News and Features

Sustainable Development Goals: The Road to 2030 under the Neoliberal Economic Policy

by Myra Vieta G. Mabilin, published in UPDATE (Urban Poor Data and Analysis) Vol. 2. No. 1

A new development agenda to replace the failed Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) promises a world free of poverty, hunger, disease, and want by 2030. Leaders of member states of the United Nations gathered for the UN Summit last September 2015 to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda, a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets.

The new agenda pledges that nobody will be left behind. Could this be the end in sight for the suffering inflicted on the workers, farmers, and the world’s poor?

Quezon City, Philippines: Urban poor assaulted, defies demolition of their homes. (Photo: Revolutionary Frontlines)

Quezon City, Philippines: Urban poor assaulted, defies demolition of their homes. (Photo: Revolutionary Frontlines)

Millenium, sustainable development goals and the urban poor

The urban poor in the Philippines are confronted with problems of depressed wages, falling income, massive unemployment and underemployment, and price hikes. Consequently, poor workers and the unemployed are pushed to live in slum areas in the cities. According to UN-Habitat, Asia has 60% of the world’s total slum population and many more live in slum-like conditions in areas that are officially designated as non-slums.

The existing condition of unequal distribution and inaccessibility of land in rural areas aggravate massive rural to urban migration through policies including land use conversion, land grabbing, and contracts for foreign monopolies.

In the context of accelerated globalization, urban poverty has worsened as decades of adherence to neoliberal policies continue. Even the so-called developing countries in the region are unable to create sufficient jobs and social services for their rapidly growing population. This is the end for the MDGs – a set of broken promises.

Now, the final draft of the outcome document for the UN Summit is seemingly comprehensive in form. However, the SDG, like its predecessor, is not only without flaws but fails to target the root causes of perennial urban and rural poverty.

Now, the final draft of the outcome document for the UN Summit is seemingly comprehensive in form. However, the SDG, like its predecessor, is not only without flaws but fails to target the root causes of perennial urban and rural poverty.

UPRCP joins the AP-RCEM CSO Forum on Sustainable Development on May 2015 in Bangkok. The article above was presented during the Forum through several interventions and short presentations. (Photo: UPRCP)

UPRCP joins the AP-RCEM CSO Forum on Sustainable Development on May 2015 in Bangkok. The article above was presented during the Forum through several interventions and short presentations. (Photo: UPRCP)

This position of the UPRCP resonates with the Asia Pacific Regional Coordinating Engagement Mechanism’s (AP-RCEM) Political Declaration that recognizes globalisation and the neoliberal development agenda as the cause of deep and entrenched inequalities of wealth, power and resources between countries; between rich and poor; and between men and women and other social groups. The majority of the world’s population is still held hostage by systemic injustices and the long-standing problems of poverty, landlessness, unemployment, precarious employment conditions, environmental degradation, indebtedness, discrimination, and violence.

These UN processes in which the UPRCP engages in through the AP-RCEM platform have allowed the organization to give voice to the sector in such inter-governmental discourses. These have also led us to translate the technical UN language to one that is comprehensible for the grassroots.

For the urban poor, “sustainable” means available for all and lasting. Sustainability is addressing the root causes of poverty. In agricultural and pre-industrial countries like the Philippines, the root causes of poverty can be attributed to: 1. the existing condition of a failed land reform that leads to unequal distribution and inaccessibility of land and underperformance of the different sectors in rural areas and 2: the backward and underdeveloped Filipino industry. Notably, the country relies on handicraft production, service economy, and informal economy as its own industries. These cannot sustain a viable and people-oriented national economy. On the onset however, big private corporations, mostly foreign-backed, seemingly soar high in key urban cities.

Road to perdition

The neoliberal economic policy imposed upon less developed countries has been exposed as unsustainable as early as the Asian financial crisis in 1997.Yet these so-called emerging markets that adhere to this Western-imposed economic policy continue to suffer from rising prices of imports, falling export prices, and ever-expanding debt burden.

For as long as neoliberalism remains the dominant system in the world’s economic system, there will be no sustainable development that will benefit the world’s poor and resolve hunger and poverty.

Given free rein on the market and the limited role of states in monetary policies, accumulation of profits and private capital by the few monopoly capitalists has never been warrrantless. Workers wages are depressed and social spending constrained.

For as long as neoliberalism remains the dominant system in the world’s economic system, there will be no sustainable development that will benefit the world’s poor and resolve hunger and poverty.

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