refugee aid Louisa Gouliamaki | Stringer via Getty Images

Unsustainable Development Goals?

In a challenging global economic and geopolitical environment, achieving the just-launched Sustainable Development Goals will be possible only if the world makes the most of every multilateral development dollar. And a growing body of evidence indicates that that may mean giving those dollars directly to those who need them.

OXFORD – From 2000 to 2015, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focused minds and budgets on global poverty, significantly boosting people’s prospects in some of the world’s poorest countries. The new set of global targets, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aim to build on that progress, not only in eradicating poverty, but also in addressing a number of other challenges, such as broadening access to education and protecting the environment. But, this time, there are significant headwinds.

Recent geopolitical developments, such as the Middle East’s refugee crisis, are complicating government budgets and agendas. And commodity prices and emerging-economy investments, factors that bolstered progress toward achieving the MDGs, are now slumping. Without bold innovation, the new development agenda will be far from sustainable.

As it stands, aid budgets from major donors are being surreptitiously redeployed. In most major donor countries, aid is being redirected to stem the flow of refugees from the Middle East, especially Syria. The refugee crisis has also changed domestic priorities. In Sweden, some 30% of the aid budget is now being used to look after arriving refugees; in Switzerland, the comparable figure is 20%.

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