Egypt on the MDG's track
Nahed Nasr reviews Asian and African development efforts
At the midway point between their adoption in 2000 and the 2015 target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), North Africa has made clear progress towards implementing all eight of the goals, and is on track to achieving many of them.
In the meantime, Western Asia's progress has slowed in some areas while sub-Saharan Africa is not on track to achieve any of the goals, according to UN figures.
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2007 is an annual statistical assessment of progress towards implementing the goals. The report, produced at the request of the General Assembly, is based on data compiled by over 20 organisations both within and outside the UN.
"The report findings deliver the message that there have been some gains and that success is still possible in most parts of the world," said Erma Manoncourt, the UN resident coordinator during a press conference that was held at the Arab League headquarters early this month to launch the report.
However, other findings, Manoncourt stressed, point to how much remains to be done, especially in the regions of Western Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, "Where the highest rates of poverty and the biggest development gaps in the world exist."
The study found that North Africa is approaching the target of cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015. Concurrently, income inequality in North Africa was found to be the lowest among all developing regions. The region is well on its way to meeting the 2015 target of making primary education available to all children, according to the report findings. The region has also made rapid progress in reducing child mortality and child malnutrition.
Yet, the region's weakest performance, according to the UN report, was in ensuring gender equality and the empowerment of women. According to statistics assembled for the survey, the share of women among paid employees outside the agricultural sector has been stalled at 20 per cent since 1990. In 2007, an average of only eight per cent of parliamentary seats in the region were occupied by women.
North Africa's efforts to reduce maternal deaths were highlighted by the proportion of deliveries attended by skilled healthcare personnel, which jumped from 40 per cent in 1990 to 75 per cent in 2005.
Focussing on the situation in Egypt, Manoncourt stressed the fact that, "the benefits of economic growth in developing countries have been unequally shared, both regionally and internationally."
The 2004 regional report on the MDGs indicates a gap in living standards between Upper and Lower Egypt, although the Egyptian state proved to be on track in terms of international standards and the indicators used on the current report.
"In some fields Egypt made progress, but there are still some issues that need to be worked upon, especially those regarding gender equality, environment sustainability, and also the gaps between rural and urban governorates." said Manoncourt.
Ibrahim Al-Soury, director of the Development and Social Affairs Policies Department at the Arab League, considered Egypt among the countries which are most eligible to achieve the eight development goals by 2015.
"Egypt made obvious progress in four of the eight MDGs, namely the eradication of poverty and extreme hunger, combating malaria, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases, promoting primary education and reducing child mortality," said Al-Soury.
In regard to Western Asia, the report found that poverty rates in the region more than doubled between 1990 and 2005. The situation has made Western Asia the only region in the developing world where the poverty gap ratio has increased. In other terms, people living on less than a dollar a day have become even poorer. The study determined that since 1999, there has been almost no progress in moving towards universal primary education in Western Asia. Even more worrisome, the report underlined, is the possibility that Western Asia's situation might be even worse than the statistics indicate, since official statistics are often unavailable for countries in conflict or post-conflict situations. However there are some gains in promoting child nutrition, an accomplishment reflected in a decline in the proportion of underweight children under five.
In education, a significant gender gap persists in Western Asia; also women continue to be largely excluded from paid jobs outside the agricultural sector. A gender gap was also evident in political decision-making. A releatively small percentage of the seats in national parliaments in countries of the region are held by women, although there are some signs that efforts to promote gender equality in the region were making progress in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and in Bahrain.
Maher Nasser, director of United Nations Information Centre(UNIC), stressed the correlation between the lack of achieving significant progress in Western Asia and the political instability in some areas of the region. "The insecurity and instability in conflict and post-conflict countries makes long-term development efforts extremely difficult," noted Nasser, adding that, in turn, failure to achieve the MDGs can further heighten the risk of instability and conflict. "
The region is a place of conflict spots -- in Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq. Any progress in one country could be jeopardised by the instability of the other," he said.
The situation in sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst in the world, although there have been major gains in several areas and the goals remain achievable in most African nations. Still, the report found that even the best- governed countries on the continent have not been able to make sufficient progress in reducing extreme poverty in its many forms.
The report referred to the fact that success in achieving the MDGs in the poorest and most disadvantaged nations cannot be achieved by these countries alone. Developed countries need to deliver fully on long-standing commitments to achieve the Official Development Assistance (ODA) target of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2015. The G8 industrialised nations must live up to their 2005 pledge to double aid to Africa by 2010 and EU- member nations their pledge to allocate 0.7 per cent of GNI to ODA by 2015.
In spite of these commitments, ODA actually declined between 2005 and 2006 and is expected to continue to fall slightly in 2007 as debt relief declines. "It is important that aid be improved by ensuring that assistance is aligned with recipient countries' policies, and that flows to individual countries are continuous, predictable and assured and not tied to purchases in the donor country," concluded Nasser.