18 March 2011

Zimbabwe: MDGs an Uphill Task

THE Millennium Development Goals Status Report 2010, aimed at providing the current standing of each of the eight MDGs in Zimbabwe and, where possible, show trend patterns in the past decade, has been released amid fears that the country is unlikely to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

The report also comes at a time when the challenge of reliable and new data has been shadowed by the harsh economic challenges that hit the country during the last decade.

Sanctions from some Western countries following the land reform programme and the withdrawal of funding by the Bretton Woods Institutions bar the country from accessing external lines of credit and also contribute to the grim outlook in the attainment of the MDGs.

The economy also faced daunting challenges in the face of the global economic crisis, shocks and vulnerabilities, especially during the 2007 and 2008 period.

Notwithstanding the challenges, significant strides have been made in a number of key areas of development such as attaining universal primary education, halting and reversing the spread of HIV and Aids, and attaining gender parity in primary school enrollment.

MDGs are an eight-point roadmap with measurable targets and clear timelines for improving the lives of the world's poorest people, agreed on at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2000 by 189 world leaders.

The eight MDGs are: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and, develop a global partnership for development.

While Zimbabwe identified and singled out MDG 1, 3 and 6 as national priorities, the other five did not go unnoticed despite some setbacks in some sections.

As the report now lies on desks in offices of different stakeholders, the questions that remain are: How do we address all the setbacks?

What did we do right and what went wrong?

What should be done so that we meet the 2015 deadline?

In Zimbabwe, the task of monitoring and reporting on MDGs was delegated to the National MDGs Taskforce, which is coordinated by the Ministry of Labour and Social Services.

The Taskforce also comprises the ministries of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development; Education, Sport, Arts and Culture; Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development; Environment and Natural Resources Management as well as the Ministry of Finance.

A team of four Zimbabwean consultants, comprising an economist, educationist, gender specialist and a health specialist facilitated the status report.

The eight MDGs were each analysed and, challenges and requirements for achieving them were outlined.

The report says the major challenges of achieving goal 1 include policy issues.

It says from a policy perspective, there is need to address the land reform issue as one of the drivers for national agricultural revitalisation, given the large numbers of people who are economically dependant on agriculture.

Central to this is addressing the land tenure system for both communal and commercial farms, including property rights that would facilitate investment and accessibility to credit.

Doing so would optimise productivity and transform smallholder agriculture for the majority of the populace and also enhance food security.

The rising incidence of poverty in Zimbabwe is also directly linked to the contraction in Government's fiscal space.

Severe budgetary constraints have had a debilitating effect on public expenditure in health and education and other social infrastructure, says the report.

The report says Zimbabwe is unlikely to meet MDG 1 target on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

However, although the status and trends of MDG 1 have not been positive, the country can stop and reverse the increasing levels of poverty, hunger and malnutrition by, inter alia, through supporting the land reform policy.

Other measures that can be taken include pursuing economic transformation by deepening the economic reforms in the medium and long term through pro-poor programmes and inclusive growth.

The medium term plan 2010-2015 provides a good policy framework on this:

l There is need to pursue governance reforms to create an environment conducive to sustainable development.

l There is need to strengthen social protection systems and bilateral and multilateral partnerships as a strategy towards resource mobilisation to support economic recovery and development.

l The promotion of job creation and decent jobs for all as a strategic policy thrust for mainstreaming employment.

Despite negative trends of the past decade, it is possible for Zimbabwe to attain universal primary education by 2015.

The report further says while it is likely that Zimbabwe attains gender parity in both secondary and primary education, big challenges remain in terms of completion rates, particularly for the girl child.

Trends in infant, neo-natal, and under five mortality rates for the last twenty years have not been very encouraging.

Nevertheless, Zimbabwe can still build on the heavy investments of the early 1980s in health and education, says the report.

The report adds that it is unlikely for the country to meet the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) target by 2015 as the capacity of the health care system has deteriorated significantly and the MMR increased.

According to the findings, Zimbabwe appears to be on course to achieving the MDG target of reducing prevalence of HIV to nine percent by 2015.

On MDG 7, on the overall policy framework, the major challenge that the country faces at ensuring environmental sustainability is the effective and timely implementation of the Environmental Management Act.

In the context of MDG 8, Zimbabwe has made only limited progress on striking strategic partnerships, hence the country may not meet the targets unless it comprehensively addresses the issues of competitiveness and promotes integration with regional and global markets.

The report says in recent years, Zimbabwe has faced serious economic challenges that have eroded its capacity to remain competitive in regional and international markets.

"Added to this," the report notes, "the country continues to face sanctions from some Western countries and withdrawal of aid from international institutions (ostensibly) due to the non-payment of its debt obligations."

Minister of Labour and Social Services Paurina Mpariwa was of the view that the status report presented last Friday shows that Zimbabwe has achieved mixed progress over the years.

She said it was heartening to note that the country has done particularly well on two of its priority goals, which are, promoting gender equality and empowerment of women; and, halting and reversing the spread of HIV and Aids, malaria and other diseases.

Ms Mpariwa applauded the fact that education outcomes have also remained very impressive over the years.

The Minister was, however, quick to point out the importance of putting in place a more comprehensive and focused plan towards the MDGs by developing an Accelerated Plan of Action for their achievement.

This process, she said, would be spearheaded by her ministry and the National MDGs taskforce.

She revealed that the plan would draw on experiences and lessons learnt over the past 10 years on what works and what does not work.

The plan, according to Ms Mpariwa, will highlight key priority areas that would score quick wins.

"This will be formulated within the context of the current policies such as STERP II and the upcoming Medium Term Plan, and also the Zimbabwe United Nations Development Assistance Framework (ZUNDAF)," she said.

Ms Mpariwa welcomed the outcome of the September 2010 United Nations High Level Meeting on MDGs, which recognises that national ownership and leadership is critical in development.

The meeting also acknowledged that progress towards MDGs could be accelerated through enhancing capacity and efficiency of Government institutions to deliver quality and equitable social services.

She added that national leadership in development processes will also enhance policy coherence in order to maximise on resources at the country's disposal.

"The MDGs are interconnected and, if we are to accelerate progress towards achievement of the same, it would require policies that are mutually supportive and integrated.

"Let me hasten to say that government has created a favourable policy environment and has moved in to harmonise its policies to be anchored on the MDGs," she said.

Ms Mpariwa said the consummation of the Government of National Unity together with the stabilisation of the economy in 2009 had created an environment allowing Zimbabwe to move from emergency planning mode to recovery and long term development planning.

She added that the completion of the five year National Health Strategy (2009 to 2013), Medium Term Plan 2010 to 2015, among other policies are a clear testimony of the direction Zimbabwe has taken.

According to Ms Mpariwa, experiences coming out of Zimbabwe and other countries show that achievement of MDGs is possible if appropriate policy mix is implemented.

"Thus the Plan of Action will flag out such possibilities and will particularly centre on supporting agricultural productivity to enhance national and household food security, expanding and strengthening social protection interventions particularly pensions and health insurance schemes as well as revamping the health delivery system," she added.

Partnerships, she said, will also be forged with the donor community in improvising innovative ways to funding development and accelerating progress towards the achievement of MDGs.

She also noted that a thorough analysis will be done at technical level and her ministry would coordinate a consultative process using an MDGs Acceleration Framework Tool, which has been piloted in a number of countries with considerable results.

Acting Secretary for Labour and Social Services Mr Sydney Mhishi believes the country could still achieve a lot in the next four years and beat the 2015 MDG deadline.

He said there was need for a more focused approach by all stakeholders and the Accelerated Framework gives the country an opportunity to assess bottlenecks that hamper progress in achieving set targets and in identifying actions that set the path to meeting the 2015 targets.

The MDGs monitoring and processing as well as the proposed Acceleration Action Plan rely heavily on generation and availability of relevant data.

"I am happy to note that the Zimbabwe Statistics Agency is moving a step forward in ensuring availability of sectoral data and is as we speak, launching the National Strategy for the Development of Statistics," he explained.

He added that it is imperative to keep MDGs in the spotlight and raise public awareness on the same.

Deputy Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Ray Ndhlukula said to date, Zimbabwe had produced three reports on MDGs since 2000 - the 2004 MDGs report; the 2000-2007 Mid term report and the 2010 Status report that was launched last week.

He said the 2010 report was presented by President Mugabe to the UN High level meeting on MDGs held in September last year.

In a statement, the United Nations resident coordinator, Mr Alain Noudehou, said despite global challenges such as the impact of the recent financial and economic crisis, food and fuel crisis, climate change and other natural calamities, the MDGs continue to be broadly supported as the most comprehensive and specific poverty reduction targets ever established.

He said information and analysis contained in the report will also be useful to national planners and policy makers in defining evidence based policies and programmes towards achieving national development priorities.

"Having gone through the report, we are happy to see a few specific trends coming out of the report.

"We are pleased to note that in Zimbabwe, good progress is being achieved in the attainment of universal primary education, halting and reversing the spread of HIV and Aids, as well as in attaining gender parity in primary and lower secondary school enrolment," he said.

At the same time, he lamented that many other challenges remain in key development areas, including the still unacceptably high incidences of poverty, child and maternal mortality, rising unemployment levels and incidences of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria.

He added that the launch of the MDG Status Report comes at a crucial time when the country is beginning to show a positive turnaround with an estimated economic growth of 8, 1 percent in 2011.

He commended Government for the significant gains in sustaining macro-economic stability and the restoration of basic public services over the past couple of years.

Mr Noudehou said with the MDG deadline only five years away, the UN is ready to galvanise its extensive knowledge of policy and field experience and expertise to assist Zimbabwe to meet the targets.

He commended the country for embarking on a series of reforms to strengthen recovery and to set Zimbabwe on a path towards full economic recovery.

A country-led development and effective governance was fundamental, as MDG achievement was conditional on country commitments to the goal's targets.

The fostering of pro-poor and inclusive economic growth is also essential as it expands the resource base for households, firms and Government to invest in their own development, and consequently support the achievement of the MDGs.

The third action point calls for increasing public investment in education, health, water, sanitation and infrastructure.

Practice has shown that investment in these basic social sectors have a positive and sustained impact on achieving several MDGs.

The fourth point, he said, was on gender equality and centres on investing in expanded opportunities for women and girls, while advancing their economic, legal and political empowerment.

He added that MDG achievement needs to be inclusive of women and investments in opportunities for women and girls often generate significant spin-off effects on other MDGs.

He applauded Zimbabwe for prioritising MDG 3.

The fifth point of the MDG action agenda recommends the scaling up of targetted interventions, including social protection and employment programmes as key strategies to generate quick results with regards to income generation while protecting the most vulnerable.

Climate change adaptation, enhanced access to energy and promotion of low-carbon development would require special attention in the efforts toward sustainable development.

The strategy towards enhanced MDG attainment emphasises the importance of accelerating domestic resource mobilisation to finance the MDGs.

At this level, it is important for Zimbabwe to broaden its tax base and enhance the efficiency of tax collections, he adds.

Finally, the eighth MDG action point highlights the need for a functional global partnership to create an enabling environment for the achievement of the goals.

He says for Zimbabwe, reinforcing and re-establishing partnerships in order to address the issue of competitiveness as well as that of regional and global integration is vital.

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