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Localizing the MDGs

October 31, 2010

By Gretchen Kail

“Localizing the MDGs – The Role of Local Government and a Review of Goal 7, Target 11” – Partnership event at the UN, October 20, 2010

On the occasion of the 2010 Summit on the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations Programme for Human Settlements (UN-Habitat) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) co-sponsored a Partnership Event to review the status of Target 11 and to discuss the role of local governments in working towards the development and acceleration progress of the MDGs.

The discussion began with a review of the status of MDG 7, Target 11, in achieving significant improvement in the lives of the slum dwellers. The original goal of Target 11 was based upon an absolute number of 100 million slum dwellers worldwide, a relatively impossible number to set. Over the past 10 years the work on Target 11 has lead to improvement in the lives of 200 million slum dwellers. And while that number far exceeds the MDG mandate, the total population living in slums has been increasing annually to a rough estimate of 828 million people living in slums worldwide.

In light of these new numbers those working on MDG 7 have put forth the need to review the current goal and to realign Target 11 with the other MDGs. In order to have a substantial effect on the overall achievement of the MDGs, central and local authorities should consider national targets as opposed to the worldwide estimate now used. The impact of changes in slum dwelling can and will have an overall effect on the MDGs involving health, education, water and sanitation, shelter and others.

In reviewing Target 11 and the other MDGs, the localization of certain MDGs, a relatively new approach, has begun to take precedence. It is important to note that localization of development does not refer to where the development is being implemented but instead refers to how development goals and initiatives are being implemented.

As an introduction to this idea of localized development the Honorable Karma Tshiteem, Secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission of Bhutan presented a brief report on Bhutan’s mostly successful approach to the MDGs. He described various challenges the national government had and continues to have working with local governments and the local communities to be the lead in development worked in Bhutan. But Bhutan has had an overall high level of success utilizing development in achieving the MDGs.

The role of sub-national governments is seen as key in accelerating and achieving MDGs such as Target 11. For example local governments have a much clearer notion of the numbers involved in populations living in slums along with the need the needs and challenges facing the local region. Alternatively, local entities are often better placed for implementation: they are more knowledgeable of their region’s particular development challenges; better able to build lasting partnerships with civil society; and are better placed to support long-term, sustainable change.

As one panelist pointed out, when there is a reasonable legal framework along with strong local leadership the results of local implementation of the MDGs can have impressive results. As the example of Bhutan illustrates, the success in achieving the MDGs through local development can become an integrated part of national plans. Of course many of the necessary attributes are also some of the challenges faced by international entities and national governments. National governments face challenges in decentralizing resources both technical and financial, building and strengthening local capacity and ensuring the accountability and effectivity of local authority. Achieving the MDGs is possible using this approach; but will take long-term commitment by the national government, support from the international governing bodies, and also a commitment on the part of the local entities to take on a large part the responsibility. 

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