An official website of the United States government

World Leaders Meet In New York To Discuss Improving The Lives of The Poor
September 15, 2010

World leaders want to help poor women and children by meeting development goals.

15 September 2010

Progress Toward Millennium Development Goals Is Mixed

By Christopher Connell
Special Correspondent

Washington — On the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the numbers tell a mixed story about the world’s progress toward eradicating poverty, enrolling all children in primary school, promoting gender equality, combating AIDS and malaria and ensuring environmental stability.

As world leaders journey to a meeting in New York September 20–22 to discuss ways to pick up the pace toward meeting the ambitious goals by 2015, one reason for hope is that some countries in dire circumstances are making progress with approaches that others would do well to follow. President Obama will speak about the challenges ahead in an address on September 22, the final day of the three-day MDG summit taking place during the annual gathering of leaders for the United Nations General Assembly.

U.S. officials already offered a road map for the journey ahead in a strategy report released in August by the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID identified four keys to success: innovation, sustainability, tracking development outcomes and mutual accountability. “We will exercise global leadership to ensure that these imperatives are reflected in the outcome document of the MDG Summit,” USAID said.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said, “Enormous progress has been made so far toward meeting the MDGs …. But much more remains to be done. If we are to meet the ambitious objectives we have set, historic leaps in human development will be needed. For this reason, we must be even more determined, strategic, and focused on results as we chart the path to 2015.”

In September 2000, the leaders of 189 nations pledged at a United Nations summit to “spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty.” They committed to act in concert to achieve eight lofty ambitions by 2015:

  • Cut in half the proportion of people living under the poverty line (after inflation, less than $1.25 a day today) and those going hungry.
  • Achieve universal primary education and equal access to all levels of education for girls and boys.
  • Promote gender equality and empowerment of women.
  • Reduce child mortality by two-thirds.
  • Reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters.
  • Halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases.
  • Protect the environment and ensure sustainability.
  • Forge a global partnership for development.

In recent years, there has been good progress toward achieving universal primary education.

Selim Jahan, director of the Poverty Practice in the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), told U.S. congressional staff members at a September 8 briefing, “In terms of progress, we have a mixed picture. Impressive progress has been made on certain fronts, but then there are also gaps.” Some countries and regions have done well on some MDGs but not others, he said, and even within some countries, groups have been left out of the gains.

The global financial crisis of the past few years and epic natural disasters such as the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, the Haitian earthquake of January 2010 and the current massive flooding across Pakistan all have set back progress. The United Nations Population Fund says a half million of the 21 million Pakistanis affected by the floods are pregnant women and 1,700 go into labor every day.

But there are unmistakable signs of progress. The UNDP says that during the past two decades, the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day has fallen from 1.8 billion to 1.4 billion. China, India, Vietnam and Brazil are among the countries that have made major gains in reducing poverty. Despite some progress in sub-Saharan Africa, more than half the population is below the poverty line. Still, the global poverty rate has been reduced from 46 percent in 1990 to 27 percent, and that puts the MDG poverty target within reach.

UNDP says the number of children who die before age 5 has declined from 12.5 million in 1990 to 9 million in 2008. Most of these deaths are considered preventable, and much of the gain has come from large-scale campaigns to vaccinate children against measles and other illnesses. “In sub-Saharan Africa, measles-related deaths decreased by 91 percent between 1990 and 2007,” UNDP says in an assessment report, What Will It Take to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals?

The United Nations says 89 percent of children in developing countries were enrolled in primary school in 2008, up from 84 percent in 2000, and the gap between enrollment of boys and girls has nearly closed.

Progress has been slower on reducing maternal mortality. The World Health Organization had called the health of mothers “the MDG target for which progress has been most disappointing.” But a week before the summit, WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank and the United Nations Population Fund released new estimates indicating the maternal deaths have dropped 34 percent, from 546,000 deaths in 1990 to 358,000 in 2008. Ninety-nine percent of such deaths occur in developing countries, where prenatal care and even skilled medical help during deliveries are limited.

The Center for Global Development (CGD), a Washington nonprofit that conducts research on how to reduce global poverty, recently published an index of how much progress countries are making toward the MDGs. Analysts Benjamin Leo and Julia Barmeier singled out 15 “star” performers that they said were likely to meet at least half the MDG goals by 2015. Honduras stood at the top of their list, followed by Kyrgyz Republic, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Armenia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ghana, Malawi, Mongolia and Uganda.

CGD also identified a dozen “laggard” countries making the least progress, according to data tracked and reported by the United Nations. At the bottom were Guinea-Bissau and Afghanistan, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Liberia, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic. The analysts said, “Most countries fall somewhere in between, demonstrating solid progress on some indicators and little on others.”

Still, the progress thus far leaves grounds for optimism, said UNDP’s Jahan, an economist from Bangladesh. “The MDGs are achievable, believe me,” he said. “The world has the knowledge, resources and experiences to make it happen.”