Experts mull ‘smarter’ targets for post- Millennium Development Goals

A mother feeds her malnourished baby. Key in Millenium Development Goals is elimination of hunger. [PHOTO: FILE]

An interesting research conducted in Guatemala, Mexico  in 1969 is true to Kenya today as is to the world. The research involved pre-school children in several villages, where one group was given a nutritionally enhanced diet, compared to a control group in neighbouring villages, who got a nutrient deprived diet.

The children, now adults, were re-visited 35 years later, writes Dr Bjorn Lomborg in the book, The Nobel Laureates' Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World (2016-2030), revealing startling differences. Lomborg came into prominence after the publication of his controversial book The Skeptical Environmentalist.

The first group went on to have a successful life, while the control group did not.

"They were not stunted by age three, stayed longer in school and developed better cognitive skills," writes Lomborg adding that these children had better physical and mental development suited for the job market.

This research proved that investing in nutrition in children pays greater dividends in later generations, a phenomenon that has been rated highly by a team of Nobel Laureates in determining the world's next goals following the expiry of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) this year.

Working for the independent think tank, Copenhagen Consensus and Australia Consensus, the laureates Finn Kydland, Tom Schelling and Nancy Stokey, have zeroed in on 19 targets from 107, which had been reviewed for the same Centre's by the world's top economists.

"The world needs smarter goals," says Lomborg, the founder of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre during a recent visit in Nairobi.

He adds that the 60 teams of economists weighed up the social, environment and economic costs of each of the UN targets.

Of this, targets like reducing world trade restrictions was rated high, retuning more than US$2,000 dollars (Sh194,000) for each dollar spent.

Countries like Singapore, which opened its borders in the 1960s to manufacturing firms from developed nations, is now an economic giant, proving that foreign trade and investments work.

Making available universal contraception is also rated high, while doubling treatment for people living with HIV is rated low. This is bound to elicit controversy as HIV is viewed as one of the 21st Century challenges that need dire interventions.

It does not help matters that unlike in the year 2000 when the MDGs were passed by a small group working with the then UN Secretary General, the 'Post-2015 Agenda' has received interests from different groups.

The prominent of the players in this process is the UN Open Working Group from the Rio+20, a sustainable development conference that was held in Brazil in 2012.

Another group is a high level panel chaired by presidents Joko Widodo and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Indonesia and Liberia respectively, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and also from independent research firm led by Jeffrey Sachs.

The Working Group has proposed 17 goals and 169 targets compared to the MDGs with eight goals and 18 targets. Well, the challenge is that time is running out, because the world has until September, when leaders will meet in New York for the UN General Assembly to set the goals.

Thus, the economists at Copenhagen Consensus Centre did a cost benefit analysis on the targets, colour coding for the UN from phenomenal, to good, fair, poor and uncertain. From the phenomenal targets, the Nobels came in suggesting to the world where each dollar spent will likely have a good return, making the world a better place.

Using the UN categorising model for the targets; People, Planet and Prosperity, they saw that each dollar (Sh97) spent will return $15 (Sh1,455) of good. Some of the Nobel targets is an improvement of the UN Working Group proposals, made simple and specific. For instance, the Nobels' first goal is lowering chronic child malnutrition.

The UN Working Group's proposal puts the same goal as number two, but married under other clauses; "End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture." This will be achieved through eight targets.

Though countries have their own development blueprints, the Sustainable Development Goals are important.