Millennium goals debate

Published: 27-JUL-04

On Senegal's Goree Island, residents are trying to turn into a reality some of the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs, a UN-led initiative adopted by the international community in 2000,consist of eight specific development targets to be achieved globally by the year 2015, writes Wilma Jean Emanuel Randle.

Goree has a population of around 1 500. It was one of the busiest ports during the trans-Atlantic slave trade and is one of Senegal's main tourist attractions. Nevertheless, it is basically a poor island with few services.

Two years ago, when community residents held public discussions to develop their vision for the island, two main goals emerged: to enroll in pre-school all children aged between three and five by 2005, and to ensure that everyone working has steady employment.

Progress has been made. Increased parental involvement and some financial donations, have seen nearly all the island's 200 or so children in the age range enrolled. Efforts are under way to create new businesses and help existing ventures, such as restaurants and artistic services that cater to the tourist trade.

These undertakings reflect the objectives and spirit of the MDGs, though residents may not know it; they are merely trying to make a living and improve conditions for their families.Throughout Senegal, ordinary people are doing the same.

Senegal is one of the countries selected by the UN to participate in a co-ordinated inter-agency pilot project that will help the government to develop further poverty reduction strategies and programmes. These efforts will focus on the south-eastern Tambacounda region, a large, impoverished area with a total population of around 545 000. It is hoped that success here will serve as a model for other areas.

Conditions in Senegal are considered to be favourable for achieving the development goals: a history of stable, democratic rule and a government that has long backed various international developments and human rights conventions. However, experts say that activities relating to reducing poverty should be scaled up first.

The eighth MDG, developing a global partnership for development, is particularly essential, but more money is needed, and substantial investment is pivotal.

How much?

The MDG Steering Committee estimates that more than $4 billion will be needed up to 2015. However, there is much that Senegal itself can do. Ms Vore Gana Seck, executive director of Green Senegal, an environmental non-governmental organisation is hopeful. "We should reach some of the goals, such as in water and education," she said. "But aid levels and other external factors are outside our control." World partnerships with rich countries are vital. Aid alone is not enough.

A major challenge

The majority of Senegal's estimated 10 million people, especially those in rural areas, live at or near poverty levels, and the country has been ranked by the UN as 156th out of 175 nations, in terms of the population's overall well-being.

With little mineral wealth, about 60 percent of the country's economy is based on agricultural activities and fishing. Annual per capita income is estimated to be $476, but few people earn that much.

According to estimates released in January, the number of people living below the poverty line declined from 67.9 percent in 1994-95 to 57.1 per cent in 2001-02, based on data in household assessment surveys. Nonetheless, poverty is widespread, in the rural areas in particular.

Aggravating the parlous state of the economy, extensive drought triggered a massive exodus of the rural labour force to urban centres, as well as large-scale emigration. Agricultural subsidies were cut, and a decline in the market value of groundnuts, Senegal's main export crop, hit rural people hard.

Services such as water, health, electricity and telecoms are seen as essential to limit migration; environment degradation needs to be halted, and fishermen made aware of the dangers of over-fishing.

In the cities, unemployment is widespread, especially among the young. In the capital, Dakar, increasing beggars on the streets include children, women with children, and the physically disabled. The informal sector is burgeoning; some estimates put it at 70 percent of gross domestic product.

During discussions between NGOs, local government bodies, the private sector and the media, participants stressed the importance of retaining and creating jobs. It was said that every working person in Senegal is supporting 10 to 20 people.

A push and a shove needed

Government needs to be galvanised into action. Being committed to addressing these issues is not enough - a far greater sense of urgency is required by the government to get the necessary assistance from developed countries.

The MDG steering committee has also stressed the need for a review of the government's policy of decentralisation, originally adopted in the 1980s, which was accompanied by a reduction in the national government's provision of basic social services. Consensus was reached on the need to make the MDGs more widely understood throughout the country.

�This is an edited article that first appeared in Africa Recovery (April 2004), published by the United Nations Department of Public Information.

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