Living in a part of world marked by protest demonstrations throughout the week, an Op-Ed contributor is tempted to write on the ‘hottest’ issues of the week. The issues that are expected to attract more ‘clicks’ on your article and resultantly a growing number of ‘comments’ (gradually reduced to just hate speech), underneath your piece.

While the TV talk shows are stuck in endless debates about whether Geo should have aired that picture for eight hours, whether it has committed blasphemy, or treason, the people – those good old civilians – continue to suffer with gradually declining human development indicators and an ever increasing cost of living.

Last week, Ms. Marriyum Aurangzeb, a young, hardworking and promising MNA from PML-N drew my attention to a less spoken-of issue: Pakistan’s progress in achieving Millennium Development Goals. Before her, it was Planning Minister Mr. Ahsan Iqbal who made the statistics public through the Pakistan MDGs Report 2013, a couple of months ago.

Looking at poor progress in almost each one of the eight goals, eyebrows should have been raised a long time ago. From eradication of extreme poverty and hunger to universal primary education, gender equality and women’s empowerment, reducing child mortality, improvement in maternal health, combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, including the Polio monster and ensuring environmental sustainability, things look dismal in terms of improvement in any of the indicators.

Of the thirty-four indicators under all the eight MDGs, Pakistan is on the red line on twenty-four indicators on the “off-track” status. On seven indicators, we have secured the yellow card with ‘on-track’ status while in just three of them, we have got a green card with the prestigious ‘achieved’ status.

The good news is, three indicators we could achieve are an improved percentage of women in the parliament. We were at 22% in early 2013 but fell down to 20% after the General Elections of May 2013. The percentage of children who suffer from diarrhoea had to be less than 10% according to the targets agreed for the MDGs. We are thankfully on 8% with regards to this target. As per the targets of MDGs, more than 85% TB cases had to be detected and cured. Pakistan is at 91% with as much percentage of TB patients cured.

The disturbing news is, despite chasing the target we could not achieve a few of them and are still a few steps behind. The target for poverty eradication was to bring the proportion of population under the poverty line (based on calorie intake as well as non-food calculations) to 13. It is still 12.4 in Pakistan. The maternal mortality ratio had to be brought to 140, which is 276 in Pakistan. The baseline for HIV prevalence among pregnant women should have been reduced by 50%; it is on 0.041. We had to protect at least 12% land area for conservation of wildlife. We are on 11.6%. Similarly, we are fractions behind the achievement of targets for energy efficiency, reducing sulfur content in high-speed diesel and improving people’s access to water resources.

The worst news is, we are lagging seriously behind in critical issues of improving literacy and enrolment rates, primary and secondary education, youth literacy, share of women in wage employment, reducing child mortality rate, reducing maternal mortality ratios, full immunization of children, bringing down the fertility rate, stopping environmental degradation, improving people’s access to sanitation and regularization of katchi abadis (irregular settlements).

Just look at the list and recall what has been happening in health and education ministries and on katchi abadis, and you would know how our successive governments have been addressing these issues. Lack of vision for structural economic reforms, little political will and poorly executed social sector inter alia has brought the situation to this level.

While a bottom up approach is considered more participatory and inclusive, perhaps in case of MDGs implantation, a top down discourse would have produced better results, said MDGs expert Mr. Shakeel Ahmad who is currently working at UNDP as Policy Advisor. This would mean that the parliamentarians should be making the needed legislation to ensure that appropriate resources were allocated to MDGs and their monitoring properly done, he said. One of the main disablers for Pakistan’s progress on MDGs is the weakness of its overall public policy, said Mr. Amir Goraya, head of Democratic Governance at UNDP. The proactive and effective engagement of elected representatives should have provided the necessary push for pro-MDG policy formulation and implementation, he said.

The active oversight of the utilization of resources is as important as their allocation. This is one of the functions that the parliamentarians and elected representatives from provincial assemblies should have been doing with as much interest as is shown in appearing on TV talk shows. The media too could have been vigilant about the progress on all these fronts, as much as they have been pulling politicians’ (and now each other’s) legs.

It was a pleasant surprise to see an unprecedented interest amongst the members of national and provincial assemblies to play proactive roles in achieving MDGs and putting their heads together for sustainable development goals to be in place after 2015. The newly formed National and Provincial Task Forces on MDGs are going to sit for three full days and are going to chalk out their plan of action till 2015. If pursued with consistence and commitment, these task forces can help the government bring us on track by 2015.

There are still certain apprehensions that civil society has about the government’s will for taking difficult and bold measures for structural reforms rather than cosmetic projects for face lifting of the governments rather than addressing real issues. Hopefully the representatives of the people would also talk about these issues during the three day National Conference on MDGs in the upcoming week, from June 2 to 4th. Full marks for organizing such an event.

At the moment, one feels pity for the state, not for the nation. With apologies from Khalil Jibran, pity the state that has no ability to stand up against the influential ‘brotherly states’ that endanger our endangered species. Pity the state that undertakes development for the privileged with zero consideration for the poor. Pity the state that laments the downfall of a national airline that carries upper middle class to indigenous and exotic destinations, while showing little concern for the down-trodden in far flung villages where kids have to walk dozens of kilometers to reach schools. Pity the state where despite bad environmental health, mega projects like the Metro Bus Service are undertaken with no environmental assessment. Pity the state where a majority of poor mothers either die during pregnancy and delivery, or produce still borns, but those in charge of public policy routinely spend millions from the public exchequer for their own medical treatment abroad. Pity the state where children die because of polio yet it can’t immunize children in most parts of the country for having no writ there.

The writer is an Islamabad based defender of human rights and works on democratic governance.

Email:marvi@marvisirmed.com

Tweets at:@marvisirmed