First, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is making MDG 4 on maternal health the focus of a $40bil push. Maternal health is making notoriously slow (if any) progress, and Ban focused his appeal in compelling general terms: “Women and children play a crucial role in development,” he said in a statement. “Investing in their health is not only the right thing to do – it also builds stable, peaceful and productive societies.”
This brings us to a second interesting point, from Jeff Sachs over at Columbia’s Earth Institute: bilateral aid doesn’t work.
[Bilateral] commitments have come without clear mechanisms for fulfilment…making it hard to monitor and largely unaccountable. Shortfalls are attributed to problems in recipient countries. Even when aid is disbursed, these programmes are scattered among many small efforts rather than a unified national plan, and include an endless spectacle of visiting dignitaries from donor countries, politicised negotiations, and countless headline announcements of support that all too often fails to materialise.
Rather than continue from peak to peak in political leadership structures, Sachs suggests countries pooling their money in financing organizations like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. The Fund aggregates all the donor countries’ commitments and then has an independent review board for national recipient programs based on scientific and management reviews, i.e. it erases politics from the equation.
Third, and I find this one almost hilarious: yesterday morning, Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Jimgi Y. Thinley, allegedly got the most applause of any speaker since the conference started on Monday when he made a call for a ninth MDG: Happiness. “Since happiness is the ultimate desire of every citizen, it must be the purpose of development to create the conditions for happiness,” and he called on a proper balance of consumption, leisure, good governance, and attentiveness to nature, biodiversity, and environmental sustainability to achieve this sum of the previous eight goals.
I’m all for it, and this is calling me back to Eric Weiner’s non-fiction travel book, “Geography of Bliss,” in which, if I remember correctly, he concluded that Bhutan was in fact the happiest country in the world. I can’t for the life of me remember why….
So, in review:
1) Focus on MDG 4: Maternal Health/reduction of maternal mortality and morbidity
2) Pool international funding in funds that independently evaluate national programs and can hold recipients accountable to outcomes without soaking aid in politics
3) Happiness needs its own spot on the list, a summation of all the energies and objectives in the other eight goals.
None of this is especially novel or precise, but rather suggests a paradigm change in development philosophy, and I’d be surprised to hear anyone argue much against it.