Ambitious SDGs

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Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UN Population Fund participated in the 3rd Financing for Development Conference held in Addis Ababa from July 13 to 16, 2015. He spoke to Capital on issues such as the role of the youth in the development agenda as well as how to make the SDGs successful.

Capital: What has been UNFPA’s interest in the Financing for Development conference?
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin:
UNFPA has participated in many side events. We have participated in areas of financing for health, education; we have looked at issues that have to do with the rights to make choices especially for women and girls. We are also doing a big side event on human resources for health.
Ethiopia, especially with the issue of reproductive health, has led the trail in Africa making sure that they can reach communities, and women and girls. It is a very good model that we at UNFPA are working with. We are hoping to have a meeting and bring all the ministers of health to see how this is working and how it has affected several issues such as maternal mortality and its dropping rate as well as how women have been able to make choices in their lives with regards to contraceptive use and family planning.
Capital: There were critical views that  the Millennium Development Goals heavily focused on social goals, and it  was not successful.
Osotimehin:
I think there is a weakness in that argument. You cannot have economic growth without the human capacity. You cannot have successful social systems if you do not have the resources to do them. I would say that you have to pursue both at the same time as they are interlinked.
Africa has the youngest population in the world; around 65 percent are below the age of 35. If we are able to provide for them, give them education, access to health and access to credit, give them entrepreneurial and leadership trainings, what you will get is not only a social growth but also economic growth. That is the sustainable growth we want to see.
Capital: What does the situation look like in Africa with regards to gender equality as well as reproductive health?
Osotimehin:
Like Ethiopia, in other African countries, there is an integrated program. So they are not addressing malaria on one side, and maternal mortality on another side.  They are looking at health, education, human development all together. I think what we are seeing is the outcome of that integration.
For example, in Ethiopia, you have a clear reduction in maternal mortality and a clear reduction in infant mortality, an uptake in contraceptive use. And we have also seen a reduction in child marriages and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). So things are happening. What we are hoping for is for this to continue to improve.
Capital: Most countries including Ethiopia do not have a good system that generates health data.  They depend on the UN and other organizations for statistical information on issues such as newborn mortality. How can these countries obtain their own timely data?
Osotimehin:
If there is one thing we must work hard on for the new development agenda, it is in this area. This is because data is what gives your work credibility. If you don’t have data, you cannot measure and you cannot talk about what you are doing confidently. What we have relied upon has been projections. So we collect data in 2013 and then we project for 2015 but that is not good enough.
We did a survey of developing countries and most of them did not have reliable civil registration and vital statistics. That is something that the UNFPA is working on with several countries. As you know, the UNFPA is the 5th largest data source in the world and we do all the censuses in the developing world so we know what data means. But we also know that censuses come once in every 10 years so in between, there needs to be another way of collecting data.
Capital: UNFPA also works on youth related issues. Do you think African governments have started to take the youth seriously and are including them in decision making?
Osotimehin:
I think most governments understand the need to engage the youth. What we do is work with governments to be able to ensure that young people can have access to what is required for them to become useful and fit to get jobs.
If you look at the population of Ethiopia and Kenya or any other Africa country, what you have is a population structure where a large number of children are dependent on a small number of adults who are working. The dependence ratio is very high.
If governments educate the large youth population, work in partnership with the private sector, make sure that the youth gets vocational training as well as access to credit, then you will have a flourishing country. This is what we are talking to African countries about; they need to make proper investments. Ethiopia is on this path, as is Rwanda. Young people can become an agent of change as long as they are given the space.
Capital: The Sustainable Development Goals are coming up and they seem to be much more ambitious than the MDGs, as we are not just talking about halving poverty, but we are talking about eliminating it.  What is the most important thing to consider to meet the SDGs?
Osotimehin:
I think ambition is good; we have to be ambitious and set the bar high. There are a few things I like about the SDGs; it is universal, there is a sense that we have to address these issues in every part of the world. The other point is about equality. The inequality in the world is huge so even in some countries where the GDP is rising and there is supposed wealth, there is still a large population of people who are left behind. So, inclusiveness is also part of the SDGs.
The other part which was not very prominent with the MDGs is human rights. I firmly believe that you cannot have development without human rights. If you respect the rights of people, then progress will be made.
Coming to the subject matter of this meeting in Addis which is financing, it is a very important part of it. There is a sense that every country needs to make its own plans and mobilizing domestic resources will become a very important part of it. That is not to say Official Development Assistance should not be there, I insist that it should be there. But each country will need to improve its own resource mobilization. In many African countries that I know, the tax collection system is not very good and we need to improve on that.
The final point which I think will be critical as we plan and implement the SDGs is the role of the private sector. The private sector must participate in the planning and implementing of national development programs, but all this needs to come from the national leadership because that is the only way it can be sustained.