“You’re doing well – but can do better! Try harder!”
Teachers have been saying such words to generations of school children.
It also seems apt advice for Sri Lanka’s human development efforts: much has been achieved in recent years, but there is room for improvement.
Sri Lanka was among the 189 countries that adopted the MDGs at the Millennium Summit at the United Nations headquarters in September 2000.
The eight MDGs covered a broad spectrum of goals, from eradicating absolute poverty and hunger to combating HIV, and from having all children attending primary school to saving mothers from dying during pregnancy and childbirth.
For the past 15 years, the MDGs have provided a framework for Sri Lanka’s national development programmes. Progress has been assessed every few years: the most recent ‘report card’ came out in March 2015.
The MDG Country Report 2014 shows that, on the whole, Sri Lanka has done well: it has either already achieved, or is on-track to achieve, a majority of the MDG goals and indicators.
Consider these highlights:
These accomplishments are the result of progressive policies for decades.
“Sri Lanka’s long history of investment in health, education and poverty alleviation programmes has translated into robust performance against the MDGs, and Sri Lanka has many lessons to share,” said Sri Lanka’s UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Subinay Nandy, at the report’s launch in March 2015.
Mind the Gaps
Despite these results, some gaps and challenges remain – these need closer attention in the coming years. It is also important to sustain progress already achieved on many fronts.
Impressive national level statistics sometimes eclipse provincial and district level disparities. Not all parts of Sri Lanka have progressed equally well.
For example, while most districts have already cut income poverty rates in half, there are some exceptions: eight districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces, for which reliable data are not available for comparison years, and the Monaragala District in Uva Province.
Another concern: the gap between rich and poor remains despite economic growth. “Income inequality has not changed, although many poor people managed to move out of poverty and improve their living conditions,” the MDG Progress report says.
Many human development indicators are lower in the plantation estate sector, where 4.4% of the population lives. For example, when at least 90% of all living in urban and rural areas can access safe drinking water, the rate in the estate sector is 46.3%.
There is also an urgent need to improve the quality and relevance of education. It involves increasing opportunities for tertiary education, bridging the gap between education and employment, and reducing the skills mismatch in the labour market.
On the health front, surveillance for infectious diseases cannot be relaxed. Even as malaria retreats, dengue has been spreading. Old diseases like tuberculosis (8,000 cases per year) stubbornly persist. A rise in non-communicable diseases – like heart attacks, stroke, cancers and asthma – poses a whole new set of public health challenges.
Onward with SDGs!
So the well-performing nation has much more to do. From this month, a new and improved global task-list called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will provide useful direction and focus.
Prepared after two years of wide-ranging global, regional and national consultations, the SDGs offer a broader vision for development until 2030. There are 17 SDGs tackling unfinished business of MDGs and newer problems like sustainable cities and climate change.
SDGs will be formally adopted at the Sustainable Development Summit 2015 in New York, a high-level meeting of the 66th UN General Assembly from 25 to 27 September 2015. Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena is among many world leaders participating in the Summit.