UN Says MDGs can Benefit from Legislative Push

Countries' campaigns to meet the Millennium Development Goals can use an extra push from their respective parliaments, said Salil Shetty, global director of the United Nations

to end poverty by 2015.

The U.N. is encouraging the formation of parliamentary committees, whether formal or informal in nature, similar to what has been done in Italy, Nigeria, India, Malawi and Uganda, among others.

Inspired by examples abroad, legislators in India formed a parliamentary committee in October 2008 to ensure the country meets its commitment to the Millennium Declaration

"More are coming up soon," Shetty said during a forum in Manila on Jan. 20.

Legislative involvement is also crucial to achieving the MDGs because the institution not only creates laws but also exercises a crucial oversight function on the executive branch, Shetty said.

"As lawmakers and policymakers, they play a central role inside and outside the parliament because they're leaders of their constituency in the society so they have massive influence in the media," he said. "When they start speaking out about these issues it makes a very significant difference."

Philippine Sen. Pia Cayetano, whose office organized the forum, called for a "strong national budget" supporting the MDGs. She likewise reaffirmed the commitment of the Committee of Women Parliamentarians of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, of which she is president, to meeting the goals set in 2000 by 189 U.N. member countries.

The Philippines will likely not meet two of the eight goals, improving maternal health and achieving universal primary education. The rest of the goals are eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development.

UNICEF recently sounded the alarm on extreme risks for pregnant women and newborn babies in developing countries. In its flagship report, State of the World's Children, released this month, it said that pregnancy is 300 times deadlier in least developed countries than in developed countries. In addition, a child born in a developing nation is almost 14 times more likely to die during the first month of life than a baby born in a developed one.

A woman in the developing world has a 1-in-76 lifetime risk of maternal death against the 1-in-8,000 rate of industrialized countries. Lifetime risk of maternal death is highest in Niger, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Chad, Angola, Liberia, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau and Mali.

In the Philippines, that risk is 1 in 140, according to UNICEF. About 11 mothers die every day while giving birth, amounting to some 4,500 yearly due to hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, sepsis and problems related to obstructed labor and abortion.

"A huge effort is needed to improve public reproductive and maternal health services and educate mothers," Vanessa Tobin, UNICEF representative to the Philippines, said in a statement.

Cayetano managed to insert an amendment to the proposed P1.415 trillion ($30.935 billion) Philippine budget for 2009 at the last minute to fund a rural midwives placement program, which is meant to help improve public health services on prenatal care and maternal delivery with P31 million.

"This is very small but we were given a small budget to work with. What we really want to see happen is for the national government to adopt a program of providing more midwives so that every birth will be attended by a skilled midwife," she said.

The senator hopes President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will not veto the amendment when she signs the national budget into law. If it is approved, Cayetano said the funds should be disbursed immediately.

About the author

  • Josefa Cagoco

    Sef Cagoco served as one of Devex's international development correspondent from mid-2008 to mid-2009. Her writing focused on social entrepreneurship and multilateral agencies such as the U.N. and Asian Development Bank. She previously worked as senior reporter for the national daily BusinessWorld and a production journalist for the Financial Times.