Sustainable Development Starts With Safe, Healthy And Well-Educated Children

This post originally appeared on as part of their Skoll World Forum series here. Reposted with permission.

By Richard Morgan, Senior Advisor, UNICEF

To kick-off this year’s Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York, the Skoll World Forum asked some of the world’s leading experts on deforestation, public health, religion, development and the post-2015 MDGs to help set the stage for this week’s discussions on mobilizing for impact. Contributors include the Amazon Conservation Team, the Segal Family Foundation, Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, TB and Malaria, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and more. View the whole series here.

Rahim Kanani (Skoll World Forum): When we look at the last 13 years of MDGs, which countries have made the most progress as it relates to children, and why has change been possible?

Richard Morgan: The Millennium Development Goals have been a success and achieved a lot for children and young people. There has been unprecedented success in several areas. I’ll just focus on child mortality, which is measured by the death rates among children under five years.

Almost all regions have greatly reduced child mortality rates since 1990, the base year for the MDGs. Globally, the annual number has fallen from 12.6 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012, – with over 50 per cent reduction in all regions except sub-Saharan Africa.. Overall, that’s around 90 million lives that might otherwise have been lost — more than the entire population of Germany. This progress is historically quite unprecedented

What is really remarkable is that across the regions, there have been some clear ‘standout’ countries, and these are some of the countries with the lowest national income: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nepal, Liberia, Tanzania and Timor-Leste have all achieved reductions in child death rates of two-thirds or more since 1990. Bolivia, Bhutan, Eritrea, Niger and Rwanda have also made rapid progress. This proves that income is not a barrier to making faster and deeper gains in child survival.

Overall, however, the MDGs have not fully been met. Progress has been uneven, with significant disparities between regions and countries, as well as within countries. These gaps must be addressed.

Thankfully, there are simple, cost-effective and proven solutions that can save more children’s lives. What is needed is increased investment, coordinated responses, and a focus on the poorest and most vulnerable families.

Rahim Kanani: At the same time, where has the least progress been made, and what’s standing in the way of change?

Richard Morgan: The greatest challenges are in sub-Saharan Africa (and, in terms of child nutrition, in South Asia). While sub-Saharan Africa overall has made the least progress in child survival, the slowest progress and highest death rates are found in West and Central Africa. Even so, given the challenges in this region, the 39 per cent reduction in young child mortality since 1990 is a significant achievement.

When it comes to child nutrition, the greatest challenges continue to be found in South Asia. Despite some progress, this region still has the highest rates of young children suffering from chronic malnutrition.

In many countries, progress is stalled by a combination of conflict and instability, limited government capacity to deliver basic services, and highly uneven coverage of these services. Tropical diseases, climate instability, vulnerability of poor families to natural disasters and sparse, difficult-to-reach populations are among the other challenges that some countries face.

Rahim Kanani: Looking at the proposed post-2015 MDGs, when it comes to children, what should the world pay particular attention to?

Richard Morgan: First of all, we call for continued investment in children, but with greater ambition.

While the scope of the post-2015 agenda is not yet fully clear, most of those involved in the discussions seem to agree that it should focus on ‘sustainable development’, including economic, social and environmental dimensions.

Sustainable development starts with safe, healthy and well-educated children. And safe and sustainable societies are, in turn, essential for children.

So in our view, it will be good for children if the new agenda is explicitly focused on progress among people, and the furtherance of their rights, together with strong commitments to better sustain and care for the resources of the planet.

The new agenda should extend the ambitions of the MDGs to resolve the whole range of challenges that children face in fulfilling their rights – both as a matter of principle, and because children are the major catalysts for inclusive and sustainable progress.

This means seeking to eliminate all preventable child deaths; dramatically reducing stunting among young children; aiming for all children to complete basic education; and ensuring that children and their families have access to good quality health services, safe water and sanitation. The world should also aim to end all forms of violence against children and women – again, not only a matter of human rights, but also because of the costs of violence both to individuals and to entire societies.

We also encourage governments and other partners to identify and address the bottlenecks and barriers that exclude many people from sharing in development. Our overall progress can be accelerated, and become more equitable and sustained, if these factors are directly addressed through policies, laws and programme investments.

Rahim Kanani: What are some of the most promising innovations or solutions aimed at children’s health, education or otherwise in the developing world that you believe are game-changers for good?

Richard Morgan: We have seen a number of game-changing innovations over the last couple of decades in the fields of health and education, but let me highlight these:

Mobile technology is changing the way essential services are delivered. Using mobile, we can now know in real-time where disparities are the greatest, who we are not reaching, who is not using essential services etc. The challenge now is not so much about what happened in the past but knowing what is happening right now and being able to do something about it faster.

RapidSMS – a system that uses basic mobile phones and SMS messages to improve the speed and quality of data collection – has been really ground breaking in education and health programmes. In Uganda, it is used in a mobile phone based data collection system called EduTrac. EduTrac collects data from schools to improve planning and supervision. In emergencies, RapidFTR helps humanitarian workers in places like Syria to quickly collect vital information from children who have been separated from their caregivers and share it securely with people who can help them find their families. ‘RapidSMS 1,000 days’ is a highly successful mobile platform to support the delivery of life-saving interventions in the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday – the time with the majority of child and maternal deaths occur.

But innovation is not confined to technology. Smart and creative use of technology is one route, however innovation can also come through partnerships, policies, resource utilization, community mobilization, and most of all, the engagement of children and young people themselves. For example, School-Led Total Sanitation (SLTS) places children at the centre of catalysing change in schools, homes and communities. Through child clubs, they are empowered to lead campaigns to educate their parents and neighbours about the benefits of using improved sanitation and keeping their community clean.

Rahim Kanani: In the last ~850 days before the MDGs expire, what is one thing the global development community should do more of or differently to accelerate progress?

Richard Morgan: The clear suggestion would be to – first and foremost – focus on the most deprived. In the last two years before the target date of the MDGs, governments, civil society, the private sector and the international community should step up sustainable and impactful strategies and accelerate action to end the disparities that have left out large numbers of children and their families.

Our analysis shows that using innovative methods and technologies to reach and include those people so far left out of progress will have the greatest, most lasting effect. This means reaching more children who are not in school; supporting families with the information they need to help avoid child stunting; extending basic health, water and sanitation services to neglected rural and urban slum areas; and addressing the reasons why children and mothers die, particularly in areas where these deaths are most concentrated.

The world would also see more progress and better conditions for sustained development if major conflicts could be resolved, if other major forms of violence could be tackled, and if societies were helped to stabilize and rebuild their public sector institutions and create conditions for private enterprise and job creation.

Lastly, we should strengthen the systems we use to monitor progress, including at local level and among the worst-off groups. We should aim to combine our present relative strengths in household surveys with innovations that empower people to conduct their own monitoring and provide feedback on government services and delivery performance. Enabling families and service users to be part of the monitoring process – to generate and use their own data – will help lay a stronger foundation for a new agenda that is accountable and responsive to their priority needs. It will also help enlist them as contributors, socio-economic entrepreneurs and direct participants in the success of the agenda.

Above all, the new development agenda needs to be universal – relevant for all societies and about all people, regardless of who they are or where they live.