Tonga joined the UN in 1999, and signed up for the MDGs in 2000 together with another 188 nations. Tonga comprises 172 islands with a land area of 747 square kilometres, and a total land/ocean surface area of around 720,000 square kilometres. The country has a population of 103,252 according to the 2011 census, with 73 percent living in the largest island, Tongatapu. 34 percent of this lives in the capital, Nuku’alofa, as well as the peri-urban areas. The other four major island groups that are inhabited are: Vava’u at 15 percent; Ha’apai at 7 percent’ ‘Eua at 5 percent; and Niuas at 1 percent.
Since the inception of the MDGs, the kingdom of Tonga has completed three assessment reports, with the final one being released in September 2015. The following is a look at the targets and achievements of Tonga in regard to the millennium development goals:
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
This is the biggest challenge for many Pacific island countries, where progress is constrained by low economic growth and a lack of job opportunities. The global financial crisis further retarded progress, while income inequalities persist across all countries – especially urban and rural areas.
The proportion of people living below the Basic Needs Poverty Line increased from 16.2 percent to 22.5 percent between 2001 and 2009. It decreased slightly to around 22.1 percent in 2015, which implies that the proportion of people who experienced hardship in 2009 has not changed. They are in the same situation today possibly due to the high cost of living and difficulty meeting basic needs and obligations. This proportion also lacks access to proper basic services, utilities, and infrastructure, and is unable to gain meaningful employment or income generating opportunities.
The poverty gap ratio, however, has improved from 7.7 percent in 2001 to 6.1 percent in 2015, meaning that those living below the National Poverty Line and in adversity do not experience severe deprivation and hardship.
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Most countries in the Asia-Pacific region are likely to achieve millennium development goal 2, though the quality of education is of concern. Many students have been finishing school without basic literacy and numeracy skills, undermining the achievement of universal primary education.
Net enrolment in primary education has remained very high in Tonga between 2000 and 2015 (88 – 97 percent), with most of the pupils enrolled each year reaching the last grade (varying between 84 and 92 percent within that period). Those who do not enrol in primary education are accounted for by those migrating, severely disables, too sick to attend school, or repeating the last grade.
However, a 2009 report indicated that nearly 70 percent of primary school pupils do not know the Tongan alphabet by class 3, which significantly affects how they master reading and writing. So, it is critical that they improve the quality of outcomes in numeracy and literacy.
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
All countries with the exception of PNG, Solomon Islands, and Tonga are likely to achieve gender parity in education, with around 50 percent enrolment in primary education, owing to barriers in gendered stereotypes about appropriate employment, labour markets, and traditional expectations about unpaid domestic and caring work.
More girls than boys are able to proceed to the secondary school level, because of the tendency of boys to repeat grade 6 (class 6), though enrolment of girls at the tertiary level has been guided by the availability of courses as they prefer technical institutes.
Women are not considered for political positions in Tonga. Despite an increase in the number of women candidates for election as people’s representatives, not a single one is successful – even in the 2014 election. Women employment is more pronounced in the informal sector than the private sector.
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
The region as a whole has done very well towards this goal, though many countries, including Tonga are unlikely to achieve the targets.
Generally, Tonga has achieved very low mortality rates, with infant mortality varying between 9 and 17, and under-5 mortality varying between 3 and 27. It is considered satisfactory, as reducing it any further would require the best technology and an exceptionally strong public health outreach.
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Only half the countries in the region are on track in achieving the reduction in maternal mortality ratio, though most countries, including Tonga, reported nearly 100 percent skilled birth attendance.
Actually, it is considered that both targets for maternal mortality ratio and the proportion of births attended by skilled personnel have been achieved. The percentage of women who go for at least four visits of antenatal care – as recommended by the WHO – is also quite high at 69 percent or higher.
Goal 6: Combat HIV/Aids and other diseases
Although many countries in the region have a low HIV/AIDS prevalence, low condom use, lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS, and high rates of STIs means that its spread continues to be a serious risk.
The number of individuals aged 15-24 living with HIV is nearly zero, probably because social stigmatisation and discrimination continue to be a barrier to the care and treatment of HIV/AIDS patients.
However, only 23 percent of males and 5.3 percent of females in the age group reported using condoms in 2012, compared to 25.5 and 18.9 percent respectively in 2008 – signifying a decline. Additionally, the age group remains unknowledgeable about HIV/AIDS, at only 18 percent women and 21 percent men in 2012.
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Most countries in the region have integrated sustainable development into national plans and reduced biodiversity loss. In Tonga, areas under national protection have increased from 0.1 percent in 1990 to 9.52 percent in 2015, which shows efforts to protect specific marine and terrestrial areas.
Overall, most of the population has access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation, though more still needs to be done. People in rural areas have more access to piped water (79 percent) compared to urban areas (73 percent).
Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development
The total Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) for Tonga has increased since 2005. At the same time, the proportion of bilateral ODA for basic social services have been substantial in building critical infrastructures and improving and maintaining the quality of service delivery, which includes health, education, and water and sanitation.
Summary – MDG progress of Tonga
To uphold the achievements and maintain the momentum if the MDGs into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Tonga and the entire Asia-Pacific region intend to strengthen regional and global partnerships for development that seem to have been underutilised as per MDG 8. With increasing globalisation, sustainable development cannot be achieved with national action alone, but with a compelling and supportive international framework of development cooperation.