New Sustainable Development Goals, but what of nations left behind?

As we look forward towards the exciting dawn of the U.N.’s nascent Sustainable Development Goals, let’s not forget those who are left behind.

The United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) were the boldest and most far-reaching of any development program for the poor in history.  Begun in 1990 and ending this year, the eight tenets of the MDGs touched every aspect of poverty and represented a bold foray into the elimination of the worst of society’s blights.  The success they achieved through the concerted efforts of the U.N., world governments and large and small non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was stunning.  Touting improvements of reducing extreme poverty, hunger, maternal and childhood mortality by 50 percent, the leaders of these programs were appropriately proud of their accomplishments.  However, not all of the poor countries of the world achieved these admirable results and some actually saw a worsening of these vital indicators.

{mosads}While the world’s poorest celebrated significant reductions in extreme poverty and hunger, for example, Haiti saw no change in the percent of people suffering from either of these two scourges.  In fact as the world’s poor met the goal of a 50 percent reduction in extreme poverty in 2010, Haiti was experiencing an earthquake that killed one-thirtieth of its population. 

Employment opportunities increased dramatically during the 25-year period of the MDGs in the developing world; however, in Haiti, the deepening despair of unemployment continues to threaten the stability of entire sectors of the population.  Once a thriving exporter of sugar cane, coffee and rice, Haiti now imports these commodities to meet the demands of its growing population, further displacing formerly productive farmers who have fled the agrarian countryside to seek jobs in over-populated cities.

In Haiti, other important indicators such as universal primary education and gender equality in education continue to lag behind the rest of the developing world.  In most of the world, 90 percent of children finish fifth grade while in Haiti only 66 percent do.  These statistics often reflect the relatively better conditions of the urban areas with rural regions falling even further behind.  While a lack of education may not seem to negatively affect the population acutely like starvation and extreme poverty do, the long term effects of illiteracy and the poverty of the mind serve to further deepen the divide between progressive countries and those which suffer from economic stagnation. 

Haiti’s disparity of gender inequality in education continues to lag behind other countries partly because access to clean water is so difficult in Haiti and girls typically are charged with collecting water for the family.  We performed an informal study in our area of Haiti and found that the average girl spent some six hours collecting water per day, time away from school that prevented her from becoming better educated. 

Gender equality, in general, while not improving as much as hoped for in the developing world, saw no change in Haiti over the quarter decade of the MDGs.  This means that women still work in jobs that are dangerous and low paying.  These menial positions rarely have essential elements important to women such as paid time off, maternity leave or the promise of health insurance.  Additionally, as the typical sole supporter of the family, these women find themselves in even more precarious financial situations since their incomes tend to be seasonal or erratic.    Without the hope of stable living wages, the society, which often rests on the backs of women, will continue to struggle to survive.

While we are excited about working toward the SDGs these next few years, let’s be sure we include every country in reaching these significant goals.

Vanderpool, a trauma surgeon living in Thomazeau, Haiti, is the founder of LiveBeyond, a faith-based, humanitarian organization dedicated to improving the lives of the poor in Haiti. For more information visit,


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