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MDGs 2015: Have we started yet?

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This week we mark a decade after heads of states and governments assented to the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

They meet again in New York from September 20-22 to review progress on the goals, targets for addressing extreme poverty, promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability and human rights.

It is arduous to circumvent the challenges we faced in the last decade when writing the Zimbabwean story and the MDGs.

It’s a decade dominated by politics which defined the course of things. The economy slumped as inflation spiked to second highest in world history.

A cholera outbreak hit an all-time high. Millions became land owners, paradoxically millions more went hungry and malnutrition among children crept in.

The public health system sprawled. Aids and political violence became leading killers. In fact, everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong, including the weather.

Nonetheless, Zimbabwe remains one of the 189 countries that committed to the MDGs.

Just how is our UN MDGs speech going to be like, given that, save for sanctions, the main favourants of previous speeches, Bush, Blair and Brown have been annulled and dissolved into the annals of history? Your conjecture is as good as mine.

But MDG 2 (Achieve universal primary education) and MDG 6 (Combat HIV/Aids, malaria, and other diseases) may offer a smooth ingress into the speech.

With a 92% literacy rate, according to the UNDP, Zimbabwe tops Africa’s literacy tables, an indication that we are on track.

But UN literacy tables look at attendance and enrolment not quality and availability of qualified, well-paid teachers. It is the presence of children in schools that counts.

Even so, in 2009, 10 to 15% of children were out of school, while those who completed primary education failed to proceed to secondary school due to financial constraints, leading to child labour, early marriages or pregnancies.

One of the illusory success stories of our times is decline in HIV/Aids prevalence from 25% in 2003 to 13,7% in 2009 which belies what underlies the MDG 6.

Predicating the decline to safer sexual behaviour alone is just a chimera as the truth is that there is an increase in “adult mortality”.

Simply put, those who catch the virus and progress to Aids are likely to die earlier due to lack of anti-retroviral treatment. A decline in any problem should be welcome news, but not when people die needlessly. Are we therefore on track on this goal?

In line with MDG 1, (Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty), we committed ourselves to addressing extreme poverty and hunger by “redistributing land to the majority of our citizens . . . condemned to conditions of squalor by years of colonialism and its vestiges”. Ironically, in 2009 over 5,1 million people were in dire need to food assistance.

A rapidly shrinking economy resulted in widespread, abject poverty followed by a 94% unemployment rate.

But in 2009, we had above-average rains which could have helped us harvest enough food for our people, but we weren’t adequately prepared for the planting season. Elections were a priority.

We are just off track and let’s stop blaming HIV and Aids and sanctions for our faults.

Food shortages have put over a third of our children under the age of five years at risk of dying due to malnutrition, according to Unicef, trashing the prospects of achieving MDG 4 (Reduce Child Mortality).

To all children born this period, you are indeed survivors.

This decade was arguably the most dangerous period to become a mother. Maternal health (MDG 5) services plummeted and became unaffordable, notwithstanding a government policy that provides for free maternal care.

Health institutions dumped the policy to raise their own revenue to meet costs. New mothers were detained for failing to pay the fees.

Unicef reported that 50% of women in rural areas gave birth at home. Giving birth became a life-threatening gamble. To all mothers who gave birth during this difficult period, you are surely our heroines.

Significant progress has been made in putting laws and policies in place that promote gender equality and empower Women (MDG 3).

The gap between men and women is narrowing but there is still a long way to go. Discrimination and gender-based violence remains rampant.

The Human Development Report (2007/2008) places Zimbabwe as among the lowest on the global gender-related development index, ranking 130 of 170.

Women still have a low status with respect to access, control and ownership of economic resources and positions in the decision-making process.

Surely, a woman giving birth in her rural kitchen or on a donkey-drawn cart is a clear violation of woman’s rights and dignity.

A recent World Bank report noted that Zimbabwe was off track on ensuring environmental sustainability (MDG 7).

Deforestation increased by more than 20% as new farmers cleared more land for farming.

Lack of reliable and sustainable energy meant that both rural and urban population had to resort to cutting trees for firewood. Access to water, sanitation and housing have also deteriorated in both urban and rural areas.

For failing to meet the MDGs, can we always blame sanctions and those bent on derailing the gains of our independence?

Can we conclude that we could not forge meaningful global partnerships for development (MDG 8), which saw a decline in credit lines with the only available funding going towards humanitarian support?

Perhaps, we will live to tell a different story in the final five years of the MDGs.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa

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