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MDGs: The Philippines and the Factors that Affect Development

The Philippines has made important advances in achieving some of the MDGs, but figures reveal that there is a widespread income and growth inequality...

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the United Nations’  (UN) established and specified targets to reduce extreme poverty (and its numerous facets) in the world. These time-bound targets, adopted in year 2000 by the UN member states,  also focus on promoting gender equality, education, social inclusion and environmental sustainability in the pursuit for development. About sixty economic and social indicators were provided to monitor and guide nations in the development process.

Fifteen years after its implementation, notable advances have been made. It has been reported that:
  •         the number of people in extreme poverty dropped by about 130 million,
  •          the average overall income rose by approximately 21%,
  •          child mortality rates declined from 103 deaths per 1000 live births a year to 88,
  •          life expectancy augmented from 63 years to almost 65 years,
  •          an added 8% of the developing world’s people received access to water,
  •         and another 15% attained access to improved sanitation facilities [1].
However, progress has not been homogenous.  Wide disparities are still present across and within countries.  Poverty, for example,  is notable in the rural areas, while poverty in the urban areas is pervasive and continually growing. The emergency lies in the Sub-Saharan Africa, considered the poorest region in the world.  Food insecurities, high child and maternal mortality rates, rise of extreme poverty have made it unfeasible to attain most of the MDGs in this region.

Situation in the Philippines:

Unlike the Sub-Saharan African countries, thePhilippines has made important advances in  achieving some of the MDGs. According to the 5th Philippines’ Progress Report published on August 21, 2014  [2]:
  •   Poverty rate dropped from 34.4% in 1991 to 25.2% in 2012.        
  • The Net Enrollment Ratio (NER) of the school age population rose from 85.1% in 1992 to 95.2% in 2012.     
  • Infant mortality deaths decreased from 57 per 1000 live births in 1990 to 22 in 2011.       Access to sanitary toilets increased, reaching 91.6 % of the population.
Yet, the progress report showed that:
  •  Maternal mortality rates rose from 209 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 221 deaths in 2011. The MDGs target is 52.
  • HIV/AIDS cases increased from 66 in 1990 to 4,814 in 2013.

The report also revealed the divergence between the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employment rate. While GDP incremented from 6.8% to 7.2% in the period 2012-2013, employment rate declined in the same period from 1.1% -0.8%. 

At this point, I would like to add two indicators that can best represent  the situation in the Philippines:  the Gini Coefficient and the Human Development Index (HDI).     The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion that is commonly used to determine inequality:  a high coefficient means high inequality.  The HDI, on the other hand, is a tool employed to rank countries based on key dimensions of human development: life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling, expected years of schooling, Gross National Income per capita.

According to the latest figures from the World Bank, the Philippines has a Gini coefficient of 43.0,  compared to that of Thailand 40.0, Japan 38.1, South Korea 31.3 [3] . The HDI level of the Philippines is “Medium ”, compared to the “Very High”  level  of Singapore, Hongkong, South Korea and Japan.  [4]

The abovementioned figures show that the Philippines is far from being a developed country.  Although remarkable improvements were realized in the last fifteen years, the poverty ratio among the population remained high, compared to that of its neighboring countries PRC, Thailand and Indonesia, where the poverty incidence is 8.5%, and who had more or less experienced the same figures in the 1980s [5]

The figures also reveal that there is a widespread income and growth inequality in the country. This, together with high poverty rate, are societal problems that impact the quality of education attained and,  consequently, employment opportunities, health,  life expectancy,  and the overall capacity of an individual to realize its full potential. 
But why is the Philippines, considered as one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, still lagging behind its neighboring countries?  What are the factors that affect development?  And, in general, what are the reasons why some countries are rich and others remain poor? 

The Unequal World: Factors that Affect Development [6]

Geographical Factors – aspects of geography such as climate and location play an important role in achieving economic development. It is well-known that rich countries like the United States and the European countries have temperate climates, vast areas of fertile land and a good amount of rainfall. The poorest countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, are severely hindered because most of them are landlocked, with arid lands, scarce water, extreme temperatures, and where diseases prosper. Being on the typhoon belt, for example, makes the Philippines prone to storms and natural disasters, which impact agriculture, businesses and the entire economy of the country. 

Political Factors – incompetent local and national governance and political instability  can affect development. It’s the governments’ responsibility to implement sound economic policies, to invest on health, education, rural and urban infrastructures to boost growth at all levels of the country. If political leaders are inept, development will be hampered. Political stability is also needed in order to grow.  Ethnic tensions and strife could undermine the country,  discourage investments and economic growth. 

Cultural Factors –How men and women conceive their role in the society, how people value space and time, education, professional or business success, how a businessman consider profit, how he/she relates to clients and global partners, his/her  capacity to communicate verbally and non-verbally: beliefs, traditions, values and attitudes inherent to peoples’ culture are important factors that have hidden effects to development. 

Poverty Trap: Barrier to Global Development

Like what Dr. IV. C. Ongkiko and Dr. A.G. Flor noted in the book Introduction to Development Communication (2003), poverty is a complex problem that produces other problems, interconnected with one another.  A family with very limited resources (and whose scanty income is barely sufficient for survival)  is incapable to properly feed their children, to live in an appropriate house, to provide their children with adequate education and other important necessities. When children fail to have the knowledge and skills needed to become productive and  active agents of the society, as adults they will never have the opportunity to find well-paying jobs, to climb up the social ladder in order to escape poverty. 

In a macro-level, I think that it’s the poverty trap the greatest barrier to global development.  Poor countries find it difficult to emerge because of a combination of interrelated problems such as poor local and national governance, corruption, high population growth rate, inflation, unemployment, inadequate rural and urban infrastructures. They lack the financial resources to invest heavily on the human capital factor, technologies and infrastructures  to boost the economy and to surmount the development problematique. For this reason, societal problems persist, growing uncontrollably, from generation to generation.  


Fifteen years after the MDGs were adopted, it’s still a long road to development. Although progress was made to reduce poverty in the world, more than 800 million people in the global level are still living in extreme poverty [7]. The MDGs as a whole was an ambitious project that produced meager results. 

However, I don’t think that the UN member states and the international organizations, committed to help achieve the goals, were expecting a uniform and consistent progress across the world and across the goals.

In my opinion, homogenous global development is unlikely attainable because of a combination of interrelated factors that affect development. Thus, there will always be countries lagging behind others, and there will always be the rich and the poor: an unequal world.  

Although lots of criticisms were made in relation to the efficacy of the goals, I believe that the MDGs were able to mobilize political leaders to place the societal problem “poverty and hunger” on top of their priorities. 

Moreover, with the adoption of the MDGs, the term “development” has assumed a new dimension or perspective. It’s now “sustainable development”, which means not only economic growth, but, most of all, social inclusion and environmental protection. The MDGs were able to underline that human development together with environmental sustainability should be the utmost criteria for evaluating the development of a country, and not just economic growth: this global awareness  per se is already a great achievement. 

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