Customised development strategies needed for Pacific
One size fits all approach to regional development unrealistic.
With mixed results across the Pacific on progress towards achieving the Millenium Development Goal agenda experts are calling for a different approach to development in the region.
The UN has already expanded on the MDG principle in their Post 2015 Agenda creating a new set of 17 targets called the Sustainable Development Goals that aim to capture what the MDGs did not.
But an expert on the region, Associate Professor Glenn Banks from Massey University's School of People, Environment and Planning says it is unrealistic to take a one size fits all approach to development in the region.
He spoke with Koroi Hawkins about the case of Papua New Guinea, the only country in Oceania which is off track on all 8 MDG goals.
GLENN BANKS: I think there's a couple of things we need to think about in relation to the MDG's in Papua New Guinea. One, is that Papua New Guinea starts from a real disadvantage in the sense that technically, the MDG's work against countries that start from a very low base. It's pretty well acknowledged now that those countries that started off with low indicators are the ones that have struggled the greatest, to try and reach the global millenium development goals. And this is recognised in Papua New Guinea and so in 2003 orginally and then again they were revisited in 2010. Papua New Guinea came up with its own national version of the MDGs, rather than the global targets. And it's fair to say that they're going to meet some of those national targets, but not all of them. So even the, even some of the nationally produced development goals Papua New Guinea is unlikely to meet.
KOROI HAWKINS: As you say, a huge challenge for Papua New Guinea there, but it's such a rich country GDP wise. You know, you hear about huge mining companies, you hear about all this money coming out. PNG has even started now to give out a little bit of aid to other Pacific Island Countries in Polynesia and even in Melanesia. There such a big gap isn't there between the money and the lowest earning or the people in the rural areas?
GB: Yeah , and one of the things that shows up very clearly in the work that has been done in Papua New Guinea recently, is that inequality is increasing and poverty hasn't really moved in the last 15 years. It sits, basic needs poverty sits round about 40 percent of the population, living below a basic needs poverty line. So there's a disconnect between the revenue from the extractive sector, from the, largely the mining but also most recently the big gas project up there. And the ability of government to actually translate that revenue into improvements in human development for the bulk of the population. The 85 percent that live in rural parts of the country.
KH: And what about the other, opposite end of the scale in the region which is Cook Islands and Niue who are all greenlights all the way and have already even surpassed some of the MDGs?
GB: From the point of view of Papua New Guinea the Cook Islands and Niue have a far easier time of it in terms of achieving the MDGs. Not only do they start from a higher level, but lower populations and easier to deliver services to people in those countries. Remember Papua New Guinea's got a population that makes up about three quarters of the entire population of the Pacific. So it has got over 7 million people about 7.2 million at the 2011 census. So I don't think it is necessarily fair to compare Papua New Guinea with these other places.
KH: And in the middle we have, what is coming out of the UNDP is that Polynesia sort of performed better, there's Vanuatu and Fiji that have come up a bit and there's Solomon Islands lagging behind. Across the whole of the Pacific, the MDGs do you think they were an unrealistic set of goals?
GB: I think for parts of the Pacific they were unrealistic, I think other, the variation across the Pacific shows that some countries have been able to achieve them. And, and if we were to go back 15 years in time, I think we could have predicted at that point, that some countries would make , be able to meet the MDGs relatively easily and others would really, really struggle and I think that has been the case.
KH: The UN has the Post-2015 plan sort of set in place, there are 17 goals the Sustainable Development Goals, 15 years till I think it's 2030 to look at those, there's quite a few goals in that. Do you think they are a more realistic set of goals? And how do you see countries in the Pacific adopting these to their national strategies?
GB: I think they will fit better with some of the broad based development plans that are occurring, being developed in parts of the Pacific. The MDGs never really worked their way into the formal planning process in PNG, in the way that it has in other parts of the world.
KH: Oceania compared to the rest of the world and maybe some of the other regions with the 2015 being the last year for the MDGs?
GB: Yeah, I think part of the issue for me has always been when we talk about the Pacific and the MDGs. The real issue is that Papua New Guinea for the whole range of reasons that I talked about, has always struggled to be in a position to actually meet those MDGs. And as a result the Pacific shows up relatively badly. And I think what that shows is that treating MDGs as a regional set of objectives is unrealistic. You need to start looking at the nuance of particular countries and particular contexts and see what's achievable within those countries. Rather than talk about these grandiose plans for meeting regional targets.
KH: And do you think the SDGs are more realistic?
GB: I have got to admit I am not a huge fan of the broad spread. The broad spread of the SDGs means that it's going to provide less focus for donors rather than more focus for donors. And I think there is a danger that there that as a result, the scatter gun approach that will be adopted in relation to the SDGs, is potentially likely to water down the effectiveness of efforts to achieve any of the SDGs. Part of the attractiveness but also part of the danger of the MDGs was that there was a limited set of particular issues, particular areas. And that allowed donors and governments to focus on those particular areas and of course the critique of that is that, it left out a lot of other things. And I think with the SDGs what we are seeing is a lot of those areas that have missed out previously are being incorporated into the overall vision for development by 2030. Which is great but if it undermines the efforts that are being, that have been made within a targeted set of goals and objectives, then my fear is that it's going to become very messy and very diluted development efforts generally.
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