26 Aug 2013

Pacific development goals post 2015 will be more ambitious [corrected]

5:21 pm on 26 August 2013

The Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme says the Pacific's development goals beyond 2015 will be more ambitious and deal with unfinished business.

Helen Clark says the Millennium Development Goals have been mostly successful - there is less poverty, more children in school and fewer babies dying in the Pacific.

But she says beyond 2015, there is still plenty of work to be done.

HELEN CLARK: In my opinion, the MDGs have been a success. That's not to say that every country has achieved every goal, which obviously is not the case. But overall there's been tremendous progress reducing poverty, tremendous progress towards getting every child in school, fewer babies and children dying. So we have to say there's success, but there's unfinished business. And now as we're talking about what will follow the MDGs in 2015, we're looking at how to finish the unfinished business, but also be more ambitious.

MARY BAINES: So places like Solomon Islands are expected not to meet those goals? What about other places like Melanesian states, Polynesia, Micronesia - are they going to meet their goals?

HC: Melanesia would be particularly challenged. In Polynesia we can say that Samoa is really doing well overall. It's lifted from being a low-income country to a middle-income country. In the Cook Islands and Niue, which of course have the association with New Zealand, clearly living standards are comparable to parts of New Zealand. Micronesia tends to be buoyed up a little by the association with the United States of America, and a lot of remittances coming in, including from US military personnel, to the islands, but Melanesia is challenged.

MB: Would you say that the goals have been successful in lifting poverty over all?

HC: In the Pacific, income poverty doesn't tell the whole story. Because if you are on a small atoll which has access to, and you are growing, fishing traditional food, which is nutritious, you may be in a very different situation from someone with a similar income level in a poor country in another part of the world. But we need to look at poverty in many dimensions. There can be poverty of opportunity. Can you take your education all the way? You need to look at the access to decent health services. So poverty in its many dimensions is certainly present in the Pacific.

MB: Some have argued that poverty may have even become more entrenched in parts of the Pacific like Papua New Guinea. There is a growing economy, but it's not filtering down to ordinary people.

HC: As I see it, PNG, with its resource extraction boom with the gas, has some of the same characteristics as countries in sub-Saharan Africa which have had these booms. You need very deliberate public policy to drive getting a proper resource rental for a country off these resources, getting that into the budget, getting it prioritised for economic diversification and livelihoods, health services, education, infrastructure that will benefit people. So often we see a high growth rate not being matched by a rapid fall of poverty in a country. But this is up to leaders. Leaders must drive strategies for their countries development which will help the people at the bottom. If the rising tide doesn't lift every boat it can create more discontent.

MB: And in terms of maternal health, would you say we're seeing a lot of good work going on?

HC: Well, maternal mortality and universal access to sexual and reproductive health services is one of the worst lagging MDGs in the world. And that tells us a lot about the status of women. So you have to deal with this goal at the same time as you're dealing with equal opportunities for girls and women, equal status under the law, the empowerment of girls and women. And if we see this as an integrated challenge we'll make some traction on maternal mortality. But in parts of Melanesia you will be seeing maternal mortality is quite significant, even though the rate can be twice as much in some of the sub-Saharan countries. It is a very serious challenge.

MB: Do you think there's a political unwillingness in some of these countries to deal with these issues?

HC: If women's status is low, if women are seen as chattels, then it's hard to make progress. And the Pacific has been one of the lagging regions in the world on women's political empowerment. It's been very, very hard, for example, for women to be elected in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea. And if women's voices aren't there, if they're not heard, then how do they express these tremendous needs?

MB: So what's been done to get women into leadership positions?

HC: Well, there is a lot of work driven by UNDP and others to get women up to being selected as candidates, being supported as candidates, being supported as members of parliament. And political parties have to change. They have to see women as part of their future and be prepared to promote and support them.

MB: So what's going to happen after 2015? New goals set or...?

HC: There's a huge international debate raging at happen at the moment about what will come after the MDGs. There's been a high-level panel, the UN secretary general appointed. There's other reports flowing. The UNDP has been leading for the UN development system a huge consultation out to the world's people. So it's not just governments that are talking about this. It's actually people who are having a say. The general view is that we should be more ambitious. We should aim to leave no-one behind. We should aim to eradicate extreme poverty. But to do that we also have to deal with war and conflict, exposure to disaster, weak governance in states, lack of rule of law. It's not one swing of the wheel. There are often very complex factors which are keeping people in poverty.