In January 2016, the Sustainable Development Goals, otherwise known as Global Goals, came into action. In the United Nations Development Programme’s words, these 17 goals are a “universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.” In replacing the Millenium Development Goals, the SDGs introduce new areas of concern, with the aim of reaching all of these goals by 2030. There’s no doubt that progress has been made in previous years across various areas of development. However, the pace of this progress is not enough to meet the targets set by 2030. There have been uneven advancements across genders, ages, and rural and urban areas; however, quicker and more universal progress is necessary to achieve the future these goals aim to make a reality.
Now, two years after the initiation of the SDGs, we can discuss the tangible progress and obstacles facing these goals based on real statistics. Here we will focus on goals 2, 3, and 4, namely development in food security, universal health care, and quality education.
If only the solution to hunger could be as straightforward as increasing food production. So much more is required to combat hunger, including well-functioning markets, increased investments for smaller farms, equal access to technology regardless of size, and increased incomes. All these factors are integral in fostering food security and sustainable production across the agricultural sector.
Even though these industry-wide changes take time, hunger statistics have improved in the last few years.
In 2016, an estimated 155 million children under age 5 have stunted growth, down from 198 million in 2000. Additionally, the rate of stunted growth fell from 32.7 percent in 2000 to 22.9 percent in 2016. LDCs and landlocked developing countries have made the most progress, but one in four children still suffer from hunger in these countries. While these statistics are hopeful, one must note that the zero hunger target cannot be met by 2030 with the current rate of progress.
Universal Health Care
Reproductive, maternal and child health has come a long way. Over the past few years, the rate of communicable diseases has declined, health services have been upgraded through targeted disease elimination programs, and these has been increased funding to support medical research and basic healthcare in developing countries.
One aspect of health worth mentioning is child mortality. In 2015, the mortality rate for children under age 5 worldwide was 43 deaths per 1,000 live births — a 44 percent reduction since 2000! Progress is seen in terms of HIV too: In 2015, an estimated 2.1 million people worldwide were newly infected with HIV, a reduction of 46 per cent since 2000. New technologies, like the insertable vaginal ring or the 3-month ring have helped to mitigate the spread of HIV. Non communicable diseases, however, still continue to take lives before the age of 70 (premature deaths). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 29 million adults were living with diabetes in 2016, and a quarter of the individuals in that group were unaware that they even had the condition, pointing to a second problem of living undiagnosed. From 2000 to 2015, the risk of dying between the ages of 30 and 70 from non communicable diseases fell from 23 percent to 19 percent, showing only slight progress.
Quality Education for All
Despite the progress in school enrollment, millions of children are still out of school. Educational systems face the problem of keeping up with population growth, and a significant proportion of children from low-income families are unable to acquire even a basic education. In fact, in the poorest of countries, only 40 percent of children participate in some sort of education one year before the start of primary school. Between 2000 and 2014, enrollment did progress, but 9 percent of primary-school-aged children still remained out of school in 2014. This rate has unfortunately stagnated since 2008, as some populations remain hard to reach in excluded pockets. Out of school rates for secondary-school-aged adolescents and youth reduced, but increased for primary-school aged children. This points to the lack of opportunity for youth to enter school in the first place.
Quality education requires trained teachers and adequate school facilities, both of which are in dire need. Achieving quality education by 2030 will need intensified efforts in regions where there is a shortage of teachers and schools, as well as pointed attempts to target vulnerable populations like people with disabilities, refugees, and rural poor.
There’s no doubt that the statistics do illustrate advancements in the three above areas. However, the rate of progress is far from sufficient to completely achieve the SDGs in the next 12 years. While we can take both solace and inspiration from the progress on sustainable goal development thus far, we must not forget that a lot of work still remains to be done.
Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.