by Terence Jeyaretnam
“When a child dies from a preventable disease, it shocks all of our consciences. When a girl is deprived of an education or her mother is denied equal rights, it undermines the prosperity of their nation. When a young entrepreneur can’t start a new business, it stymies the creation of new jobs and markets in that entrepreneur’s country, but also in our own. When millions of fathers cannot provide for their families, it feeds the despair that can fuel instability and violent extremism. When a disease goes unchecked, it can endanger the health of millions around the world.”
- Barack Obama
It is the Engineers Australia year of the humanitarian engineer, and so when I was asked by the Senior Engineers Group Victoria to deliver a presentation on sustainability, I took the humanitarian perspective and couched the presentation around the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.
The ensuing research in preparation for my presentation, painted a rather grim picture on progress. For example, on MDG 1: Eradicate Poverty, hunger still remains the world’s most significant health risk, and one in every seven people still go to bed hungry. Furthermore, according to the UN, climate change is a hunger risk multiplier, threatening to undermine hard-won gains in eradicating hunger and poverty. Current projections indicate that unless considerable efforts are made to improve vulnerable people’s resilience, 20 percent more people will be at risk of hunger by 2050 due to the changing climate.
And, the story is alarmingly similar across the remaining MDGs, from gender equality to maternal health and child mortality with either all stagnating or going backwards against 2015 targets. However, developments in medical fronts such as antiretroviral therapy in managing HIV/AIDS, innovation in technology such as mobile use in delivering health solutions, internet based educational programs such as that delivered by Khan Academy, micro-lending and financing, fair trade and targeted project-based aid programs such as those led by Engineers Without Boarders are grass-roots solutions stemming from all parts of the world that are contributing to tackling these mammoth humanitarian goals. These solutions gave me and the audience something to smile about. So, as was the theme of the recent Australian Business for Millennium Development conference, creating shared value by business, governments, the third sector and individuals, is perhaps an approach for all to help eradicate some of these humanitarian burdens of our times.
Terence Jeyaretnam is a Director of Net Balance (firstname.lastname@example.org),
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Terence is based in Melbourne.