Data Collection Problems Hinder Marshall Islands Development Efforts

Assessing progress on Sustainable Development Goals requires ‘massive’ analysis

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Augsut 16, 2016) –  A small island state’s difficulty in monitoring progress to meet global Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs was highlighted during a recent United Nations-supported meeting in Majuro to launch action on the SDGs.

The Marshall Islands was able to successfully implement only two of seven Millennium Development Goals from 2000-2015, and is now faced with the challenge of 17 SDGs endorsed by world leaders. U.N. officials praised the Marshall Islands for getting started quickly on implementation, but also pointed out the data needs for evaluating progress are “massive.”

Government officials in Majuro spent significant time during the two days of consultations addressing deficiencies. Inconsistency where data exists, lack of collection by many ministries, and a staff shortage at the government planning and statistics office to follow up and manage data are all hurdles to monitoring SDG progress, said Chris Yankello, a consultant to the planning office who assisted the Marshall to develop a National Strategic Plan last year.

He said that the Ministries of Health and Education and Environmental Protection Authority, all of which receive significant funding from the United States, have established data collection systems. But most other government offices don’t, he said. In addition, even where data exists, it can be problematic. A recent review of birth data showed that three separate databases kept by various ministries all disagreed, he said.

Officials also expressed concern over difficulty in obtaining data from government agencies.

Yankello said the planning office has faced difficulties getting information from government offices, “particularly state owned enterprises.” He said some kind of rules or enforcement mechanism for provision of data to the planning office would help.

Data needed to monitor progress on SDGs and the government’s national plan is “massive,” said Sanjesh Naidu, of the U.N.’s Educational and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

“We need to look at lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals, and build on these,” said Deputy Chief Secretary Kino Kabua, adding that the government’s task force on national development goals “needs to look at this differently so we can do better in achieving the SDGs.”

A Pacific Islands Forum’s assessment showed that only four of 14 independent island nations met five or more of the seven MDGs, while three achieved none, despite the Pacific region being the recipient of rising levels of donor.

Kabua asked how the government is dealing with situation of lack of data from some offices. “If data is not coming in from state owned enterprises, can we hear from them?” she asked. “Can we help them? How can we improve?”

“We all need to know that everyone has a part to play in data,” said government Chief Secretary Justina Langidrik. “If there is no data with the planning office, we’re not doing our jobs.”

Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine and U.N. Resident Coordinator for the Pacific Osnat Lubrani encouraged government and community leaders to take action to implement these new sustainable development objectives.

Deputy Chief Secretary Abacca Anjain-Maddison, who was chairing the session, concluded that portion of the program with the observation that all attendees had heard inspiring words from the president and the U.N. representative, and “now it is up to us.”

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