By Bishow Parajuli–
September 25, 2015, marked as a historic moment as world leaders adopted the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 SDGs constitute a vision to put people and our planet on a sustainable path by 2030. These goals will form the bedrock of a new development agenda designed to set the world on a course of action to end poverty, transform lives and protect the planet.
The SDGs spell out how we work together to promote dignity, equality, justice, shared prosperity and well-being for all while at the same time protecting the environment. We are the first generation that can end poverty and the last one that can avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Adopted 15 years ago, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) show that millions of people’s lives have improved due to concerted efforts to achieve the MDG targets, on whose foundation the SDGs rest. Globally, the MDG targets have been met on extreme poverty, increased access to improved drinking water sources, improvement in the lives of slum dwellers, attainment of gender parity in primary school enrolment as well as halting and reversing the HIV epidemic.
In addition, the likelihood of a child dying before the tender age of five has been cut in nearly half. The maternal mortality ratio has dropped by nearly half. More people are receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV-infection today than ever before. Upwards of six million deaths from malaria were averted due to substantial expansion of malaria interventions.
In general, enormous progress has been made under the MDGs, showing the value of a unifying agenda underpinned by goals and targets. Yet despite the progress, the indignity of hunger and poverty remains as reality for over 800m people.
I have learned, from over 30 years of work in humanitarian and development spheres as well as with the United Nations, that setting goals and targets work. Here in Zimbabwe, the MDGs were implemented during a difficult economic period. Despite the challenges the country faced, with Government leadership, support from the United Nations and development partners, it has made significant progress in some MDGs notably education, health and gender.
In the health sector, Zimbabwe has recorded progress in halting and reducing HIV prevalence, which fell from 29.6 percent in 1998 to 14 percent in 2014; increase in antiretroviral therapy coverage for adults as well as increased coverage of prevention of mother-to-child transmission. This sterling progress on HIV and AIDS, for example, was made possible due to Government’s introduction of the AIDS levy, and with the assistance of over one billion US dollars provided by Global Fund through UNDP and additional funding by other development partners such as PEPFAR.
With Government engagement and support from our specialized agencies such as WHO, UNFPA and UNICEF as well as with generous financial support from development partners, Zimbabwe has also reduced the maternal mortality ratio by more than half from 1069 deaths per 100 000 live births in 2002 to 526 deaths per 100 000 live births in 2014. Child immunization also registered some progress. The country has also made progress in reducing under-five mortality rate from 120 deaths per 1000 live births in 2000 to 75 deaths in 2014.
In Education, with Government leadership and the introduction of a multi-year and multi-donor fund managed by UNICEF a 1:1 pupil to book ratio for core subjects in primary and secondary schools has been maintained while high universal literacy rate of 99 percent was achieved. Zimbabwe also attained gender equality in primary education and increased enrolment of girls in tertiary education.
On environmental sustainability, with support from UNDP, FAO, WFP and UNESCO in wetlands management, conservancies and the introduction of organic farming, the country has also done commendably well particularly in phasing out ozone-depleting substances. However, more needs to be done in addressing the effects of climate change. Pope Francis in his recent report said, “I urgently appeal …for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” Everyone has a role to play and we can add our voices to the ongoing global campaign called “Road to Paris” in support of a global deal on climate change which will take place later this year in Paris.
The above mentioned achievements exemplify how partnerships can be nurtured along agreed common development goals such as the MDGs. As Zimbabwe implemented the MDGs, development partners injected one billion US dollars a year in Official Development Aid, of which 400 million was channeled through the United Nations System to augment national resources.
Going forward, with the strong commitment of the Government and support of the Unite Nations and development partners, Zimbabwe is well poised to implement the SDGs. In this regard, the country has had a series of consultations at both the national and local levels on adaptation and implementation of the SDGs.
Zimbabwe has recognized the need for strong institutions that foster peace, justice and inclusive societies to achieve the SDGs. The national constitution provides the establishment of key independent commissions which include national peace and reconciliation commission, through which the country continues to strengthen social cohesion and effective public service delivery. The United Nations continues to be a strong partner in institutional capacity building as recently reiterated by the UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, “as custodians of the UN Resident Coordinator System, UNDP will leverage the full range of UN expertise to help countries identify what works, and to integrate Goal 16 [Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions] targets within their national plans, policies, and budgets”.
I believe that taking action to achieve the global goals and building greater shared prosperity is in everybody’s best interest and provides enormous investment opportunities that stand to benefit the people of Zimbabwe. Success will be driven by the Government and the people of Zimbabwe. In fulfilling our shared responsibility to implement the SDGs, I can’t overemphasize the need to maintain, if not increase, the provision of Official Development Assistance to support developing countries such as Zimbabwe to complement their domestic resources.
The United Nations System in Zimbabwe remains a strong partner in supporting the country to end all forms of poverty and ensure no one is left behind. With the new, interconnected Sustainable Development Goals that apply to all, we can scale greater heights in our common quest and determination to chart a dignified future in and for Zimbabwe, and for all people in the rest of the world.
*Bishow Parajuli is UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Zimbabwe.