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Development Goals show the power of change

24 September 2019

Aid works. It lifts people out of poverty and creates opportunity for people to live dignified lives.

Lene Nanthabwe from Machinga, Malawi celebrating the sale of her maize which she sold for 100,000 kwachas (approximately $140) just a few weeks before this photo was taken. Photo: Alan Whelan / Trócaire.

Around the world, extreme poverty is falling and the diseases that once needlessly ended lives are in retreat. As world leaders gather in New York today to review progress made against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the inescapable conclusion is that joined-up plans to assist the world’s poorest people work.

The SDGs are a global plan to improve people’s lives under 17 key targets – from food and water availability to healthcare and sustainability.

Ireland co-chaired the negotiations that produced the SDGs. This is a global plan with Irish fingerprints. Ireland has helped to pave the path forward and we have a real interest in ensuring the SDGs are a success.

Development agencies such as Trócaire are rightly pre-occupied with all the challenges in the world. There are many complex problems in the world and our job is to respond to them to help people affected.

However, reviewing the SDGs is a moment to reflect on all the progress that has been made.

  • The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from one-in-three in 1990 to one-in-ten today.
  • The death rate of children under the age of 5 has fallen by 49 per cent since 2000.
  • HIV rates in sub-Saharan Africa have fallen by 37 per cent.
  • The number of people with access to safe drinking water has risen from six out of every ten to seven out of ten.

The reality is that aid and development work. When the world comes together, united by a plan and determined to help the world’s poorest, we can see wonderful results.

That is not to say progress against all the SDG targets has been smooth. Of course huge challenges remain.

  • Hunger is on the rise, driven by worsening climate change. Approximately 821 million people – 1 in 9 people – are undernourished, up from 784 million in 2015.
  • One-in-five women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in the last 12 months.
  • Approximately one third of countries are ‘water stressed’.

It is noticeable how climate change is undermining so much of the progress.

We see that in our own work. People’s efforts to lift themselves out of poverty are being made more difficult by worsening droughts and more frequent storms. The world’s poorest people are marching up a hill pushing a boulder that is getting heavier.

Development and climate action are now two sides of the same coin. It is not possible to win the battle against extreme poverty without tackling climate change.

Ireland has been central to the development of the SDGs. Irish Aid, the Government’s overseas development programme, is a world leader in creating real change. However, climate action is an area where Ireland is lagging. Ireland must rapidly catch-up if it is to help deliver the SDG plan that it helped to create.

Another target we are far away from hitting is that for overseas development assistance. Despite our reputation for delivering high quality assistance to the world’s poorest people, we are still some way off the international commitment of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on overseas aid. Next month’s budget is another opportunity for the Government to show progress on reaching that target.

The evidence is clear: investing in development works.

The SDGs remain the blueprint for tackling global poverty. In an age of populism and cynicism, they prove that real change is possible when people work together.

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