Sustainable Development Goals: Localisation, opportunities and challenges for Malawi

Ms. Mia Seppo (R) addressing an audience in Malawi's Phalombe District on the importance of building resilience.

15 May 2015: Statement by Mia Seppo, UN Resident Coordinator: On behalf of the United Nations in Malawi, I am honored to be given the opportunity to address this High-level Conference on the Sustainable Development Goals focusing on localization, opportunities, and challenges. 

From the MDGs to the SDGs 

This year marks the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the introduction of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The MDGs were a pledge to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity, and a world free from extreme poverty. 

In the final year of the MDGs, we can conclude that they made a profound difference in people’s lives:

  • At the global level poverty was halved five years ahead of the 2015 target,
  • 90% of children in developing regions now enjoy primary education, and
  • Remarkable gains have also been made in the fight against malaria and tuberculosis, along with improvements in all health indicators, 

Nevertheless, there were limitations and progress has been mixed. 

Malawi is likely to achieve only four of the eight MDGs namely: Reduce child mortality; Combat HIV, malaria and other diseases; Ensure environmental sustainability; and Develop global partnerships for development.

However, close scrutiny point to alarming statistics:

  • Rural poverty in Malawi remains widespread. The Integrated Household Survey 2010 shows that rural poverty has worsened marginally from 55.6 percent in 2005 to 56.2 percent in 2010.
  • Inequality between the rich and the poor has worsened as illustrated by the movement in the Gini coefficient from 0.39 in 2004 to 0.452 in 2010.
  • Malawi’s population is very young with a median age of 17 years, the  population size more than tripled from about 4 to 13 million people between 1966 and 2008 (NSO 2009) and it is poised to continue growing during the rest of the 21st century reaching 41.2 million by 2050. This is not bad per se but how does Malawi tap the demographic dividend? The undesired outcomes of rapid population growth is increased population density, land fragmentation, deforestation and pressure on the provision of public services.
  • 42% of children under five are stunted. Stunting robs a child of his or her potential to grow up to be a productive adult
  • Malawi has the highest rate of deforestation (2.8% per year) in the SADC region. The devastating floods that Malawi has seen this year are widely believed to have been exacerbated by the prevailing levels of environmental and natural resource degradation. 

Looking at the statistics one may conclude that in reality it is questionable whether Malawi will meaningfully achieve any of the MDGs with the exception of MDG 4 – reducing child mortality: Child survival has improved in Malawi with the under-five mortality rate declining from 234 to 85 deaths per 1000 live births between 1992 and 2014.  Similarly, infant mortality declined from 134 to 53 deaths per 1000 live births over the same period. This firmly puts Malawi on course towards achieving MDG 4. 

The bottom line however is that the MDGs are unfinished business in Malawi and more can be done.

The SDGs

The SDG’s are different and provide a vehicle to advance the unfinished agenda. They are universal in their ambition and broad in their scope. They aim to address long-standing and emerging development challenges by putting people at the center of sustainable development and human rights high on the agenda. 

While addressing outstanding issues of the MDGs: hunger, poverty eradication and gender inequality, the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) negotiated through a participatory process, will likely include a set of new issues like building resilience, sustainable industrialization, access to energy and justice for all as well as building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. 

What does it mean for Malawi? 

Malawi has struggled to establish adequate capacity to report on 8 MDGs and 24 indicators since 2000. What the proposed 17 goals, 169 targets and 304 indicators mean for Malawi is a need to Prioritize, Implement and Transform. 

The post-2015 agenda cannot be achieved through aid alone. There is a need to consider other forms of international public finance for investments in communicable disease control, climate change adaptation and mitigation, science, innovation and new technologies. The post-2015 agenda cannot be achieved through aid alone and the discussion about domestic resource mobilization is a key element in the Financing for Development Conference in Addis in June. Transparency is essential to build a complete picture of the funds available for sustainable development and here, let me recognize the work on development effectiveness in Malawi under the Development Cooperation Strategy which was launched in December last year. 

Enhancing financial inclusion, especially targeting women, can make an important contribution to the financing for development agenda. 

Development as a locally owned process 

A further key point I want to make, and I believe that this is particularly relevant to our meeting this morning, is that ultimately development only happens when there is local leadership, local entrepreneurship, local accountability and local solutions.

Development must be about citizens demanding better services at the local level and the government putting the needs of the people first. 

The SDG’s are a global articulation of local aspirations. We must recognize that they will only be realized through empowered actors working together at the local level. 

For Malawi to make real progress on the SDG’s, we must focus on building resilience, focus on moving the country towards self-reliance as per the vision HE has set for Malawi. Volatility is becoming the new norm and in order to sustain development goals, resilience must be a priority. There are many sources of risk and the financial costs of shocks as diverse as conflict, natural disasters, disease outbreaks and economic crisis are high and increasing. It is essential that all development is risk-informed. It is vital for governments to invest in resilience and set the right regulatory, investment and legal regimes to ensure that risk is reduced and managed. 

For Malawi to make real progress on the SDG’s, gender equality will need to be fully addressed. While the MDGs focused on equal access to education and on increasing the share of women in wage employment and in parliament, the SDGs goes much further, ensuring women’s full and effective participation in all levels of decision-making, equal rights to economic resources and land ownership and access to reproductive health. 

For Malawi to make real progress on the SDG’s there is need for implementation of the ambitious reform agenda ahead of us. Public Sector Reform, Public Finance Management Reform and a serious re-think of agricultural policies is needed for Malawi to make real progress. 

The global conversation about the SDGs coincides with the year of national planning in Malawi and therefore, presents an exciting opportunity to make the next development plan a plan that matters, with targets that are measurable and link with the global development goals and with effective support from partners to implement national priorities.

While the range of challenges which need to be tackled is much wider than in the past, there are more resources and capabilities than ever before to tackle them. Globalization and new technologies also afford governments and other stakeholder’s new opportunities to collaborate and to tap into the pool of global resources – capital and knowledge –

To pursue sustainable development objectives.

As we are at the cross-roads between the MDGs and the SDGs and in the process of preparing the next development plans, this discussion takes on additional importance this year and can be an important factor in ensuring that the next development plan is a plan that generates change. 

I recall seeing an earlier draft of the program for this event which included the great thinker, Amartya Sen. Allow me therefore to close borrowing a few thoughts from this great thinker: 

Sen Sees people as “Agents of Change”, not passive recipients of benefits or mute followers of expert created policies. In Sen’s view, in the development process “people have to be seen as being actively involved – given the opportunity – in shaping their own destiny, and not just as passive recipients of the fruits of cunning development programs. So the central theme of development is to enable people to become Agents of Change in their own lives. When people, individually or in groups, are recognized as agents, they can define their priorities and also choose the suitable means to achieve them. 

Be the Agents of Change. The agents that build a resilient, self-reliant, just and fair Malawi. 

It is possible.