In what must be one of the broadest consultations ever attempted, the UN has been canvassing the world’s opinions about where we should be headed as a human race. It’s part of the programme to draw up a new set of targets to take over where the Millennium Development Goals left off – a set of priorities that will shape international action and development for the next couple of decades.
It’s the kind of thing you want to get right, so getting the broadest possible buy-in is important and the UN isn’t doing things by halves. So what emerges if you ask 800,000 people what they’d like out of life?
Here are the survey results from the hundreds of thousands of people who took part in the MY World survey. People were asked to say which six out of sixteen issues would make the biggest difference to their lives, and here’s what they chose:
There are a variety of ways of exploring the results in more detail, and there are some interesting findings. Education is the top priority for everyone except the over 55s, for whom it is presumably a bit late. They put healthcare first.
It’s no surprise that climate change comes bottom of the overall ranking, given the phrasing of the question. You’d have to feel personally affected right now to tick the box. What’s interesting is that the group that ranked it highest were countries that scored highest on the Human Development Index. They also valued protecting forests, rivers and oceans enough for it to come in at number 5. As we know, it’s hard to think about the environment when you can’t put food on the table.
An honest and responsive government is in the top five priorities for every age group and wealth demographic, but political freedoms doesn’t score higher than number ten for any of them.
Where it gets more curious is the interactive map that shows how various countries voted. 47% of Americans placed better healthcare in their top six, the same percentage as Chad. But then 44% of Britons said better healthcare would make a big difference in their life too, more than the 43% who said the same in the Congo. That might look like a cultural habit of whinging about the NHS, until you remember that the average age in Britain is double that of the Congo, and older people are more likely to vote for healthcare.
Sticking with those two countries, 19% of us in Britain ticked ‘reliable energy at home’, versus just 17% in the Congo, where only one in ten of the population has electricity. That I find harder to explain. Equally bizarre, Britain’s second highest vote after education was for ‘better water and sanitation’, when Britain has some of the cleanest water in the world. Phone and internet access, which you’d think was far more likely to be in question than running water, scored just 13%.
Perhaps those sorts of results show the limits of the survey when applied to developed countries. The sixteen choices are the result of previous research among the poor, so they will be most relevant to underdeveloped countries. And that raises a question that I’ve asked before, should richer countries have development targets of their own?