Why the MDG summit is important for Pakistan

Published: September 22, 2010

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi L) attends a meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the Millennium Development Goals Summit at the U.N. headquarters in New York on September 21, 2010. PHOTO:REUTERS

The three-day high level moot of world leaders to evaluate the work that has so far been put into achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has entered into its last day at New York.

The MDG summit primarily aims to accelerate the progress towards the MDGs by 2015, taking into account the progress made towards the internationally agreed development goals. The summit is expected to undertake a comprehensive review of successes, best practices and lessons learned, obstacles and gaps, challenges and opportunities, leading to concrete strategies for action.

The meeting holds immense meaning for Pakistan for reasons that are more than one. 32 to 45 per cent of our nation’s estimated population of 160 million is said to be living below the poverty line, that is, 51 to 72 million people.

A short summary of the document prepared by the Government of Pakistan for adoption at the UN MDG summit concedes that none of the MDGs is likely to be achieved by 2015 – the cut-off year for the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.

While the progress for none of the MDGs is sufficient to meet the required targets, perhaps the two most neglected areas surface in terms of MDG 4 (i.e. reducing under-five child mortality) and MDG 5 (i.e. reducing maternal deaths).

The Pakistan MDG Review Report 2010 prepared by the Government of Pakistan explicitly indicates that the main target for under-five mortality and immunisation (MDG 4) were unlikely to be met while with reference to MDG 5, improving maternal health, it was admitted that “many of the specific targets for goal five will not be met in the immediate future”.

Here it needs to be emphasised that Pakistan has the fourth largest number of under-five deaths in the world and according to Pakistan Demographic Health Survey 2006-07 (PDHS 2006-07) the under-five death rate in Pakistan stands at 94 per 1000 live births. In layman’s language, one child under the age of 5 years is dying every minute in Pakistan!

In the same realm PDHS 2006-07 reports the national Maternal Mortality Rate to be 276 maternal deaths per 100, 000 live births, which means that one mother becomes a mere statistic on the maternal mortality count after every 30 minutes! A total of 30, 000 mothers hence lose their lives annually in Pakistan and sadly 80 per cent of these deaths are preventable.

The situation remains dismal despite having some of the most comprehensive mother and child healthcare programmes in place having nation-wide out reach. To quote one example, Pakistan’s Lady Health Workers’ (LHW) Programme is the world’s largest community based primary health care programme delivering services through 96,000 LHWs in local communities across the country. Moreover, increasing the number of LHWs by 2000 and deployment of 1200 Community Midwives are certainly steps in the right direction. However, despite these efforts, Pakistan’s maternal and child health indicators remain extremely poor, amply manifesting the urgency for non-state actors to join hands with the government and play a more proactive role to bring about a change in the situation.

In view of the above mentioned situation, it is heartening to see that a number of civil society organisations are alive to the need of Pakistan to derive the fullest possible benefit from the forthcoming summit. Prior to the summit, UN initiated a three-day campaign titled ‘make a noise for the MDGs’. The objective was to engage “communities, students, academia, civil society, philanthropists, the private sector and the state to achieve the MDGs…”

Similarly, Save the Children has initiated a global Newborn Child Survival campaign by the name of ‘Every One’ to emphasise the need for everyone’s role and support for the realisation of MDGs 4 and 5. The local version of the campaign, titled ‘Every One Pakistan – Sub Bachay, Sub Log’, which was launched in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and was inaugurated my Prime Minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani has been actively reaching out to people from all walks of life in a bid to raise awareness about the grim situation on the ground as well as to sensitize them on ways and means to protect the lives of mothers and children. It is hoped that the support mobilized through this campaign will help to create an impact at the policy and implementation level for the cause.

It certainly is important to create noise since emphasis on the need to come together to work on the obstacles of achieving the MDGs is itself an important aspect of the MDG summit. Mass mobilisation of opinion around this concept is important to ensure that global economic and development priorities that are set in the summit reflect the true aspirations of the masses and leaders are encouraged to take bold and concrete actions on key policy goals to get the MDGs back on track.

The need to create noise for the MDGs has become all the more imperative in the wake of the devastating floods that sub-merged one-fifth of Pakistan. While the waters have begun to recede, the calamity has brought to light the hidden miseries of Pakistan’s impoverished mothers and children. Even before Pakistan was ravaged by the floods, there were fears that the government might cut down resource allocations for MDG-related activities. Such fears have begun to materialize in the wake of the destruction caused by the floods.

United Nations on its part has committed that the summit will take into consideration the situation of Pakistan and other disaster-hit countries. However, there is urgent need to ensure that the government of Pakistan begins to seriously strategise for achieving the MDG targets.

To achieve tangible results, it is most imperative that the role of civil society be enhanced in future plans of action. The public sector has financial and technical limitations that can be complimented in collaboration with non-profit organisations. Moreover, the role of provinces needs due attention to ensure efficient allocation of resources in primary healthcare sector. Effective use of media needs to be made for raising widespread awareness about issues pertaining to child and maternal mortality among the masses as a great chunk of these deaths are preventable if people are sensitised regarding the adoption of basic health and sanitation measures.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the revitalisation of the MDG process requires a breakthrough plan. This starts with defining and demanding for a much more concrete outcome – a broader transformative economic and social agenda that Pakistan so urgently needs, now and in the post-2015 period. Save the Children’s report for the 2010 MDG summit, ‘A Fair Chance at Life’ has some excellent case studies of success stories that can serve as a handy reference for the Government to replicate health sector initiatives that have worked in other countries.

Five years away from the deadline to achieve some of the world’s most ambitious and resounding commitments to reducing global poverty, we no longer have the luxury of losing any more time because just as you read on hapless mothers and children continue to die on our watch. The Government, civil society and general masses all need to join hands to play their role because when it’s a matter of saving lives every one’s support counts!

Areebah Shahid

Areebah Shahid

An ardent follower of global politics who works with an international development organization and tweets @AreebahShahid

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Mahvesh

    Wow… well researched. One of the few blogs here that actually makes sense rather than rant about inane stuff. Good going.Recommend

  • Rashid Saleem

    The failure to achieve these goals can be related to the wave of terrorism which has thwarted our progress as a nation and as a country. Meeting MDG’s is only possible when you have a country free of militancy and extremists. Unless you give freedom of expression and choice to people and curb conservative and extremist value, little progress can be made in this regard.Recommend

  • Punjabi Jatti

    @Rashid Saleem: I hope that you can comprehend what MDG’s stand for, while millitancy is indeed a perturbing dilemma this correlation is grossly inaccurate.We need to invest more in public sector the reliance on donors is increasing. Recommend

  • Mahvesh

    @ Rashid: MDG goals are a concern all over, not just in Pakistan. Even the well-developed countries are seemingly being unable to meet them. Committment worldwide is an issue as long as countries will be more focused on strategic goals rather than ‘soft’ concerns like health and maternity. Recommend

  • http://meer-mehernewspappar.blogspot.com. Meher Zaidi

    http://developmentpakistan.blogspot.com/2010/06/new-book-pakistans-development.html This post also explains why MDG as a development agenda is an achievable goal to strive for by the government as noted by Akhtar Ali in his new book Pakistan’s Development Challenges: Security, governance and federalism.Recommend

  • shabnam

    it is actually very important to set targets. whether they r achieved or not but atleast the process starts. some progress inevitably is being made towards betterment.the game itself is more important and interesting rather than the news as to who won or lost.Recommend

  • M. Uzair Sukhera

    I’m glad i stumbled across such stuff at ET!.. No wonder good blogposts get so few comments and the crappiest rants get hoards of comments.

    UN has the student’s network for accomplishment of MDGs. I feel there is a massive disconnect between government officials and masses on this issue. Ask the top elite universities like LUMS and NUST and you will be surprised how ignorant are people on these issues. After attending UN’s youth forums i launched many efforts at my university to create awareness on MDGs. It is there that i learnt that we can not achieve these goals if our youth is not aware of them and is not actively involved in achieving these MDGs. Policy and framework always needs active workers and volunteers which can come in the form of youth.

    We can establish some national network of university youth for the MDG related projects. There are many projects but all of them are disconnected and we need to bring them together under one umbrella network. I wish someone actually gets it into action.Recommend