September 23, 2014

Millennium Development Goals: Interconnected Web of Individual Goals

Written by Carla Koppell, Chief Strategy Officer, USAID

This post originally appeared on USAID’s IMPACT blog here.

In 465 days we will see which Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) we achieved and where we fell short. As the focus sharpens on progress and impediments to reaching our objectives, the clearer it becomes that the eight MDGs are fundamentally interdependent. Progress towards an individual MDG can accelerate advancement elsewhere; stagnation in one area risks impeding progress towards other goals. To advance, we must balance the focus on single sectors with a cross-sectoral vision that ensures we foster long-term prosperity and well-being.

This interconnectedness is driven home every time I visit the field. In Kenya, I spoke with women and men about a project to increase resilience by diversifying sources of income; communities were given six cows to fatten and sell for a profit. The business helped the community ride out droughts and increase income (MDG 1). It also empowered women (MDG 3) by vesting them with responsibility for the animals, traditionally a man’s role within Maasai society. The women, in turn, used the profits to pay school fees for families too poor to send their kids to school, contributing towards universal education (MDG 2).

Data makes the intersections even clearer. For example, fostering universal primary education (MDG 2) promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment (MDG 3). The World Bank finds that a girl’s completion of primary education will increase her lifetime wages by 5 to 15 percent. That investment can also reduce child mortality (MDG 4); according to the United Nations children under 5 have a 5 to 10 percent lower mortality rate for each additional year their mothers are educated. Universal primary education could also reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS (MDG 6); UNICEF estimates that educated girls are half as likely as uneducated girls to contract HIV/AIDS.

Investments in gender equality (MDG 3) can pay similar dividends. Increasing gender equality can help eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1). The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization believes that if women had access to the same agricultural inputs as men—including land, technology, financing, extension services— we could reduce the number of hungry people globally by 100-150 million. A USAID and Bangladesh Government supported project implemented by CARE found that fostering women’s empowerment in conjunction with interventions to improve nutritional well-being demonstrably increased the impact of food security-related interventions. Fostering women’s empowerment can also enhance maternal health (MDG 5) and lower child mortality (MDG 4); Kenya’s Demographic and Health Survey (2008-09) found that women with greater decision making authority were more likely to seek health care for themselves and their children before, during and after pregnancy.

Progress toward achieving certain MDGs can be inhibited by insufficient progress towards other goals. For example, permanently eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1) necessitates advances towards environmental sustainability (MDG 7). In the long-term, the two are intrinsically linked. A country is unlikely to have sufficient food for its citizens in perpetuity if natural resources—land, water, flora and fauna—degrade or disappear. Research from the Partnership for Economic Policy, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture found that in sub-Saharan Africa 80 percent of the loss of life and 70 percent of economic losses can be attributed directly or indirectly to droughts and floods, disasters exacerbated by climate change, unsustainable land use, and poverty that undermine resilience and create vulnerability.

Partnerships (MDG 8) will be key to success across the board. An example—electricity is a key driver of development. Among the benefits, it enables education and storage of vaccines and medicines to reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases. It also increases economic opportunity, helping eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. To meet the needs of the 70 percent of the African population currently lacking electricity, the public and private sectors must work together. The U.S. Government launched Power Africa to focus public and private sector attention, political will and financial resources on delivering cleaner, more efficient electricity to 60 million household and businesses in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania. Only a collective effort will successfully mobilize the over $300 billion in capital needed to meet African energy demand between now and 2030.

So how do we manage the connections to maximize progress? First of all, we need to better understand how the MDGs intersect and affect one another. Using that deeper appreciation we must prioritize where we get the greatest bang for the buck, particularly when a single investment can advance progress towards multiple goals. We should also explore technologies to accelerate progress. Finally, we must track progress against the multiplicity of goals, understand the impact of our efforts and course correct when necessary.

USAID is striving to better understand and leverage the interconnections. For example, in 2010, we partnered with the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative to create the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) as part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future Initiative, which aims to sustainably reduce global poverty and hunger. WEAI gives a broad picture of progress towards gender parity in agriculture and helps ensure we are elevating the status of women as an integral part of our work.

We are also using science and technology more extensively. In April, we launched our Global Development Lab to incubate and scale innovations that will enable faster, more effective, less expensive development. Among the advances the Lab is expanding use of is Chlorhexidine, an antiseptic for treating the umbilical cord stump of newborn infants that could potentially prevent half a million deaths globally. In Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal, the use of Chlorhexidine is reducing neonatal mortality by 20 to 40 percent. Testing is now underway around the potential value of bringing the innovation to sub Saharan Africa.

As we accelerate towards the finish line, let’s focus and concentrate work to achieve the MDGs. It will pay big dividends for development and could transform the lives of millions worldwide.