2014 also moves us one year closer to the 2015 deadline set by 177 countries to significantly reduce the number of men, women, and children represented by these startling numbers through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). If you are not familiar with the MDGs, in a nutshell they are a set of eight specific goals for significantly addressing extreme poverty, hunger, and disease, as well as improving education and the environment.
The statistic I stated in my opening paragraph might lead you to believe that these past 13 years of work on the MDGs must not have made any impact. On the contrary, the goals actually set specific targets many of which could well be met by 2015. Of specific note, is Goal 1 – extreme poverty and hunger: halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day, and halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. According to the 2013 Millennium Development Goals Report (MDG Report 2013), “the world reached the poverty reduction target five years ahead of schedule” as 700 million fewer people in 2010 lived in extreme poverty compared to 1990. Further, the report also highlights that the goal of halving the number of chronically hungry people, while not yet achieved, is within reach. We have been observing a steady drop in this number in recent years, as the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Hunger Portal illustrates. Since 1990 the number has fallen from over 1 billion people to 842 million in 2013.
While demonstrating progress, some might say these staggering numbers are still too high, and I would agree. But what the data also demonstrate is a focus among nations, aid organizations, and policymakers to set specific goals and work together to achieve them. This logical point, however, is a bit of a reset in the world of foreign aid – what kind – how it is delivered – to what end, and it is taking on a good head of steam for the positive. Both countries receiving aid as well as donor countries are working to set clear goals for the purposes of aid and taking a stance on the need to be transparent about it, monitor and evaluate the projects, and finally learn from the investments. If funding for a project to reduce the number of chronically hungry people in a given country is reviewed and found to have had little impact on the people it had been designed to aid, for example, following the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the project, both donors and recipients may seek changes based on the measured outcomes in order to improve the project. Through a host of national and international commitments, including United States’ Foreign Assistance Dashboard and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the U.S. is committing to transparency in our aid programs. Others donor countries are doing the same.
What do these data mean to taxpayers and other funders of aid through charitable giving, and can they affect progress on the MDGs? I am enthusiastic about the impact that greater accountability of aid funding through transparency, M&E, and learning can have on improving the lives of the 1.2 billion people still living in extreme poverty. As taxpayers and charitable givers, donors may use these accountability tools to drive decision-making on how we may more effectively achieve a more prosperous and stable world.
The work ahead won’t be easy and neither will the changes required from business-as-usual to a more transparent foreign aid system. But with a focus on specific goals, new tools for transparency, M&E, and learning, we can continue to make more progress on MDGs in 2014 (to say nothing of current efforts to write new MDGs – Report of the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda) and thus transform the lives of even more people, raising them out of poverty, hunger and disease. A pretty good New Year’s resolution, I’d say.
Lori Groves Rowley is the Director of Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center.