31 May 2013

The High Level Panel's After 2015 Report: Solid--and that is OK

It's here. It's solid. And that is OK.

Some quick reactions on the High Level Panel's After 2015 Report "A New Global Partnership"

1. It is Universal. Lots of talk about "a single agenda", "this is a challenge for every country on earth", "shared humanity" "mutual accountability", "mutual benefit", "mutual respect" and "solidarity". This universality is inevitable given the collective nature of the challenges we face as a planet, but it was good to see that it was embraced by the report rather than grudgingly accepted.

2. It tries to bring together the development and environmental issues and communities around sustainable development. It argues that prosperity is needed to tackle the environmental issues and without tackling the environmental issues, poverty will not be eliminated. This is also an inevitable coming together but I would have liked to have seen the sustainability agenda be about more than environment, economics and social aspects, but political sustainability too. I also wonder if the attention to sustainable resource use is sufficiently embedded in the non-resource use Goals proposed.

3. It aims to fill in the "missing middle" between the Millennium Declaration and the MDGs. These are the 5 "Transformations": Leave no one behind, Put sustainable development at the core, Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth, Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all, and Forge a new global partnership. Of these, the mindset shift from "reducing" to "ending" poverty and hunger seems the most radical (and there are other candidates specified for zero indicators in the 12 illustrative Goals below).

The Global Partnerships Transformation seems the most fluffy (echoes of MDG 8?), but I do think there are many more tangible examples of how and why the international development community must "put its own house in order" (and the Goal 12 is full of specific aspirations). And it is good to see the acknowledgement that these partnerships should include people living in poverty, those with disabilities, women, civil society and indigenous and local communities, traditionally marginalised groups. Indeed one of the 7 principles behind any Goals proposed is that they be "grounded in the voice of people" (Echoes of Participate). The messaging around the need to go beyond aid and embrace whole of government/whole of society approaches is clear.

4. The report teases us about the goals, targets and indicators. The 12 Goals come at the end.

1. End Poverty. 2. Empower Girls and Women and Achieve Gender Equality. 3. Provide Quality Education and Lifelong Learning. 4. Ensure Healthy Lives. 5. Ensure Food Security and Good Nutrition. 6. Achieve Universal Access to Water and Sanitation. 7. Secure Sustainable Energy. 8. Create Jobs, Sustainable Livelihoods and Equitable Growth. 9. Manage Natural Resource Assets Sustainably. 10. Ensure Good Governance and Effective Institutions. 11. Ensure Stable and Peaceful Societies. 12. Create a Global Enabling Environment and Catalyse Long Term Finance.

The goals, indicators and targets are illustrative. They are an expression of the 5 Transformations. They do not volunteer numerical targets.

This is a way of trying to frame the debate for the next 2 years without being seen to be too directive. The Goals tidy things up from the MDGs. Health is grouped. Food and nutrition are separated from poverty. There are 12 Goals, which is a lot, but frankly it is difficult to think of fewer unless you have cross-cuts for sustainable resource use. There are 54 sub goals, with national targets. Evidence is provided for why each goal should be included. Not quite a theory of change, but a much better justification than for the MDGs.

5. Cross-cutting issues are highlighted: peace, inequality, climate change, cities, concerns of young people, girls, and women, and sustainable consumption and production patterns. These are issues that do not fit within a single goal. The truth is that most issues do not fit within a single goal. This is partly a way of reconciling the SDGs with the MDGs. The SDGs highlighted cities and sustainable consumption as separate goals. Some will be disappointed that inequality did not get its own goal, but there is plenty within the other proposed goals that drills down on equality and many indicators recommended for disaggregation to uncover inequity. Is the report too technocratic? I think these types of reports tend to be, but this one does highlight politics, political economy and political processes quite frequently, but probably not enough.

6. IDS-centricity. From a parochial point of view I was pleased to see that a lot of IDS work contributing strongly to this agenda: the STEPS work on pathways to sustainability, work on tax, organised armed violence, conflict and peace, new (and existing) forms of participation, inequality, women and girls empowerment, business and development, climate adaptation, social protection, sexual rights, sanitation and nutrition to name a few examples.

7. Nutrition. I was particularly pleased to see nutrition as an equal partner with ending hunger (by the way, it is good to see a focus on smallholder productivity in agriculture).

Stunting, wasting and anaemia for under 5's are the nutrition specific indicators. This is in line with much thinking of the nutrition community, although I would like to see a tighter focus on the 0-2 or 0-3 age group and much more of a focus on the nutrition of girls and women. In addition to these 3 indicators, there are plenty of other nutrition relevant indicators to be found in the education, women's empowerment, health, poverty and water and sanitation goal buckets (see recent IDS Brief on this). Nothing on obesity or overweight. A step too far perhaps for the panel.

All in all something for everyone without getting too lowest common denominator about it all. And I think that, for now, is OK.

As we all have a chance to study it further over the coming weeks no doubt we will find things we don't like and possibly some things we really don't like. Nevertheless, my view (and it is not an IDS view necessarily) from a quick read is that this is a good basis for further discussion, negotiation and contestation over the next 2 years. There will be lots of twists and turns in the road ahead, but I think this is a good solid signpost to where we want to go.

Congratulations to the High Level Panel.


  1. The High Level Panel report authors and Lawrence have provided a simply written accessible short report and a comment, with suggested, and quite appropriately not prescribed, universal (?) potential targets. Their
    strengths are that they build on the MDGs rather than casting them away, and deservedly give credit for progress on MDGs achieved to date, largely through strong growth in developing countries.

    Where it is wanting is on the issues of (1) governance, (2) capacity, (3) the necessary human, physical and institutional infrastructure, and (4) frequently its absence at all levels, to meet the challenges of tomorrow. This means the absence of a critical look at what effective partnerships would have to entail ranging from the global (financial or environmental) architecture for international cooperation, to the local capacities at the level of communities which are the most afflicted by poverty, and numerous interacting insecurities.

    The Report is also short on the absence of the necessary political will among leaders where poverty is most endemic, to tackle complex, long term issues, unless and until emergencies strike.

    And yet this is a strong start for deliberations over the next two years.

  2. I agree that it's solid, good to see the progress on the MDGs and good to see the nutrition indicators in there that we've been looking for...I guess I was hoping that the report would be stronger on nutrition. We've got some achievements on including zero gaols ... end poverty... end preventable deaths ... why can't we work toward ending anaemia, ending malnutrition. Surely if we can aim to end poverty, we could aim to end malnutrition.

    I am concerned that the most vulnerable among us, those that are marginalized and discriminated against will again not see the potential positive impact for nutrition... it seems that's what has happened in the past where the easy to reach populations have benefitted, but those that are more difficult to reach didn't experience the progress on the same level (or at all).

    So, I guess we now have the next two years to discuss – not sure that I can do much, but I’ll do what I can to see if we can’t get a stronger commitment on nutrition.

  3. The main message of the document is that we cannot get satisfied with a half-way reduction of poverty for the next generation, as we previously agreed upon in 2000. But what about hunger and malnutrition? The Zero Hunger Goal that has drawn so much support within the UN System (Ban Ki Moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge and the running Latin America Hunger Free Initiative) is not properly addressed in the HLP document. This Zero Hunger aspirational goal that has played a leading political role in Brazil or Guatemala, and it has even been praised by such a neoliberal platform as the Brookings Institution, is not given the same driving power as the Zero Extreme Poverty Goal.
    Having a close look at the proposed goals, we can compare the precise wording used in goal 1 “Bring the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day to zero before 2030” (what seems to work as an absolute global and national goal at the same time) and “reduce by x% the share of people living below their country’s 2015 national poverty line” as a nationally-owned supplementary indicator, with the indicator used for hunger “End hunger and protect the right of everyone to have access to sufficient, safe, affordable, and nutritious food” and the additional “Reduce stunting by x%, wasting by y%, and anemia by z% for all children under five” (no references to national hunger-related measurements). The first hunger goal is very blurry, with no deadline or technical specification. When is it expected to be achieved? Which type of hunger measurements are they referring to: undernourishment as measured by FAO, chronic malnutrition (stunting) as measured by WHO or acute malnutrition (wasting) as measured by WHO and UNICEF? Will it be global or national?
    To date, only 38 countries have already reached the MDG 1 dealing with hunger, and no more than 50 are expected to do it by 2015. As not an equal progress on hunger reduction has been achieved so far, it seems evident that HLP drafters do not believe in the Zero Hunger Goal as much as they do it in extreme poverty eradication. Why is that?

    Perhaps, because reality has proven that eradicating hunger is much more difficult than rising the extreme poverty threshold? Perhaps, because achieving food security for all would require questioning the whole food production system and achieving the zero extreme poverty does not? Perhaps because hunger reduction is closely link to agro-ecological and more sustainable practices, community-owned and managed resources, agrarian reform, open knowledge and patent free research, staple food for national markets instead of cash crops for export and similar evidence-based recommendations that attack the very pillars of the corporate neoliberal global order?
    If we were to achieve a food secure world where every human being had enough food to live a healthy life, the very foundations of the industrial oil-based food system should be contested, the very nature of food as a pure private good should be questioned and the balance of power should shift from agri-business oligopolies to polycentric nodes of governance (Elinor Ostrom’s contribution to natural resource governance), more similar to Community-based Agriculture in the US or Incredible Edible in Todmorden, UK. We cannot keep on saying that the hunger problem is merely a “lack of access”, because it reinforces the commodity dimension of food, overshadowing or neglecting the other dimensions of food as vital human need, food as a binding human right and food as a cultural element (by cultivating and eating).
    As a final suggestion, I would opt by rewording the Goal 5 on hunger as follows: “Bring the number of chronically malnourished under five children to zero before 2030 and ending the hunger-related deaths before 2025 by, amongst others, eliminating acute wasting in under five children”. Our children are the next generation who must finish the task of ending extreme poverty. Let them be adequately fed for that. Otherwise, they will be mentally and physically handicapped for their entire lives. Primum vivere, deinde philosophare.