Focusing development efforts around the MDGs was not always easy
28 Dec 2015 by Sheila Marnie, Programme Advisor, Sustainable Development Cluster, Istanbul Regional Hub, UNDP
I remember meeting with partners in the Cabinet of Ministers in 2002-3, working as a poverty reduction consultant. I was advised not to bring up the topic of Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) with government officials, as it would be insulting for them to compare their country with other developing countries. The Government officials were very proud of Uzbekistan’s well-developed health, education, and social protection systems and would not want to be associated with hunger and starving, unprotected children.
This perspective towards poverty and reaction to the MDGs was shared by many other countries in the region. For them, the decade preceding the Millennium Declaration in 2000 was not about reducing poverty or sustainable development. It was about finding their place in Europe and Eurasia, introducing (or surviving) market reforms, replacing communist structures with more democratic or at least pluralistic political systems, and recovering from economic crises and in some cases military conflicts.
This did not mean that problems of poverty, inequality and sustainable development were not relevant, but they were not on policy makers’ radar. In Uzbekistan, the Government preferred to talk about a “welfare improvement” strategy to distinguish the country from those for which the $1.25 PPP poverty line was more suitable. But through the course of discussions and draft development strategies, the government officials gradually became receptive to the idea that the MDGs could be a guiding framework for the overall development agenda in the country.
Subsequently, the MDGs helped focus the efforts of donors and national partners on particular goals, such as child and maternal mortality. They put a focus on water security in a country where pipes and taps were linked to centralized systems, but still carried no water. I remember field trips to areas devastated by the Aral Sea disaster, where villagers were supported in getting low-cost means to a sustainable water supply. I have pictures of children splashing joyfully in the water and memories of being invited to weddings - important social events to which an invitation signified gratitude and the wish to give something in return.
A particularly memorable event was an MDG awareness-raising campaign, launched jointly with the internationally famous Savitsky art museum in Karakalpakstan, the home of the world’s second largest collection of Russian avant-garde works of art from the 1920-50s, that organized a painting competition for children to illustrate the MDGs.
Over time, Uzbekistan has embraced and supported the MDGs. After years of discussion regarding MDG progress and indicators, the latest national MDG report presents the result of cooperation between the UN Country Team (UNCT) and the government. It generated frank discussions about many MDG-related issues which have been controversial, including HIV/AIDS targets and the use of global measurements of child and maternal mortality (which although suggesting higher mortality rates, have still confirmed the very positive downward trend achieved over the MDG period).
The last decade has been a success for development in Uzbekistan, not only because the MDG goals have been substantially reached, but also because the need for continued growth and improvement has shifted from a peripheral to major priority. With good will, and UNDP’s role as a main development partner strongly secured, there are well-founded hopes that the ‘SDG era’ will be just as promising.