the countries' linear progress, and deployed the Unbiased Rate of Progress Method (URPM) to estimate acceleration of development after the launching of the MDGs. The findings of our study have six important implications for designing the post-2015 international development framework.

(1) LDCs as a group may not achieve any of the 14 targets we studied. However, the Asian LDCs are likely to meet the targets for at least two indicators, poverty and child mortality. The Island LDCs are also likely to meet two targets: safe drinking water and child mortality. The African LDCs are regrettably likely to miss all the targets studied in this paper. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the post-2015 international development framework will be 'universal' in nature. It is yet to be seen how, in an uneven world, a universal framework can accommodate the specific concerns and interests of the countries with special needs -- including the LDCs.
(2) LDCs have generally made some progress in most of the indicators --11 out of the 14 we reviewed. In contrast, for three indicators -- employment, HIV prevalence and forestation -- the group is 'off track,' so much so that the situation in 2015 may turn out to be worse compared to their respective 1990 benchmark. Many LDCs have made significant progress in attaining MDG indicators relating to human-development, but many of these targets concern inputs, rather than access and outcome. Accordingly, we must give outcome-related indicators due importance in the post-MDGs framework.
(3) Progress remained uneven across the LDCs. The MPI shows that Rwanda is in the top position, followed by Bangladesh and Cambodia. At the bottom of the list are five African countries: Somalia, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Lesotho and Chad. Four countries are unlikely to meet any of the targets: Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia and South Sudan. Yet this does not mean that these countries did not make any progress concerning the 14 indicators. For example, Mozambique has made progress in 12 out of 14 indicators. As we embark upon an international development framework with global goals and national targets, we need to think about inter-country inequalities.
(4) One of the worst-performing indicators in the LDCs is the employment-to-population ratio. Moreover, a large proportion of the employed population in the LDCs works in the agriculture sector, which is characterised by a high level of underemployment. This seems to indicate that, to remain sustainable, the relative progress attained in social sectors such as education and health must be underwritten by a steady flow of income backed by the creation of new and decent jobs. The post-2015 framework must put due emphasis on goals and targets concerning gainful employment from productive capacity development.
(5) Not all LDCs have accelerated progress towards attainment of the MDGs in the post-2000 period. The most notable 'area of acceleration' relates to five indicators: HIV prevalence, maternal mortality, poverty, forestation and safe drinking water. This re-emphasises the fact that some LDCs' success with the MDGs is largely down to the head-start they had, i.e. policy initiatives undertaken before 2000. We will have to think through how a global initiative may translate into faster implementation of the international goals and targets.
(6) Our projection, based on linear progress, suggests that in six areas the achievements could be more than 95% against the target. These areas are: maternal mortality, HIV prevalence, child mortality, infant mortality, net enrolment ratio in primary education and gender parity in primary education. With a 'final push' some LDCs may meet more targets by 2015.
As we move towards 2015, when success will be defined by the level of achievement of the lowest denominator, we must consider the actual state of delivery of MDGs in the LDCs and address the above-mentioned issues in order to realise the international political commitment to 'leave no one behind.' In most cases, the LDCs will define these lowest denominators.

The writers are Distinguished Fellow at the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) & Research Fellow CPD, respectively.

The paper is available at http://cpd.org.bd/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Attaining-the-MDGs-in-LDCs.pdf

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