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Monitoring new UN goals ‘may cost $250bn’

Published Sep 25, 2014


Alister Doyle Oslo

THE WORLD risks having to spend about $250 billion (R2.8 trillion) just to monitor UN development targets for 2030, diverting cash from goals such as ending poverty or protecting the environment, according to a study published yesterday.

The report said governments should sharply cut the draft list of targets for 2030 from a current 169 to avoid overspending on the compilation of statistics.

However, a World Bank official contested the study, calling the cost estimates too high.

World leaders are due to set new sustainable development objectives, such as improving health and ensuring access to energy, when the current UN millennium development goals for reducing hunger and poverty expire in 2015.

The report by Morten Jerven, a development expert at Simon Fraser University in Canada, estimated that each new target would cost $1.5bn if it were tracked via censuses and surveys of households, living standards and health.

That would mean a total $254bn for all 169, or about twice the amount of annual aid donations by developed nations worldwide, he wrote.

Many developing nations, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, need aid to help improve data collection.

“If you are serious about monitoring development… you need to narrow the list” of targets, Jerven said of his study for the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, which seeks to put a price on challenges ranging from fighting malaria to combating climate change.

The study said that data collection costs were high, even with the help of the internet and modern technology.

The US spent $13bn on its latest census in 2010, according to the US Government Accountability Office.

Reliable data were vital to gauge development needs, he said. In April, for instance, Nigeria abruptly overtook South Africa as Africa’s largest economy after a revision of statistics almost doubled its gross domestic product.

Gabriel Demombynes, a senior World Bank official, said Jerven’s estimate of $1.5bn for each target over-estimated future needs, noting that the UN called last year for a “data revolution” to harness new technologies.

And he said the national statistics agencies of many middle-income nations were more advanced than Jerven had estimated.

“The cost to international aid donors of filling remaining survey gaps is manageable – on the order of $300 million a year,” he and a colleague wrote in a commentary for the Copenhagen Consensus Centre.

Suggested UN goals for 2030 include eradicating poverty, with targets to end the worst poverty of below $1.25 a day, and to reduce by at least half the proportion of people living in any form of poverty.

Bjorn Lomborg, the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, said the UN should limit targets or risk diverting money from spending on health or fresh water supplies.

“This is a wake-up call to avoid costly demands on the global system,” he said of Jerven’s estimates. – Reuters

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