As an organization deeply invested in the promotion of global health, Globemed at Tufts often discusses the United Nations and their involvement in global equity. Every time we do, I find myself realizing that I have only a hazy understanding of what exactly the UN does, so this time I looked into it a little. The United Nations can be broken down (as it is on the website) by its five broad purposes: Peace and Security; Development; Human Rights; Humanitarian Affairs; and International Law. Development is the area we most often discuss in Globemed — the mission is to maintain peace by promoting economic prosperity and well being as well as by protecting the planet. Within the UN, several bodies collaborate on the Development segment, including the General Assembly Second Committee (Economic and Financial), the General Assembly Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural), Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the ECOSOC Commissions and Expert Bodies.
Up until this year, the focus of UN development has been their Millennium Development Goals, which, in 2000, political leaders across the globe committed to support. The eight goals were: eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; achieve universal education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and global partnership for development.
Frankly I’ve always found these kinds of goals both too ambitious and too vague to be brought to fruition. Being as cynical as I am, I always thought of the goals as nice ideas with little substance or force behind them. The bold phrases like “eradicate” and “ensure” and “universal” seemed to be asking too much. Since the UN is not an authoritative governmental body, I wasn’t sure how they would achieve such ambitious goals in the face of greedy and corrupt governments around the world, many of whom who cared little about their peoples’ suffering. However, upon further research, I’ve realized that some progress has been made towards achieving the goals.
Some of the MDGs are split up into more specific targets. For example, the first goal is broken down as follows: Target 1.A: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day; 1.B: achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people; and 1.C: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.
Stipulations like “halving” rather than complete eradication do seem more manageable, and, according to the UN statistics, extreme poverty was in fact halved before 2015. However, about one in five people in developing regions still lives on less than $1.25 a day. Another salient issue found in the data is the disparities between different regions of the world – while some have made steady gains, others, like southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, have not met any targets.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the progress of the MDGs, this 2014 report summarizes the successes and shortcomings of each of them.
As the target for completion – September of this year – drew closer, the UN set out to keep moving forward, regardless of the success or failure of the MDGs. In 2012, several countries met up in Rio de Janiero (Rio 20+) to discuss the post-2015 plan of action. There, they laid the groundwork for the Sustainable Development Goals, (SDG), a new framework for UN development, which will be managed by an intergovernmental body of the UN called The High Level Political Forum.
These new goals are designed to be “action-oriented, concise, and easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature, and universally applicable to all countries, while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.” The MDGs are not to be scrapped entirely, but the new SDGs will attempt to focus more on the gains that need to be met in poverty, taking into special account its uneven distribution. To facilitate implementation of the goals, the UN is working with governments at all levels from local to national, as well as a variety of other stakeholder organizations, hailing from all sectors of society, including NGOs, businesses, and a variety of interest groups representing the voices of certain demographics such as women, children, indigenous people, and farmers.
The specific goals and targets are still in the making, but will be announced in late March of this year. Information on the means of implementation for post-2015 development should be available in late April. Whether this new set of goals will have more success than its predecessor is yet to be determined. Nevertheless, I’ll take it as a sign of hope that people all over are still fighting to keep all humans, as well as the planet, in good health.
To stay informed on the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals and all of the UNs post-2015 development agenda, visit the Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform here.
Leah Cubanski is a sophomore possibly majoring in Political Science. She is a member of the Communications team.