The Millennium Development Goals and Habitat for Humanity -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

The Millennium Development Goals and Habitat for Humanity

By Melvin Crawford

“MDG” sounds like another one of the many acronyms development practitioners in the official aid community bandy about to lose outsiders during a conversation. Or could it be a misnomer for the quintessential British roadster — the MGB? Do a Google search, however, and nearly 2 million sites and articles appear, reflecting the intensity of the dialogue on what has become known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The promise

The MDGs were derived from the U.N. Millennium Declaration agreed to by 189 countries in 2000. Adopted by virtually all the world governments, the MDGs have become the “outline” for a better 21st century. All the major bilateral and multilateral funding institutions, except USAID, have rethought strategies to make the MDGs a corner piece for cooperation with aid-receiving countries. The fifty U.S.-based foundations, providing more than two-thirds of international grants, consider achieving the MDGs a priority in their giving. Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary-general, calls the MDGs “a blueprint for building a better world.”

Set against the year 2015, the MDGs define 18 targets for progress in eight key areas. The targets can be achieved if all actors work together and do their part. Unlike other cooperation frameworks, the MDGs encapsulate a two-way commitment from poor and rich countries to work toward improving governance and investing in people to radically reduce the number of people left outside of social progress. If this global effort succeeds, it will make this generation the first to eradicate poverty.

U.N. Millennium Project

The U.N. Millennium Project was commissioned in 2002 to provide a concrete action plan for the world. Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is the special adviser to Kofi Annan on the MDGs and head of the U.N. Millennium Project. He believes ending extreme world poverty is an economic possibility in our time. He posits that halving the one billion people living in extreme poverty, preventing the deaths of 6 million children from starvation every year, and effectively ending the death of a woman in pregnancy or childbirth every minute can be achieved by 2020. Professor Sachs’ outlook is supported by a bevy of international high profile individuals and celebrities. Not everyone supports this approach, however.

Contrary views

William Easterly is a professor of economics at New York University and senior research fellow for the Center for Global Development. In his most recent book, Professor Easterly argues that despite the passionate support for efforts to eradicate world poverty, disease and hunger, the West’s efforts to reshape the rest of the world in its image is “a tragic hubris.”

He points out that after 50 years and nearly US$2.3 trillion in aid from the West toward one “Big Plan” or another to address poverty, there is shockingly little to show in much of the Third World. Success stories such as Korea and Taiwan, he argues, have little to do with aid flows and aid bureaucrats but much to do with internal systemic retooling that allowed the markets to reward those who found cost-effective ways to deliver the products and services the poor need.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Five years down the road with this new “Big Plan,” what is the evidence from the scorecard? Are we truly heading toward a world free of all forms of extreme poverty, disease and hunger? Are the goals attainable within the set timeframe?

Progress toward the MDGs

The 2005 MDG Report, published by the U.N., points to progress in some regions of the world but not in others. In Asia reductions were dramatic, but in Africa the proportion of people living on less than US$1 per day rose from 44.6 percent to 46.4 percent. While available data suggest significant reductions in the number of pregnancy-related deaths in countries with moderate to low levels of maternal mortality, evidence of similar progress was not found in countries where pregnancy and childbirth are risky. Hunger, however, is receding in all regions of the world.

On Goal 7, the report concludes that good intentions have not resulted in sufficient progress to reverse the loss in environmental resources. And in poor countries, the number of people living in cities will exceed the rural population by 2007; and nearly one in three city dwellers will live in slums where disease, mortality and unemployment will rise.

The overall conclusion, however, is that progress is being made but crisis areas remain. Moreover, regional variations suggest that not everywhere is moving at a sufficient rate to reach the 2015 targets. For the poorest countries, 2015 might be an unrealistic target year.

"Goal 7 provides the most direct link to Habitat’s mission; but a case can be made for Goal 8 as well.”

Habitat and the MDGs

But where do we fit in?

Why are the MDGs significant for Habitat for Humanity? Do the goals align with our mission?

By next year, the bulk of potential client families for Habitat outside the United States would have moved or will be in the process of moving to city slums. Goal 7, Target 11, which calls for significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, is the most direct link to Habitat’s work; but a case can be made for Goal 8 which calls for a global partnership to increase international flows and investments to countries that take the lead in maintaining policy environments favorable to their own development and to address human and social needs.

Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests that a decent housing environment can contribute to other social outcomes as well — reduction in poverty, improvement in well-being of women and children, and reductions in child morbidity and mortality. While credible data to support these conclusions are difficult to come by, there is clearly an opportunity to impact a broad range of social indicators through housing solutions.

Furthermore, improvement in the lives of slum dwellers assumes a comprehensive approach that embraces elimination of poverty housing, providing decent community environments, and boosting public health and education services and employment generating activities, thereby aligning well with key aspects of Habitat’s mission and the first three goals of HFHI’s strategic plan for 2006 to 2011.

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Melvin Crawford is a grants development officer with Habitat for Humanity International.