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Top 10 Problems That Should Be On The Global Agenda in 2015

THERE are so many big, urgent, important problems worth solving in the world—how do you decide what to take on? We surveyed the development landscape and found 10 emerging and persisting development challenges whose time has come. The 10 problems we present below have significant scale, affecting the lives of millions if not billions of people. They have disproportionate effects on poor and vulnerable populations. Furthermore, momentum is building in these spaces—international attention has increased and innovative solutions and approaches have emerged. But despite this growing activity, there are critical gaps in addressing these problems: nascent solutions haven’t been scaled, the initiatives of diverse stakeholders haven’t been sufficiently coordinated, and the momentum hasn’t been leveraged to catalyze widespread action.

In short, the problem spaces below represent unrealized opportunities to achieve transformative impact and should therefore be focal points of the global agenda in 2015.

REBUILDING ECONOMIC SYSTEMS AFTER EBOLA

The problem

So far, Ebola response efforts have focused on emergency health relief, while less attention has been paid to rebuilding the region’s devastated economic systems. Voluntary and government-enforced restrictions originally enacted to minimize the spread of Ebola disrupted trade routes, food supply chains, and labor markets, resulting in the slowing or shutting down of major economic activities, and threatening the livelihoods of many West Africans. In a study by Mercy Corps, 66% of households in parts of Liberia reported a decline in household income, and 85% of households reported eating fewer meals a day since the outbreak.

Why now?

While new cases of the virus are thankfully becoming fewer in number, there is a fast-closing window of opportunity to leverage the attention and aid flowing to the region to resuscitate key economic systems and to ensure that emergency relief efforts transition seamlessly and effectively to economic recovery.

EMERGENCY MEDICAL CARE

The problem

A significant portion of morbidity and mortality in developing countries is caused by acute, time-sensitive health issues, but poor people in these countries lack access to timely, affordable, and appropriate emergency health services. For example, more than 80% of people in India don’t receive the care they need during the first critical hour after an emergency, when medical intervention is most effective. Injury alone kills 5.8 million people per year – more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.  The World Bank estimates that 45% of deaths and 36% of disability in low and middle income countries could be addressed through the implementation of emergency care systems.

Why now?

A lack of research on the cost-effectiveness of emergency care and the magnitude of its contribution to reducing the global disease burden has led to a critical gap in funding and attention. As the global health community shifts its focus towards primary care and health systems strengthening, emergency care needs to be included and integrated in new healthcare models.

DISABILITY

The problem

Over one billion people live with disabilities80% of whom live in developing countries. Disability and poverty are inextricably linked: 20% of the world’s poorest people are disabled and they tend to be regarded as the most disadvantaged in their communities.  Disabled people are often stigmatized, isolated, and excluded from the benefits of development programming. Without access to the social and healthcare services they need, they are unable to go to school or work, and thus unable to escape poverty. In the absence of social safety nets, the financial, emotional, and time burden of caring for the disabled falls on their family members, hindering their ability to secure their livelihoods.

Why now?                                                                                            

The enormous potential of technology to serve the needs of the disabled is becoming clear: emerging innovations in assistive devicesmobile applications, and disability-inclusive ICT service provision could transform the lives of the disabled, but these solutions still need to be funded, tested, scaled, and made accessible to the poor populations who need them most. 

GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE

The problem

One in three women will be raped, beaten, or abused in her lifetime. The lifetime risk of experiencing violence can exceed 70% for women in some countries.  Gender-based violence and fear of violence, which affects not only women and girls but also LGBT and other gender non-conforming people, can be crippling, fundamentally undermining all aspects of well-being.  Without safety, women are prevented from meeting other needs and reaching their potential.  Gender-based violence threatens human rights and deepens gender inequality.

Why now?

Gender-based violence has been on the global agenda for some time, but the magnitude of the issue – and the link between violence and poverty – are becoming increasingly clear.  There is a need to more squarely integrate the fight against gender-based violence into the development agenda, and to identify the key levers for reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience to violence.

PROVISION OF ESSENTIAL GOODS AND SERVICES IN SLUMS

The problem

In the next 15 years, the global slum population will double to reach 2 billion, and many slum-dwellers will lack access to clean water, electricity, and adequate sanitation. The traditional delivery mechanisms for these basic amenities have not kept pace with the rapid rise in urban populations, leaving many urban-dwellers, particularly in slums, unable to attain a basic standard of living.

Why now?

There are new opportunities to expand access to urban amenities in slums. Emerging integrated business models, such as re.source’s mobile sanitation system, bundle household equipment with the associated services and reduce the costs of delivery. Innovations in ICT management systems increase the uptake of decentralized solutions. However, significant investment is still necessary to scale these efforts.

PREPARING THE FASTEST-GROWING CITIES TO MEET THE NEEDS OF THE POOR

The problem

The world’s fastest growing cities are mid-sized cities (1-5 million inhabitants), which will continue to lead urban growth in the upcoming decades. Seven of the 10 cities expected to grow the most between 2014 and 2025 are mid-sized cities. If these cities pursue the traditional growth patterns of the world’s megacities, we should expect similar results in terms of inequality and exclusion, with the poor facing inadequate living conditions and limited access to essential services.

Why now?

Over $40 trillion will be invested in urban infrastructure by 2035 and a large portion of the world’s urban centers will be developed during this period.This dramatic growth presents mid-sized cities with a unique but rapidly closing window of opportunity to develop in an inclusive way and pre-empt future challenges rather than having to retrofit later on.

URBAN FLOODING

The problem

Cities in developing countries are ill-equipped to manage increasing water hazards. Climate change is increasing the frequency of extreme weather events while natural infrastructure, which provides water management services, is being destroyed and degraded. Urban drainage infrastructure is inadequate to manage increasing urban floods, leading to high economic, health, and social costsIn 2010 alone, 178 million people, mostly in cities, were affected by floods, resulting in total losses of more than $40 billion.

Why now?

Innovations in green infrastructure technologies and financing mechanisms are proliferating in the developed world, and there is an opportunity to apply these innovations in developing cities, especially as decision-makers plan for the unprecedented urban growth of the next few decades.

DISRUPTION OF ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

The problem

Climate change and other human-induced environmental transformations are disrupting the provision of essential ecosystem services such as food, clean water, clean air, and protection from natural disasters. Globally, about two-thirds of ecosystem services have degraded or are in decline due to the unprecedented growth of human activity in the past 50 years. Drylands and forest ecosystems are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and human activity, respectively, and a disproportionate number of the world’s poor depend on these ecosystems for their basic needs and livelihoods.

Why now?

New models to better account for the value of ecosystem services, particularly their benefits to the poor, create opportunities to influence the decision-making processes of businesses, governments, and other development actors. ESPA, for instance, has developed an index systemthat quantifies the link between poverty alleviation and ecosystem management.

THE GROWING DEMAND FOR ANIMAL PROTEIN

The problem

In response to soaring demand, largely driven by the growing global middle class, annual meat production is projected to double by 2020. The benefits of industrial livestock agriculture—ubiquitous and affordable meat—tend to accrue to the wealthy, while the poor, who depend on livestock rearing for livelihoods and who spend up to 70% of their income on food, largely staple grains, suffer from toxic run-off, soil degradation, lower livestock prices, and unaffordable land and water.

Why now?

The meat industry is increasingly adopting sustainable production practices, while exploration of alternatives to industrial meat (e.g. algaeinsectsin vitro meat) is growing. There is a lack of leadership in developing a global agenda on animal protein that protects both ecosystem health and the needs of the poor.

HAZARDOUS WASTE

The problem

The volume and toxicity of solid waste produced globally is increasing rapidly, and inadequate and inequitable waste disposal systems place the environmental burden of toxic waste disproportionately on poor people in developing countries. Improper waste disposal releases toxins that contaminate the air, water, and land, harming both ecosystem and human health. Agbogbloshie, Ghana, one of the world’s biggest waste dumping sites, is the most toxic place on earth: the 35,000 Ghanaians who rely on waste-picking for survival are exposed to contamination levels 100 times higher than what is considered acceptable.

Why now?

Waste generation has increased tenfold in the last century and is projected to double by 2025. In order to protect environmental and human health, immediate action is necessary on multiple fronts: to curb unsustainable waste generation by promoting responsible consumption, recycling, and disposal behaviors; to regulate the exportation of hazardous waste to developing countries; and to increase capacity for safe, environmentally sound waste management and processing.

These problems highlight three forces that are becoming increasingly influential in driving the world’s challenges: unchecked urbanization, environmental stress, and growing inequality. Current efforts to address these growing trends are insufficient, and now is the time to act. By thinking critically about priorities and choosing to take on some of these mega challenges, the development community can help catalyze action in 2015 to build an inclusive, sustainable future.

This article has been written by Thabo Matse, Julia Rohrer, Mariola Panzuela, Sonila Cook, and Oren Ahoobim of Dalberg Global Development Advisors. The research that underpins this article was supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Dalberg Dalberg Global Development Advisors is a strategic consulting firm that works exclusively to raise living standards in developing countries and address global issues like climate change and public health.