Is U.N. ‘coast­ing’ on goals?

The 17 world-sav­ing ob­jec­tives will be on cen­ter stage at an­nual de­bate

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - BY ANN M. SIM­MONS ann.sim­mons@la­times.com

It’s been two years since the United Nations adopted 17 goals aimed at fight­ing poverty and in­equal­ity, pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and fos­ter­ing peace.

The tar­get year for achiev­ing those goals is 2030, but that’s lit­tle time, given the scope of the agenda, and ex­perts note for­mi­da­ble ob­sta­cles stand in the way of achiev­ing th­ese “sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals,” or SDGs.

“We had the SDG agree­ments in 2015. Ev­ery­body felt very good,” said Homi Kha­ras, co-di­rec­tor in the global econ­omy and de­vel­op­ment pro­gram at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

But while there was progress in 2016 and 2017, there also was some re­gres­sion, Kha­ras said. “The pace is not fast enough to achieve the SDGs. I feel that we are coast­ing some­what,” he said.

Among other things, the 17 goals call for ad­vances in ed­u­ca­tion, wages, gen­der equal­ity and hu­man rights.

“The SDGs are very am­bi­tious,” said Kal Raus­tiala, a law pro­fes­sor and di­rec­tor of the UCLA Burkle Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions. “One of the crit­i­cisms is that there are so many goals … with ev­ery­thing be­ing a pri­or­ity and there­fore ar­guably noth­ing be­ing a pri­or­ity. So im­ple­ment­ing them in full is hard to imag­ine.”

When the U.N. be­gins its Gen­eral De­bate on Tues­day, the is­sues of the 17 goals will be among those tak­ing cen­ter stage. The de­bate theme is “Fo­cus­ing on Peo­ple: Striv­ing for Peace and a De­cent Life for All on a Sus­tain­able Planet.”

Ad­dress­ing the open­ing of the Gen­eral Assem­bly on Tues­day, U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res ac­knowl­edged the need to main­tain mo­men­tum to achieve the goals.

“Peo­ple around the world are rightly de­mand­ing change and look­ing for gov­ern­ments and in­sti­tu­tions to de­liver,” Guter­res said. “We all agree that the United Nations must do even more to adapt and de­liver.”

Some of the goals are more chal­leng­ing than oth­ers.

Refugees

Ac­cord­ing to the U.N.’s refugee agency, there are more than 65.6 mil­lion dis­placed peo­ple world­wide and about 22.5 mil­lion refugees, far sur­pass­ing the num­bers af­ter World War II.

“Mi­gra­tion is an enor­mously dif­fi­cult is­sue be­cause the source of mi­gra­tion is so dif­fer­ent,” Kha­ras said.

It can be driven by con­flict, eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity and en­vi­ron­men­tal stress, among other fac­tors, Kha­ras said.

“When you look at all of that, it’s ex­tremely daunt­ing,” Raus­tiala said. “And then on top of it, at this par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal mo­ment, there is so much an­tipa­thy to­ward im­mi­gra­tion of any kind, let alone refugees in par­tic­u­lar.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion wants re­duce the num­ber of per­ma­nent, le­gal mi­grants al­lowed into the U.S. each year and cap the num­ber of refugees ad­mit­ted each year to 50,000, down from a re­cent Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion level of 110,000. Mi­grants and refugees are also fac­ing an in­creas­ingly hos­tile re­cep­tion in Europe. In Au­gust, po­lice used water can­nons and ba­tons against refugee squat­ters in Rome, and thou­sands of mi­grants have been lan­guish­ing in an over­crowded camp in Greece for nearly two years.

Ex­perts said many wealthy nations were not pulling their weight, leav­ing the bur­den of host­ing most of the refugees to just a few much poorer nations.

Hunger

Global hunger is again on the rise, af­fect­ing about 815 mil­lion peo­ple — or 11% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion — in 2016, ac­cord­ing to a U.N. re­port on food se­cu­rity re­leased Fri­day. The statis­tic marks an in­crease of 38 mil­lion more hun­gry peo­ple on the planet since 2015.

The in­crease in hunger is largely due to a pro­lif­er­a­tion of vi­o­lent con­flicts and cli­mate shocks, such as drought and flood­ing, the U.N. re­ported. This has led to mass dis­place­ment and the de­struc­tion of crops.

Ex­perts said most hun­gry peo­ple don’t have the re­sources to grow or buy food. Ac­cord­ing to a July re­port from the U.N. sec­re­tary-gen­eral, “poverty has steadily de­clined but re­mains high and most per­va­sive in the least de­vel­oped coun­tries, with 51% of their to­tal pop­u­la­tion, around 400 mil­lion peo­ple, still liv­ing in ex­treme poverty in 2016.”

Health, ed­u­ca­tion

Ac­cord­ing to the U.N. sec­re­tary-gen­eral’s re­port, de­spite progress in nar­row­ing the gap be­tween rich and poor coun­tries, “sig­nif­i­cant health in­equities re­main across coun­tries and re­gions.” For ex­am­ple, on av­er­age, peo­ple in high­in­come coun­tries live to be 80 years old, com­pared with those in low-in­come coun­tries, who live to be 61.

The range of the mor­tal­ity rate for chil­dren un­der age 5 is stag­ger­ing — from 150 deaths per 1,000 live births in the Cen­tral African Repub­lic to 4 deaths per 1,000 in Lux­em­bourg, ac­cord­ing to the U.N.

Ed­u­ca­tion, mean­while, re­mains out of the reach for mil­lions of chil­dren world­wide.

De­spite im­pres­sive in­creases in the en­roll­ment of girls in school and a clos­ing of the gen­der gap in pri­mary school en­roll­ment, gen­der dis­par­i­ties in ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion — par­tic­u­larly in up­per sec­ondary school ed­u­ca­tion — per­sist in some re­gions, ac­cord­ing to the U.N. It re­ported that about 28 mil­lion young and ado­les­cent girls re­main out of school in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, for ex­am­ple.

“Ed­u­ca­tion is a sec­tor where there is al­most univer­sal con­sen­sus that it is the key linch­pin for achieve­ment of al­most all of the other goals, whether you’re talk­ing about peace, or jobs, or even health, or poverty, or liv­able cities, or en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness,” Kha­ras said.

Even so, in the world of de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance, ed­u­ca­tion re­mains “one of the least well-funded sec­tors,” he said.

Ad­vance­ments in ed­u­ca­tion have also fallen vic­tim to con­flict. For ex­am­ple, in Syria an es­ti­mated 1.75 mil­lion chil­dren are out of school and most are up to six years be­hind in their read­ing and math skills, ac­cord­ing to a March re­port by the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee.

To suc­cess­fully im­ple­ment the sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment agenda the U.N. needs money.

But “one of the big ques­tion marks con­tin­ues to be fund­ing, both for the U.N. and for de­vel­op­ment in­vest­ment more gen­er­ally,” said Jeremy Konyn­dyk, a se­nior pol­icy fel­low at the Cen­ter for Global De­vel­op­ment and an ex­pert in hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse.

“You’re see­ing some of the U.N.’s ma­jor donors, par­tic­u­larly the U.S. and the U.K., ex­press­ing a lot skep­ti­cism to­ward U.N. fund­ing than we’ve seen in the past.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ini­tial aid bud­get put for­ward in the spring would en­tail sub­stan­tial cuts to U.N. aid pro­gram­ming and peace­keep­ing, among other ar­eas.

Pres­i­dent Trump was ex­pected to host a meet­ing of global lead­ers on Mon­day to ad­dress the is­sue of U.N. re­form and stream­lin­ing of fund­ing for the or­ga­ni­za­tion, be­fore for­mally ad­dress­ing the world body on Tues­day.

Aid ex­perts said the United States’ scal­ing back of its sup­port for U.N.funded pro­grams, such as com­bat­ing vi­o­lence against women and en­sur­ing ac­cess to re­pro­duc­tive health, could stymie progress.

As Konyn­dyk put it, “When the U.S. re­fuses to sup­port the U.N., that makes that goal harder to achieve.”

Ashraf Sha­zly AFP/Getty Images

WORK­ERS at Port Su­dan un­load aid des­tined for South Su­dan in March. A U.N. re­port re­leased last week says hunger af­fects about 815 mil­lion peo­ple glob­ally.

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