Thursday, May 1, 2008

Data, capacity and integration key issues for MDGs in Solomons

In the recent ESCAP/ADB/UNDP report on the MDGs progress in the Asia-Pacific region, A-Future-Within-Reach-2008, the summary given for the Pacific Islands region paints a grim picture:
Of the five subregions of ESCAP, the success of Pacific Island Developing Countries (PIDCs) in implementing the MDGs has been less impressive. There has been some progress and the subregion has already met some targets... ...However, the subregion has yet to make progress on the other 17 MDG targets.

The PIDCs may eventually achieve some of the other goals, but only after 2015, as current progress is slow or slipping into reverse. It should also be pointed out that for some targets it is difficult to track progress because of a lack of data. (Box 1.2 p 12)
Solomon Islands appears to fit squarely with these findings. Of the 21 indicators tracked in the report, SI data is only reported for 11. By this measure, progress in Solomon Islands cannot even be measured for almost 50% of these MDG targets.

Those indicators for which data is missing include:
  • Percentage of children under 5 who are underweight
  • Percentage of primary age childern enroled in primary school, percentage reaching grade 5, percentage completing primary school
  • Percentage of rural and urban people with access to an "improved water source"
While SI's the small and highly dispersed population makes data collection difficult, poor systems for data capture and harmonisation are also at fault, and most significantly, there is a need for relevant and usable local 'translations' of the MDG concepts:
PIDCs will also need to improve data collection and monitoring, and establish regular reporting systems, following standard formats – though some MDG indicators such as the proportion of the population below $1 per day need to be defined in the context of the PIDCs to make them more meaningful and relevant. (emphasis mine)
Also of concern is the fact that SI is actually regressing on MDG target 7 : Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources. This is because a key indicator for this target, Indicator 7.1 'forest cover', is being reduced at a rate that is accelerating, not slowing (MDG Update 2, p33).

The loss of rainforests through logging is especially significant to a country with large subsistence rural sector such as Solomons. In justifying this indicator for human development, FAO forestry experts underscored the significance of forests for reducing poverty:
The livelihoods of the approximately 240 million of the world’s poor that live in forested areas of developing countries depend on the protection and, in many cases, the rehabilitation of these forests. ...Widely recognized environmental functions of forests include mitigating climate change, conserving biological diversity, maintaining clean and reliable water resources, sustaining and enhancing land productivity, protecting coastal and marine resources and enhancing urban environments.
Capacity and integration
A Future Within Reach
also pointed out that limitations to capacity and integration in the Pacific subregion were responsible for lack of progress on the MDGs:
Another key constraint is the shortage of capacity for management and implementation. ...The PIDCs will need to find better ways of integrating the MDGs in national sustainable development strategies. This will mean, for example, costing MDG activities, including both financial and human resource contributions, and incorporating these into national budgets.
While the report blames the situation to "a lack of will and skills", the sheer scale of administrative effort involved with reporting and monitoring may also be a factor.

The UNESCAP secretariat which was partially responsible for producing the A Future Within Reach report comprises more than 600 staff; this number rivals the male population of Niue (2006 est. 802) or the total number of secondary school teachers in Solomon Islands (1999 est. 650).

The Pacific Islands as a group are the smallest and least populous countries on the planet, and the effort to maintain adequate records may in some cases encroach significantly on the capacity available to maintain services. Is there a limit to the practicality of MDG monitoring for very small states, or is some fresh thinking needed around the issue? Or perhaps, both?