RECENTLY, at the University of the West Indies, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) launched its latest research piece critiquing the performance of Caribbean states on reaching targets set by the United Nations’ (UN) sponsored Millennium Development Goals (MDG) initiative launched back in the year 2000, aimed at ending poverty and improving the health and welfare of the poorest people over a 15-year period.

This global initiative was intended to encourage developing countries around the world, under eight general headings to; eradicate extreme poverty; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and engage in a global partnership for development. This UN initiative was considered the facilitator of developmental progress aimed at developing countries.

UN goals ignored

Fifteen years on, and now at the end of the MDG programme, CaPRI’s assessment of this initiative and the compliance levels by Caribbean States towards achieving these goals concludes that they have in large part been unsuccessful. Even more so, CaPRI argues that these UN-sponsored goals have been either ignored or given lip service by regional governments. Interestingly, the CaPRI perspective goes on to posit that Caribbean Governments, whether voluntarily or otherwise, may have done right by their mandate and commitment to their regional priorities to ignore these targets set back in 2000, and instead focused on other more pressing concerns of the region.

CaPRI justifies its arguments by suggesting that the selection of these MDGs were guided by the particular challenges that were most glaring in sub-Saharan African countries and not necessarily as pressing in the Caribbean region and therefore less of a priority for us in the region.

For example, the study says, “Goal 2, which addressed access to primary education, reflected a major challenge in countries with sparse educational infrastructure and populations spread out over vast land masses. This is not the situation in small-island, middle-income states. For sub-Saharan African countries, the average net enrolment in primary education when the goals were launched was 64% and the literacy rate was 70%. At those levels, there is great room for improvement with relatively modest reallocation of public resources”.

The Caribbean, on the other hand, averaged net primary enrolment of 96%, similar to that in Sweden, with an average literacy rate also of 96%. This was not uncommon for small island developing states (SIDS) for which net enrolment in primary education is 93% and the average literacy rate is 96%. At these levels, primary enrolment and adult literacy are not the most important challenges facing Caribbean economies, according to the CaPRI study.

Infant mortality

Similarly, says CaPRI, in year 2000 under-five mortality rates averaged 152 per thousand live births for African countries, whilst the corresponding rates for the Caribbean and all SIDS was 20 and 23 respectively. A two-thirds reduction in these levels, as required by the MDGs, would take the under-five mortality rate in the Caribbean to seven per thousand, a level which would be better than that of the United States. The disparity and conclusion is similar for the target established for maternal mortality.

The CaPRI study goes on by describing the “inappropriateness of the MDGs for the Caribbean is the gender goal, reflected in the MDG target that the enrolment of girls in primary education be brought into equality with that of boys. This goal seeks to correct a traditional failure to promote the education of girls in many societies. At the onset of the MDGs, the enrollment of girls was only 83 per cent of that of boys in sub-Saharan Africa. In contrast, for the Caribbean (as well as other SIDS), the enrolment of girls was actually greater than that of boys, by some 10 per cent.

The MDGs, therefore, addressed problems that remained as major challenges for many developing countries, particularly those in Africa, but for which the mostly middle-income countries in the Caribbean had already made great progress.”

Aligning to regional challenges

CaPRI argues that the Caribbean’s interest is better served by focusing its capacity and resources on key challenges facing the region such as non-communicable diseases, heart diseases, cancers, cerebrovascular diseases, and diabetes constituted the leading causes of death in the region. Additionally, regional and national security challenges continue to have severe social and economic implications for Caribbean states, where homicide rates continue to be alarming. According to a 2007 World Bank study, reducing homicide rates in Caribbean countries could have significant implications for GDP expansion, as high as 5.4% in the case of Jamaica. Similarly, the region has suffered significant negative consequences from natural disasters over the years, with estimates of up to US$30 billion, according to the Caribbean Development Bank. These challenges, according to CaPRI, should be clear priorities for regional governments.

Sustainable development goals

On Monday, September 28, 2015 the United Nations launched the replacement to MDG termed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These goals are expected to focus on the next 15 years, again in aid of promoting sustainable development for mankind. Unlike the MDG the SDG focuses on 17 goals, captured in 169 indicators, established to address poverty, inequality, governance, and, in particular, climate change.

CaPRI argues that “contrary to the situation with the MDGs, the SDGs are of consequence for the Caribbean” based on regional vulnerability to critical issues such as climate change and its impact on small island states. CaPRI rightly argues that the Caribbean, because of its geographic location, is prone to natural disasters; hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes with significant potential for damage once they occur.

Similarly, according to CaPRI, “Climate change poses the potential for damage from more extreme weather events — both stronger storms and longer droughts — as well as from sea level rise. Since hurricanes arise from the evaporation of warm Atlantic water, warmer seas should produce greater evaporation and thus generate more violent storms. With estimates of a plausible warming of the planet being associated with one to five metres of sea level rise over the next 100 years, many Caribbean islands will experience calamitous loss of coastal land. Sea level rise will have impacts further inland, as well. Many Caribbean countries rely heavily on aquifers for their fresh water supply. The extreme case is Jamaica, which derives some 84% of its fresh water supply from groundwater. Sea level rise will cause saline intrusion into some of the aquifers, rendering the water unusable.”

Caribbean leaders, according to CaPRI, therefore cannot ignore issues of sustainability. Our leaders should, as part of its policy priorities move to embrace aspects of the to-be-launched SDGs, with special focus on the following, says CaPRI:

(1) Review existing regulations with regards to land use, property development, and construction to assess their consistency with sustainable development and the preservation of terrestrial and marine eco-systems and promulgate appropriate new laws and regulations as is required to fill gaps.

(2) Enforce existing regulations and development orders with regards to the minimisation and/or mitigation of environmental impacts.

(3) Engage in a coordinated diplomatic push, through the United Nations, for countries to mobilise the promised funding under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to address the mitigation needs of developing countries.

(4) Review the adequacy of and revise existing, and then enforce, fish harvesting regulations with the aim of putting an end to overfishing and destructive fishing practices, including placing restrictions on fishing and other detrimental activities with the goal of restoring fish stocks to sustainable levels.

(5) Conduct a review of existing fisheries programmes to identify explicit or implicit subsidies that contribute to overfishing and eliminate any such subsidies.

(6) Conserve at least 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas. This recommendation refers to effective conservation, not legal protection without adequate enforcement.

(7) Fully implement the United Nations Conventions with regards to the sustainable use of the oceans.

(8) Conduct an audit of remaining important and healthy natural resources, such as forests, rivers, aquifers, mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs; then articulate a plan to preserve them.

Chris Tufton is a former Government Minister and Co-Executive Director of the University of the West Indies, Mona-based think tank, Caribbean Policy Research Institute.

Jamaica Observer