The SDGs: destined to fail?

At the beginning of June, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) “zero” draft was published after a large working group settled on 17 new goals, 169 targets and about 300 indicators related to poverty, health and development (   But with the first of the 17 goals being to “end poverty in all of its forms everywhere,” many think that the SDGs may be a bit too ambitious to accomplish by 2030.  The 17 goals are much broader and more universal in comparison to the previous eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that the UN developed in 2000.  The new goals focus more on gender equality, sustainability, and well being for all and encompass greater ideals rather than solely disease specific targets (  Although these are all goals that I deeply believe in, I am worried about how they may affect the next decade of global health funding and if in reality the end result will be something truly sustainable.

After having projects and funding centered around the MDGs for the past decade, I think this new set of wide-ranging goals may cause problems in terms of how they are supported and funded.  As a result of projects being centered around the MDGs since 2000, the rates of maternal mortality, child mortality and the spreading of HIV/AIDS have all decreased.  Arguably, the success in bringing down those mortality rates can be attributed to the fact that there were specific goals centered around these issues (  Looking at the first SDG, the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing estimates it will take at least 66 billion dollars a year to eradicate extreme poverty – something that needs to be discussed when being realistic.  This goal is something so expansive that it may become harder to motivate funding around specific projects that will tackle the targets needed to reach the SDG.  With so many goals that are this large I wonder if there can still be collective efforts made towards each of the 17 goals.

In July, there will be a conference held in Ethiopia with the main goal being how to finance the SDGs.  Until then, I wonder if there will be enough momentum around the more specific targets (instead of the larger goals) to get the same kind of funding that the MDGs were at least semi-successful in receiving.  In my opinion, it will be hard to pour money into the goal to “ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages” unless there is focus on the smaller targets or a shift in focus to health systems strengthening.  For these goals to provide momentum and stimulate change I think there needs to be a balance – between both the small, reachable targets and the idealistic end goals, which by themselves I don’t think will motivate enough progress to accomplish change.

Additionally, I question past practices of international development in making these goals sustainable for each country.  In early June at a conference led by the head of the Department of Health Economics in Pakistan, they discussed the new goals in relation to their country and reflected on the MDGs, which made little impact and widely failed in Pakistan over the past 15 years ( When discussing the new SDGs, Dr. Haque raised the importance of local community solutions rather than reliance on foreign aid to address these issues.  At this conference they brought up the importance of community collaboration and innovation, much of which is mentioned in the discussion of SDG funding, but doesn’t always align with the end result or how aid and funding are actually implemented.  I think that it is only with more local ideas and collaboration that there will be improvement from the previous problems and failures of aid in relation to the MDGS.  And just as Pakistan is creating their own agenda and relying on community solutions that they can create and implement themselves, the structure of the new SDGs may actually allow more country ownership to arise as a result.

So as the new goals differ greatly in purpose and functionality from the MDGs, they have both the potential to be a “springboard for change” or  slow down previous development progress ( As the final goals are established in the coming months, it will be more important than ever to reassess how we go about trying to accomplish them and to critically look at the practices of international development and community work. We get a second chance with this new set of development goals and need to try to work towards making the Sustainable Development Goals truly sustainable around the world.


Ford, L. (2015, June 4). First Draft of Sustainable Development Goals Exposes Gaps, Warn      NGOs. The Guardian.

Ford, L. (2015, January 19).  Sustainable Development Goals: All You Need to Know. The Guardian.

Norton, A. & Stuart, E. (2014, November 24). SDGs: Why 17 goals and 169 targets may not be a bad thing. The Guardian.

(2015, June 12) Opportunity Cost: Experts Call for Prioritizing Sustainable Development Goals. The Express Tribune.

(2015, June 24). New U.N. Goals Lack Focus, Global Health Experts Warn. Today Online.

-Hannah Collins, Development Intern

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