Young people in Uganda believe that international donors should prioritise spending on reducing child malnutrition, a series of youth forums held by my think tank show.
This month, heads of state from every country will meet at the United Nations in New York to agree on development targets until 2030. These will directly affect the flow of $2.5 trillion in development spending over the next 15 years, along with countless trillions from national budgets in Uganda and elsewhere.
The targets are designed to replace the 18 highly successful targets of the Millennium Development Goals. However, this time leaders are expected to endorse an impossibly huge agenda of 169 targets, covering everything from gender-based violence and sustainable tourism, to education, malnutrition and climate change.
There are simply too many targets. This means scarce Shilling will be spent across effective and very ineffective targets. The natural political inclination is to promise all good things to everyone. But some development investments generate much higher economic, social and environmental benefits than others, per Shilling spent. We should focus on these.
To establish what would do most good, the Copenhagen Consensus Center commissioned research from 82 of the world’s top economists, along with 44 sector experts from the UN, NGOs and businesses. They established both the cost of the proposed targets and their social, environmental and economic benefits.
The analyses suggest that some of the targets are barely worthwhile, producing only a little more than 1 Shilling in social benefits per Shilling spent, while others produce much, much higher social returns.
An expert panel, including several Nobel Laureates reviewed this research. They identified which targets would do the most good for humanity, and proposed that policy-makers focus on just nineteen targets. Estimates show that doing so would generate more than four times more good for every Shilling spent, compared to the UN’s 169 targets.
This is a crucial input for the United Nations process and will undoubtedly help Uganda make better choices for the next 15 years. But development priorities are too important to leave to politicians, academics and economists, which is why we have held global youth forums asking future decision makers which targets they would prioritise.
At seven youth forums held in Kampala and Masaka organised in partnership with the National Youth Development Association and Christ the King Community Centre, 327 young people stepped into the role of the Nobel Laureate economists in order to provide a uniquely young and Ugandan perspective on development priorities.
The Youth Forum participants concluded that reducing child malnutrition is the most important target. Focusing on reducing child malnutrition is a crucial priority in a country where 34 per cent of children under age five are malnourished. Better nutrition will improve kids’ cognitive ability and eventually make them much more productive. Investing in reducing child malnutrition will yield economic and social benefits worth 45 times the original investment.
Another target that the youth forum participants endorsed was opening world markets for food and textiles. The return from reducing trade restrictions would be more than 2000 times the initial investment. The agriculture industry is the largest employer in Uganda. As one of the world’s largest coffee producers, relaxed trade restrictions would have a significant impact on the Ugandan economy by increasing export capacity.
Finally, the young people considered eliminating open defecation to be an important target. In Uganda, nearly 25 million people lack improved sanitation. This means more than half of Uganda’s population can need to resort to open defecation. Spending development aid on improved sanitation will yield a six-fold return on investment.
In total, Ugandan youths ranked eight development targets as most urgent these included increasing health spending for the world’s billion poorest, reducing corruption and bribery, increasing research to boost crop yields, halving malaria infections, and achieving better access to water for 2.3 billion people.
There is a strong overlap between the targets that the Ugandan youths and the Nobel Laureates want prioritized. Crucially, both point out that world leaders should not attempt an impossible 169 targets, but should focus on the smartest targets first. That is a message I will be taking to the UN meetings in New York, as well as to decision-makers around the world.
Dr Lomborg is the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which works with 100+ leading economists and Nobel Laureate economists to identify the smartest solutions to global challenges. Time Magazine has named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.