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Commonwealth launches The Big Divide

18 December 2012
A new Commonwealth publication that reveals the ‘big divide’ between small states in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been launched.

The Big Divide was presented by its authors John L Roberts and Ibukunoluwa Ibitoye at the Commonwealth Secretariat’s headquarters in London on 17 December 2012.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals to be achieved by the year 2015.

The Commonwealth defines its 32 small states as sovereign states with a population size of 1.5 million people or less. Larger member countries – Botswana, Jamaica, The Gambia, Lesotho, Namibia and Papua New Guinea - are designated as small states because they share many of the characteristics of small states, including physical remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters and environmental change and vulnerability to external economic shocks.

The report found that of 46 Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth Small Island Developing States compared over a ten-year period from 2000 there was an “enormous” variance in their performance on the MDG indicators. It also compares the results with ten larger states.

Dr Roberts said: “For example under infant mortality there was an approximate 64 fold variation between the highest levels of infant mortality in the 46 small states and the lowest levels, and that we began to feel is really unacceptable in the twenty-first century. But this enormous range was not just limited to infant mortality, it was something that we found across nearly all the MDG indicators.”

The report makes recommendations on how the MDG system and new development targets currently under discussion for post-2015 can be more attuned to small states’ interests and their special characteristics.

Ms Ibitoye said: “Small states are inherently vulnerable so whether it’s by their nature, their location, or their size of human resources, they are constrained. Many of them are, for example, low-lying states so they face a number of environmental challenges. So some of these stresses do get exaggerated when you look at it in a global context compared to states that are more capable.”

The authors called on the international community to lend more support to small states in monitoring their progress and for small states to give greater inclusion and consideration of the MDGs targets in their policies. The report also stresses the importance of assessing the types of intervention needed to achieve the MDGs and their costs and benefits.

Delegates at the launch also heard from Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba and Dr Pedro Martins, Research Fellow, Growth, Poverty and Inequality Programme, Overseas Development Institute.

Mrs Masire-Mwamba said: “The Commonwealth Secretariat will continue to work closely with all stakeholders in the run up to, and beyond the 2015 review process, to ensure that the interests of our smaller member states within the Commonwealth and beyond are well articulated at the global level.”

About the authors

Mr Roberts is an international consultant on macroeconomics and sustainable development working with, among others, the Indian Ocean Commission and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Ms Ibitoye is a UK government economist and former Economic Officer at the Commonwealth Secretariat.