Inequalities dampen progress in Moldova

A rural dweller in Moldova enjoys piped water on his porch.
76 year-old Mihai Druta now has his own water supply in his home, a sewer system, and garbage is collected regularly in his neighbourhood

The deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is less than two years away.

 

In the run up to 2015, many countries are taking stock of their achievements and setbacks. In Moldova, this exercise has demonstrated that further progress on the MDGs rests on successfully overcoming some key development challenges. This process offers new perspectives on how to shape the post-2015 development agenda.

 

A mixed record on the MDGs

Moldova’s progress on the MDGs is best likened to a traffic light where green indicates improvement and red signifies stagnation or deterioration.

 

On the one hand, progress has been made in reducing extreme poverty and child mortality.

 

On the other hand, the incidence of HIV and AIDS and tuberculosis remains stubbornly high. Progress in maternal health has been erratic, and the political representation of women is low.

 

the table shows that progress has been made on reducing extreme poverty, but a lot of work remains on HIV/tuberculosis

 
The MDGs don’t reflect all the gaps

However, even in those areas where the aggregate achievement is commendable, a deeper examination suggests a more worrying picture. When the data are disaggregated, they reveal glaring gaps and challenges in key areas that threaten to undermine further progress. Our MDG progress report has identified four such challenges.

 

A worrying rural-urban divide

Since 2006, the national poverty rate has fallen by almost half (from 30.2 percent to 16.6 percent). The extreme poverty rate fell drastically from 4.5 percent to 0.6 percent.

 

However, significant gaps between urban and rural areas persist. Slightly over 79 percent of all poor people live in rural areas. Rural inhabitants face a risk of poverty that is three times higher than for urban residents. The gap between average incomes in cities versus villages grew from 25 percent in 2006-2007 to 33 percent in 2011-2012.

 

Beyond income, the rural population faces many other risks of deprivation. In 2012, only 22.7 percent of the rural population had access to safe water supply, while 68.9 percent of urban inhabitants enjoy these basic services.

 

Access to rural health services is considerably more problematic. The under-five mortality rate is 30 per 1,000 births in the countryside, as compared with 20 per 1,000 in cities. In 2011, five out of six maternal deaths occurred in the countryside.

 

Significant urban-rural discrepancies are also prevalent in education. In 2012, the gross preschool enrolment rate for children aged three to six reached 100.5 percent in urban areas, as compared with 71.4 percent in rural areas.

 

children sitting in a classroom in Moldova
Helping to boost enrolment? Children eat lunch in a newly renovated kindergarten in Moldova.

 
Migration: A glass half full, or half empty?

One response by people to avoid these disparities is to leave the country, either temporarily or permanently. A quarter of the Moldovan labour force currently lives abroad. Migration, therefore, has become a defining feature of the Moldovan development landscape in the second half of the last decade – both for better and for worse.

 

On the one hand, remittances sent by Moldovans working abroad have helped lift thousands of people out of poverty. At the apex in 2007, the ratio of remittances to GDP reached over 30 percent before falling to over 20 percent after the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.

 

These flows have had many benefits, especially in rural areas. They helped support private expenditures for education and health. They eased pressure on the labour market, lowering unemployment rates.  Furthermore, they provided liquidity for the banking system. Anecdotal evidence suggests returning migrants brought know-how and investment. The Government has sought to establish closer links with the diaspora, and to leverage the monetary flows for the country’s development.

 

On the other hand, remittances have come at a cost. For example, migrants are among the most vulnerable to tuberculosis (with an incidence rate of 17 percent). Many children are left behind by their migrant parents – with negative consequences for their education and health. In addition, women migrants of reproductive age are among those most vulnerable to maternal mortality, which rose from 16.0 per 100,000 live births in 2006 to 30.4 in 2012.

 

Mind the gap: gender inequality

The story of gender inequality in Moldova is less straightforward. The data suggest that, between girls and boys, there is little inequality in access to education or health. In fact, the data show that girls have greater access to general compulsory education.

 

However, when girls grow up the tables are turned. Although the wage gap for women is relatively low (women earn 87.8 percent that of men), women have fewer economic opportunities, since they are twice as involved in household chores and family care. Representation of women in professional occupations is around 30 percent less than that of men.

 

It is little wonder, therefore, of the total number of entrepreneurs in the country, less than one-third are women. Even in those sectors where women are on par with men, such as public administration, women find it significantly harder to climb the career ladder. Consequently, less than one-third of high-ranking public officials are women.

 

Furthermore, men are over-represented in politics. Women make up one-fifth of parliamentarians, and only one-quarter of government ministers are women. The situation at the local level is not much better: only 18.7 percent of mayors and only 9.3 percent of rayon-level presidents are women.

 

Technology in the pursuit of progress?

A lot has been said about the role modern technologies can play in development, and Moldova is no exception. Mobile telephone coverage has reached 114.6 percent. According to some, internet penetration is already at 57 percent nationally. New technologies are among the key reasons for falling infant mortality rates from 11.8 per 1,000 live births in 2006 to 9.8 in 2012.

 

In the near future, new technologies might also play a key role in improving access to, and the quality of, education. Modern technologies can advance open governance and help to open data.

 

However, significant gaps will remain in certain areas no matter how much information technologies spread. Only 62 percent of the population has access to improved water, and 56.6 percent of people have improved sanitation. (The situation in rural areas is even more dire.) Digital technologies, therefore, are less useful when people are struggling to satisfy their basic needs.

 

Early parliamentary elections: voters registering via computer at the polls
Moldovans cast their ballots in early parliamentary elections with the help of computers.

 
What lessons can we draw?

The MDG assessment reveals a mixed picture of achievements and disappointments. Most worrying are the deeply rooted inequalities. These need to be addressed if progress on the MDGs is to become sustainable and more comprehensive. If these challenges are overcome, the MDG story will be one of inclusive and fair development.

 

Furthermore, this story underscores the limitations of compartmentalizing problems into sector-specific MDG goals. It points to the need for more systemic and integrated approaches. A good start would be to:

 

  • -  Grasp the linkages between the goals,
  • -  Disaggregate the data, and
  • -  Incorporate anecdotal and qualitative evidence.

 

Ultimately, integrated development goals – supported by targets that reflect different areas – might be worth analysing. For instance, it might make sense to have “green cities” as a development goal underpinned by targets in energy efficiency and renewables, waste management, demographic change, education and health. Perhaps this approach would enable us to better reflect reality in our development frameworks.

 

 

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