In the Pacific, progress towards achievement of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) has been uneven. Only two Pacific countries have achieved all the MDGs targets, three countries least half, and the rest of the countries achieving less than half.
The majority of Pacific countries have managed to reduce the numbers of child mortality under five years and increase the number of children accessing primary level education.
However, many Pacific Countries are off track or stagnant in halving the population living under the poverty line, improving the economic and political empowerment of women, combating non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and ensuring environmental sustainability.
Climate change and NCDs are two challenges with the potential to deter progress across all goals. Countries are already feeling the adverse impacts of climate change, which affects food security and the ability for Pacific communities to manage their natural resources.
Some of the highest incidences of diabetes and obesity in the world are found in the pacific region and the major cause of premature death in nearly all Pacific Island countries is now NCDs.
The poor are more vulnerable to illnesses when they have less access to healthy food, education, and health services, especially in urban areas. High out-of-pocket treatment costs and the inability to find or maintain employment due to illness both exacerbate poverty.
Not only are NCDs impacting the productivity of the workforce but combating them is placing enormous burdens on national budgets.
But all is not dire. Working on the MDGs in the Pacific for the last seven years, I have seen many positive changes.
Awareness-raising and advocating for the MDGs has prompted the broader community to get involved in the fight against poverty and provision of basic social services to the most vulnerable communities. Decision makers, service providers, and local communities are discussing the linkages between poverty, health, education, environmental sustainability, and inclusive economic growth. By having a better understanding of sustainable development, they can set realistic targets and practical strategies to achieve them.
The mainstreaming of MDGs into national development plans has highlighted the importance of integrated and results-based development planning and monitoring to tackle national development priorities.
- In Fiji, the government stepped up social protection measures, including a food voucher programme, bus fare assistance, and the provision of free tuition and text books for school children from families living under the Basic Needs Poverty Line.
- PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Samoa have introduced fee-free schooling policies, which not only assists in achieving universal primary education, but also helps reduce financial burdens.
- Tonga and Fiji introduced pension and retirement plans for individuals over 60 and 68 years of age respectively who are not covered under established pensions.
The MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF) methodology was an effective tool in bringing together governments, NGOs, and other key stakeholders to pool resources for better impact on addressing MDG targets that are off track.
For example, in Vanuatu, under the Office of the Prime Minister, the MAF adopted a sector-wide approach to improve access to reproductive health services. The project developed family planning tools and guidelines focused at the community level, integrated reproductive health and rights into school curriculum, trained health workers on maintaining the supply chain of contraceptives, and developed an awareness programme for parents and family planning gate keepers such as chiefs and church leaders.
Perhaps one of the biggest achievements of the MDGs is the strong platform it has set for the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Much progress has been made and lessons learned. Although the SDGs are more ambitious to achieve, the Pacific region is in a better position than ever to take on the challenge.