By Zubeida Mustafa
WITH Pakistan more concerned about the existential threat it faces, one is hardly surprised that not much is heard of the MDGs — those elusive eight points called the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2000 to be met in 15 years. The deadline is approaching and it is time for scrutiny of the report card.
How has the world fared on this count? The UN MDG report of 2014 observes that these goals have made a “profound difference in people’s lives and the first goal of halving poverty was achieved five years ahead of the 2015 time frame. Ninety per cent of children in developing regions now enjoy primary education, and disparities between boys and girls in enrolment have narrowed”.
It speaks of remarkable gains having also been made in all health indicators. According to the UN, the target of halving the proportion of people who lack access to improved sources of water has also been met. The UN, however, concludes that a lot more still needs to be done to accelerate progress. As it is, the goals did not seek universal coverage in all sectors. Every goal had varying targets. If the global results pleased the UN it is understandable. Some countries performed infinitely better than others.
Pakistan’s progress on the MDGs has been disappointing.
Pakistan’s performance in the specified eight areas with the exception of the last one was disappointing. It could have done better in the eradication of poverty, universal primary education, gender equality in school enrolment, reduction in infant mortality, improvement of maternal health, combating AIDS/malaria, etc, and ensuring environmental sustainability.
Its only success (of dubious nature) was in developing partnerships — if the massive inflow of foreign assistance can be described as such. Thus of the 41 indicators the government defined to measure progress, it is said to be on track on only nine. Therefore the authorities candidly admit that six goals will not be met at all. The data given for the seventh — sustainable development — appear exaggerated. It is difficult to believe that 89pc of the population has access to potable water and the sanitation needs of 72pc are adequately met as claimed.
The problem is that the MDGs are not our priority. If anything the media also reflects that. The country is at present engaged in two wars, we are told. One is against terrorism. The other is for democracy. In the absence of information from independent sources, we cannot say how we are faring in the first. The status of the second is hazy as media reporting is often biased. So the wars go on providing the rulers and opinion makers the pretext to put the MDGs on the back burner.
This is worrying. Since all the goals pertain directly to children, any apathy towards them amounts to being indifferent to Pakistan’s future. Is it worth fighting to save the country from the militants and to inject democracy into our political system, when the life of our future citizens may be nasty, brutish and short?
The children of today will be the adults of tomorrow. If they are not educated today, they will be illiterate tomorrow. Malnourished and sick children today will become unhealthy men and women tomorrow. They are unlikely to have the capacity to consolidate the country even if we manage to win the two wars we are waging today.
The fact is that no nation can survive if it doesn’t have a holistic approach to life. One should not plan in a linear fashion while drawing up one’s priorities. Every issue that is important for the governance of a country must be prioritised and addressed equally. Had this approach been adopted right from the start, we would not have landed up in the mess we find ourselves in today.
What should be of greatest concern is our persistent failure to provide education to our children. MDG 2 translates into a target of 100pc primary school enrolment and 100pc completion of education from grades 1-5 with an 88pc literacy rate. Our performance? The Pakistan Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 records that “rates of net primary enrolment and completion increased up to the mid-2000s but thereafter slowed and fluctuated, and in 2011/12 were 57pc and 50pc respectively”. The literacy rate today is officially 60pc.
Without education, tomorrow’s youth will never gain self-esteem or develop the capacity to build a satisfying, productive life. They will have no future to look forward to. Can these underprivileged children who grow up to be underprivileged adults have any stakes in a country that cannot provide them with dignity, equity, equal opportunities and social justice? Even if the wars for security and democracy are won today, who will be there tomorrow to cherish and preserve the gains?
Respect for human rights, social justice and democratic freedoms do not come as a bolt from the blue. They have to be inculcated in a child early in life and reinforced with living examples.