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What growth can and can’t do for the MDGs (and why it matters for us)

I recently attended a roundtable discussion hosted by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) on Growth, Equity and the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).  The room was full of participants from donor and UN agencies, academia and NGOs, all eager to share ideas on how economic growth is related to the achievement of the MDGs. 

Everyone agreed that growth is key to meeting the MGD 1 target of halving poverty by 2015.  However there were other important issues that needed to be addressed for growth to help achieve the other goals.  We also recognised that growths potential to reduce poverty is diminished if its benefits are not shared equally and the poorest households are left behind.

At the end of the discussion, we came up with ten propositions, which could guide the discussions in the run up to the UN MDG Summit.  One of the propositions, “Growth does not automatically lead to progress on the non-income MDGs and therefore social policies – including education, health and social protection – are central and must not be sidelined”, is very important to Save the Children’s work. 

Early this year the Development Policy Team published a briefing on Children and Economic Growth, arguing that growth alone will not improve children’s wellbeing.  We know that in the case of MDG 4(reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds by 2015) the fastest progress has been made in low income countries like Bangladesh and Ghana. 

Improvements in child survival were achieved during periods of adequate economic growth, but not similar to the growth experienced by the “superstars” like India and China.   Explicit policy choices that addressed children’s health, and ensuring that poor households have access to the relevant interventions, made a dent in under-five mortality.

Pushing the MDGs in the post-economic crisis world is one issue that, I think, will be important in future discussions.  The progress that we have achieved so far was made under a period of “global prosperity”. Even then we are behind many of the targets. 

The crisis has thrown growth off-track in both developed and developing countries.  Recovery in advanced economies is fragile and governments are faced with deep fiscal constraints, which question the future of aid flows to poor countries.  Just the same, we are not sure how robust recovery is in the developing world. National governments might find it even more difficult to allocate resources to achieving the goals. 

We need to strengthen our work in this area to ensure that the MDGs are put back on track and that they are achieved for the poorest and most marginalised children.

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