Achieving the MDGs: Progress and Challenges

Emily Joy Sikazwe (Executive Director)
Women For Change

This report tracks the extent to which Zambia is making progress towards achieving the MDGs focuses on Goals 1 to 7 and assesses Zambia’s national development plans, the main tools for achieving economic and human development, particularly the Fifth National Development Plan (FNDP). It also analyses problems in the way the MDGs are formulated, arguing that unless these are taken care of, the human development conditions of countries such as Zambia will remain poor for a long time. Finally, it makes proposals for post 2015 reform.

At the launch of the MDGs in 2000, Zambia’s human development indicators were weak, owing to the steady deterioration of the economic and social conditions since the mid-1970s, when prices of its main produce copper fell on the world market. From the late 1980s and 1990s Zambia implemented the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund inspired Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), under which significant cuts to public expenditure were applied, considerably weakening delivery of social services in the health, education and other sectors. This period is also when the HIV and AIDS pandemic hit Zambia the hardest.

After the deterioration in the 1990s, there has been a slight improvement in Zambia’s human development ranking: from 0.35 in 2000 to 0.395 in 2010, putting it at 150 out of 169 countries. Despite progress, human development is still low, and some of the goals will not be met. For the period 2006-2009 Zambia’s economy grew at an average of 6.1% per annum. Yet these gains have not been felt by the most vulnerable sections of society.

MDG 1: Eradicating Extreme Poverty and Hunger

Extreme poverty has been on the decline, falling from 58% in 1991 to 51% in 2006. Extreme poverty in rural areas declined from 81% in 1991 to 67 % in 2006 while in urban areas it declined from 32 % in 1991 to 20% in 2006. However, the pace of change has been too slow to enable Zambia meet the target of 29% by 2015. The prevalence of children under the age of five who are underweight fell from 25.1% in 1992 to 14.6% in 2007, although stunting in children remains an area of major concern. To reach the target of 12.5% of underweight children under five, efforts will have to be greatly intensified.

MDG 2: Achieving Universal Primary Education

Net enrolment at primary education level increased from 80% in 1990 to 102% in 2009. The rate of pupils completing primary education rose from 64% in 1990 to 91.7% in 2009. However, major challenges remain with adult literacy, which fell from 79% in 1990 to 70% in 2004. Other challenges are the low completion rates at secondary school level despite the increase from 14.4% in 2002 to 19.4% in 2009. Tertiary education remains inaccessible to most and is poorly funded. At 1 to 57, the primary-teacher–pupil ratio is above the recommended standard.

MDG 3: Promoting Gender Equality and the Empowerment of women

The ratio of girls to boys in primary education improved from 0.90 in 1990 to 0.96 in 2009. The 2015 target will be met. However challenges abound with secondary, tertiary education and literacy rates. In secondary schools the ratio of girls to boys decreased from 0.92 in 1990 to 0.88 in 2009. The ratio of girls to boys in tertiary education stood at 0.74 and for the ratio of literate women to men between the ages of 15-24 years old stood at 0.8.

Affirmative action, early marriages, teenage pregnancies and social and cultural attitudes and practices that undermine girls and women’s participation in public life all face huge challenges. For example, before the September 2011 elections, women’s representation in Parliament stood at 14%, but thereafter declined to 11%. In terms of employment in the formal economy, males accounted for 71%, compared to 29 % for females.

MDG 4: Reducing Child Mortality

The number of deaths to under-five children dropped from 190 per 1,000 live births in 1992 to 119 in 2007. But this remains high and considerably far from reaching the 2015 target of 63.6%. Similarly, while infant mortality declined from 107.2 per 1,000 live births in 1992 to 70 in 2007, this is far from the 2015 target of 37.5.

To accelerate progress towards these targets, greater effort will need to be exerted in increasing access to skilled birth attendance, mother’s education, nutrition for mother and child, child immunization and prevention of common childhood diseases.

MDG 5: Improving Maternal Health

Maternal mortality decreased from 649 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1996 to 591 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007, again far from the 2015 target of 162. Investment is needed to increase the number of trained mid-wives at birth, install basic health infrastructure and improve roads and transport systems, especially in rural areas, to ensure pregnant women get to health centres on time.

MDG 6: Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other Diseases

The number of people tested for HIV increased from 234, 430 in 2006 to 1,050,000 in 2008. The prevalence of HIV declined from 16% in 2002 to 14.3 % in 2007. In 2009, HIV incidence was estimated at 1.6 % or 82,000 new infections. The number of people on anti-retroviral treatment (ART) increased from 30,112 in 2005 to 283,863 in 2009.

Prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV is a big challenge. Only 47% of pregnant women deliver their babies at health facilities, which presents immense challenges to ensuring completion of treatment to prevent transmission. More than 75% of the antenatal care facilities currently provide PMTCT services, but the majority of these facilities are mostly along the country’s main rail line and urban centres. Rural areas are inadequately covered.

While the indicators pertaining to HIV and AIDS are nevertheless on course to being met, much more effort is required to meet the indicators on malaria, a major cause of illness and death in both children and adults. The number of new malaria cases declined from 412 in 2006 to 252 in 2008. The tuberculosis notification rate decreased from 419 per 100,000 in 2007 to 408 per 100,000 in 2008.

MDG 7: Ensuring Environmental Sustainability

The proportion of households without access to safe water declined from 51% in 1991 to 40% in 2006. The share of those without sanitation increased from 26% in 1991 to 36.1% in 2006.

Assessing the effectiveness of the National Development Plans

Zambia’s first national development plan was the transitional national plan (1964-1966). Several more followed until 1993 when national development planning was abandoned as the country focused on implementing the SAP and developing the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers which many argued represented an effort by the World Bank and IMF to impose neo-liberal economic policies on poor countries. Beginning in 2006 these resumed, with the Fifth National Development Plan-FNDP (2006- 2010) and the current Sixth National Development Plan-SNDP (2011- 2015).

In terms of performance, the 2009 Annual Progress Report on the Implementation of the FNDP found that in 2006, slightly over half of the targets set were met. This figure dropped to 38.4% in 2008, then recovered slightly to 38.7% in 2009. The number of indicators which sectors have not reported on went up considerably over the same period. The report concluded that this may be a sign that the sectors are opting not to report, rather than confirm targets have been missed.

A mid-term evaluation of the FNDP was undertaken by the Civil Society for Poverty Reduction (CSPR) in 2008. The evaluation assessed a number of pro-poor programmes including agriculture, education and health. Some of the conclusions include:

  • The agriculture sector had not performed well enough to ensure food security, income generation, creation of employment opportunities and reduction in poverty levels. Performance in the education sector has shown steady improvement: for instance, the number of teachers being recruited has increased, although an acute shortage of teachers remains in rural and remote area schools.
  • In contrast to primary education, high school education faces greater challenges. The quality of high school education has not benefited from the same level of investment as basic education, resulting in deterioration in the quality of education in high schools.”
  • The health sector also faces important challenges. Human resource availability remains far below the recommended levels. In addition the health care system faces a lack of drugs, medical equipment and basic infrastructure. Therefore, the poor, especially those in rural areas, continue to suffer poor access to health care services. The incidence of diseases and mortality rates still remains high.

Gaps in the MDGs

The problem that countries are experiencing with the MDGs is that they are both minimalist and quantitative, failing to assess quality. For example, in the education sector, the good rates of primary school enrolment and completion hide the poor quality of education that many children receive, especially in terms of reading, writing and arithmetic. According to a study by the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality (SACMEQ), Zambian pupils have ranked among the worst in the region in mathematics and reading skills.

Because of the need for measurable targets, the goal of gender equality ignores many of the most critical issues women face, notably gender based violence (GBV) which is increasing in Zambia and negatively affecting human development. Despite the enactment of the Anti-GBV Act in 2011, there was an increase in reported cases. Rural areas are disproportionately affected by the lack of a mechanism to deal with issues of rape and defilement such as the presence of doctors to certify the incidences.

Inequalities are also growing between those benefiting from economic growth and those left out. The Gini coefficient, increased from 0.64 in 2001 and 2004 to 0.67 in 2008. The gains from general economic growth in the country are not helping close the inequality gap.

Similarly, although Zambia is well endowed in natural resources, it struggles with the management of its environment and few people have benefitted from the extractive industries. An example is the mining sector, which has been the major contributor to Zambia’s economy as a major employer, export and earner of foreign exchange. In recent years the industry has experienced new buoyancy. Due to tax incentives and holidays, the mining companies’ contribution to the treasury and overall development of the country is quite low despite historically high international copper prices. There is little transparency and accountability for the resources which government is receiving from the taxes and royalties generated.

The phenomenon of granting large tracts to foreign investors also known as “land grabs” is growing and more and more people are being displaced from their ancestral lands. According to Olivier De Schutter, the Special Rapporteur for the UN on the Right to Food, private investors and governments have shown growing interest in the acquisition or long-term lease of large portions of arable land in countries, mostly in the developing world. An estimate from International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) shows between 15 and 20 million hectares of farmland in developing countries have been subject to transactions or negotiations involving foreign investors since 2006. Zambia is a among the main target countries.

The impact of this on food security and other areas of human development are profound. Post 2015, issues pertaining to extraction must be addressed, or the opportunity for local communities to benefit from the exploitation of their natural resources may be lost forever.

In terms of the contribution of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to the national budget, the trend has been towards reduction. In the 2013 national budget, 76.8% of expenditure will be financed through domestic revenues, 4.6% will be financed from grants from ODA, while the balance of 18.4% will be raised from external and domestic borrowing.

This is positive in many respects as it means the Government must now focus on internal accountability to its citizens. Yet, accountability remains an area of weakness. Year after year the Auditor-General reports many cases of abuse, misuse and misapplication of colossal sums of money in the public service. But very little action is taken against the perpetrators. There is need to put in place measures to guarantee citizen participation such as effective decentralization.


Out of the 22 indicators reported on in the 2011 MDG progress report, only 6 (27%) are on track to being met, 12 (54%) need to be accelerated in order to be met and 4 (18%) will not be met. This suggests that the developments efforts are insufficient to meet the MDGs. Further, the fact that MDG 6 on HIV and AIDS is the only goal likely to be met suggests that global support, such as through the Global Fund on AIDS, Malaria and TB, is critical.

Clearly, post 2015 development goals and targets must be less minimalist and quantitative. Human development also requires looking beyond economic growth to the nature and impact of that growth especially on the poor.


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UNDP Zambia, Millennium Development Goals Progress Report 2011.





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