We must not set our sights too low for financing the SDGs

The recent draft of the outcome document for the Addis Ababa Financing for Development Conference said that, by 2025, public spending must reach US$300 per person or 10% of national income to provide an essential basket of public services, ranging from all that is necessary to eradicate poverty and hunger, to access affordable energy and achieve the health and education targets. When compared to the estimates the GMR team made this month for achieving the education targets, this figure is worryingly low, and underestimates the resources needed to reach our ambitions by 2030.

Pupils in an empty classroom at the Lodwar Mixed Primary school in Lodwar , Turkana, Kenya, 26 June 2013 where all Kenyan government teachers were on indefinite strike to demand better pay. Credit: Picture/Karel Prinsloo/ ARETE
Pupils in an empty classroom at the Lodwar Mixed Primary school in Lodwar , Turkana, Kenya, 26 June 2013 where all Kenyan government teachers were on indefinite strike to demand better pay.
Credit: Picture/Karel Prinsloo/ ARETE

The UN Millennium Project in 2003 estimated that a minimum of US120-140 per person was needed to achieve the MDGs related to social sectors. This was in 2003 prices, and works out around the same amount as the newly configured US$300 per person for achieving sustainable development for all. But, surely a more ambitious agenda such as is outlined in the SDGs calls for more resources?

From education’s perspective, we want all children to have access to at least one year of pre-school and several years of secondary education, and that costs money. We need a greater emphasis on quality and learning than has been the case since 2000. We also need to address equity concerns, so that the marginalized gain access to education, and this requires additional resources. Our own estimates are that implementing equitable education interventions, for instance, increase per-student costs by 30%. In short the amount per person for education should be far more than was estimated as needed in 2003.

There currently exists no finance target in the sustainable development agenda, which is of concern if we are hoping to hold donors and governments to account post-2015. It is therefore commendable for the Committee to begin the conversation about what figure governments should commit to.

Number of students and expenditure per student by level, 2012 and 2013 (projection)

Expenditure per student, weighted average, US$ per year (2012 constant prices)

But is this figure enough? The recent work done by the GMR estimates that to reach universal pre-primary, primary and lower secondary by 2030, US$353 is needed per student for pre-primary education, US$199 for primary education and US$291 is needed per pupil for lower secondary education in low income countries. These costs take into account the investments needed to adequately scale up inputs to improve the quality of education.

Just the education targets, therefore, would take up far more than is being suggested is needed to meet the entire spectrum of SDGs. Indeed, the US$300 being proposed by the Committee is for the entire population. The GMR education costs, of course, relate just to children and adolescents.

We should also put this in the context of the ball-park figures that have been put forward as necessary to fund the entire SDG agenda: between US$1,599 and 2,873 billion annually. Even a crude look at this figure shows that this may not result in enough funds per person. Divided by the population in 2013, there would be US$224-US$403 per person. However, with population levels due to grow, and especially in the regions furthest behind, it is clear more funds will be needed to stop inequalities growing.

Finance gaps remain stark in some countries

While the background work into the US$300 floor does stress that this is not the sum of individual sector commitments that were made globally for different sectors over the MDG decade (i.e. education sector commitments in Dakar or the health sector commitments made in Maputo), the comparison with their conclusion and our recent costings reflect a real disconnect.

Already in 2012, the levels of investment per school child were much lower than what the GMR estimates is needed for children to complete a year of good-quality primary education. It is a serious concern, therefore, that this proposed US$300 floor might be cemented at the conference in July. This risks letting governments and donors off the hook for what they should be committing for education, and sustainable development needs, post-2015. Without another finance target in the sustainable development goals, the US$300 or 10% of GNI will take its place. Even though they specify it is ‘at least’ US$300 or 10% of GNI (whichever is higher), we should be aiming high rather than low from the outset.



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