In many ways the world now is in better shape than ever. The global poverty rate fell below 10%; we see 9 out of 10 girls and boys entering primary school, and around 85% of all the world’s children are vaccinated against the most common diseases.
While we have come a long way, challenges remain. Perhaps the most pressing one is gender equality, since it affects all other areas of a society’s development. Nowhere in the world are males and females truly equal. Women learn less, earn less, have fewer rights and have less control over their assets and bodies. One stark example is that women are less likely to be financially included: 1.1 billion women around the world still do not have a formal bank account.
Underpinning these gaps, one challenge is particularly acute for women and girls: data.
If USD 142.6 billion falls in the forest of development and no one hears it, does it matter?
That depends on who you are. While mothers in Afghanistan or South Sudan can tell you how their families’ lives have been transformed by effective development programmes every single day, strong data are needed to communicate how these billions of dollars improve the human condition and create more stable societies for all.
In 2016 official development assistance (ODA) to support development goals represented 0.32% of donor countries’ gross national income, an all-time high. However, aid to those who need it most, including least developed countries (LDCs), is declining. The June 2017 report card on the 2030 Development Agenda – the world’s roadmap to end poverty, inequality and injustice for all by 2030 through a set of 17 goals and 232 indicators – tells us progress is slow and data are incomplete.
In an era of fake news and alternative facts, statisticians have a special responsibility. As the custodians of the evidence base for policy making, they must stand up for the right of all citizens to true, reliable and accessible information.
This is especially the case in the development field, and even more so since world leaders adopted the extraordinarily ambitious and wide-ranging 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015. At the heart of this global “plan of action for people, planet and prosperity” are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that “are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental”, with the ultimate objective to leave no one behind. Achieving the SDGs will require informed choices about priorities and strategies, and for this we will need a better evidence base than we have today.
But statisticians – and especially statisticians in developing countries – cannot do this job alone.