By Joe Colas
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (HCNN) -- The new coordinator of the National Observatory of Poverty and Social Exclusion, Shirley Augustin, said this weekend significant progress has been made in Haiti towards the achievement of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but she warned, huge challenges and obstacles must be overcome to enable the country to fully achieve these goals.
In 2000, heads of state and government of UN member countries had resolved to improve the living conditions of the most vulnerable and allow people from different corners of the world to meet a number of basic needs.
It was to reduce poverty and hunger, ensuring universal scholarship for children and food security, provide access to water and sanitation, promote gender equity, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat diseases including HIV AIDS, protect the environment and to initiate a global partnership for development.
The Observatory, known as ONPES, organized a workshop last Thursday to report on the progress of the efforts by Haiti's leaders and institutions towards achieving the MDGs, within fewer than 1,000 days to the deadline scheduled for 2015 .
Tangible progress made in the areas of education, gender equality, the fight against HIV AIDS, allowed Haiti to get closer to the Millennium Development Goals.
National Observatory of Poverty and Social Exclusion coordinator, Shirley Augustin
"According to figures provided by the Ministry of National Education, the percentage of children going to school in Haiti today is around 88% against 49.6% in 2005, but the goal is to enable all children to go to school in Haiti by 2015, "said Augustin in an interview over the weekend.
"With regard to gender, we can see the percentage of women being part of the government and recruited at other levels in the public administration, as well as the percentage of girls with access to education, which now exceeds that of boys, "said Augustin.
The coordinator of ONPES also highlighted progress made in the fight against HIV-prevalence went from 5.5% in 2000 to 2.2% in 2012.
The country's observatory considers the three objectives mentioned above to be already a sure bet. However, the country still has to face very tough challenges in several other areas that are part of the MDGs.
ONPES calls for more action to improve the performance of countries in terms of infant mortality, maternal health, sanitation, environment and the fight against poverty, among others.
"We need the government, international partners and other stakeholders to put their best efforts together. Otherwise, we will miss the boat," said Augustin.
"Appropriate policies and action plans should be implemented to progress towards the 5 other MDGs and everyone should be actively involved, since time is running out," warned Augustin, underlining, however, encouraging signs in the fight against poverty.
"In this area, the challenges remain enormous." However, she said, the appointment of a minister in charge of the fight against extreme poverty and human rights, and the establishment of a National Social Assistance Program, commonly called "EDE PEP" are encouraging signs that indicate the willingness of leaders to improve the situation of vulnerable groups, visibly affected by extreme poverty and social exclusion.
During the workshop on Thursday, the assistant coordinator of ONPES, Pierre Jores Mérat, who presented the preliminary report on efforts towards achieving the MDGs, said that the real impact of some of the programs set up by the government is not yet measurable, since it takes a reasonable time of observance, after the launch of certain projects and social programs, for their results to be perceptible.
However, he said, ONPES will soon launch a study to assess the impact of these social programs that the government agreed significant sums.
Representatives of various ministries, other public institutions and civil society groups and representatives of the international community took part in the meeting which gave rise to lively and relevant discussions.
A representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Daniela Gregr, gave a presentation on the period after 2015, in terms of follow-up likely to make gains, made during the MDG campaign, sustainable.
Gregr spoke about an ongoing survey, "My World", launched by the United Nations, in which Haiti so far comes on top in the Caribbean, in terms of the number of participants who completed the forms and responded to questions about what they see as main priorities for themselves and their country.