United Nations Archive 1

UN Goals: On Track or Off the Rails?

By Bill Miller

In September 2000, 189 member states of the UN drafted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to overcome eight major problems over a 15-year period.

The MDGs committed to the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 50%, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality by two-thirds, improve maternal health by three-quarters, reverse the spread of HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.

The MDG Summit was unique because it identified basic human needs and basic rights to which every human is entitled. Rather than talking about vague generalities, the MDGs are specific, quantifiable and measurable.

Recently, the countries of the world met at the UN to identify progress, review obstacles and gaps and develop concrete plans to achieve the MDGs. Are the goals being achieved? There is reason for both optimism and pessimism.

Goal #1, Poverty. Even with the international economic downturn, overall poverty rates declined from 46% in 1990 to 27% in 2005 which, if continued, will be on-track to halve the proportion of the 2 billion people living on $1.00 per day, thus achieving Goal number 1. One reason for improvement is due to China and India reducing poverty in their countries. The UN estimates that 920 million will still be living on less than $1.25 a day in 2015.

The reduction of hunger and malnutrition is trending downward, but at a much slower pace. The UN projects that 830 million people are undernourished.

UN agencies and several governments have embarked upon assistance programs to create jobs, provide food assistance cooperatives, invest in agriculture research and develop voucher programs for fertilizer and seed, as a few examples.

Goal #2, to promote universal education, highlights that enrollment for boys and girls, in developing areas, reached 89% from 2008, up from 83% in 2000. At that pace, the 100% goal will not be met by 2015.

Various governments, such as Kenya and Nepal, abolished school fees; whereas, Ghana and Tanzania have provided additional classrooms and educational materials. The UN World Food Program is providing meals for school children, and the UN Population Fund in Ethiopia is working to put an end to child marriages and to keep girls in school.

Goal #3, to enhance gender equality and empower women, has had limited success. The enrollment ratios of girls in primary and secondary schools have risen dramatically; whereas, many women to not have sufficient access to higher education, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

Bangladesh provides secondary school stipends for girls; whereas, Mexico awards a 'Gender Equity Seal' to companies that recruit, train and employ females. The UN Population Fund is working to reduce female genital mutilation in places such as Egypt, Gambia and Senegal, and to offer microfinancing for women in Vietnam.

This week the US announced new commitments and $44 million in funding to empower and protect women in conflict. This 'national action plan' is geared to help implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in October of 2000, which highlights the role women must play for global security and strives to bring more women into the business and political arenas.

Goal #4, to reduce child deaths, is improving but not quickly enough. Of the 67 countries defined as having high child mortality rates, only 10 are poised to hit the mark by 2015. To reduce death rates, several African countries are providing anti-malaria mosquito nets; whereas Cambodia promotes breastfeeding to foster healthy babies.

Goal #5, to improve maternal health, is not meeting the 5.5% annual decline to meet the national mortality ratio. Over 350,000 women die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications, of which 99% are in developing countries.

Many countries are expanding maternal health services, combating fistula and dispatching mobile maternal health units.

Recently, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, along with governments, businesses, foundations and NGOs, launched the 'Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health' to focus attention and resources on an issue that was languishing.

Goal #6's battle against AIDs is showing considerable progress, given that new HIV infections fell from 3.5 million in 1996 to 2.7 million in 2008. Programs such as free access to antiretroviral treatment to the development of reproductive health and HIV prevention training are showing positive results.

Goal #7, to ensure sustainable development, will surpass the target of gaining access to drinking water, and the goal of improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers has been achieved twice-over.

On the down side, the goals to slow the decline in biodiversity and provide toilets and latrines are not going to be met. Over 17,000 species of plants and animals are on the brink of extinction and 2.7 billion people lack adequate sanitation.

Examples of successful programs include reducing ozone-depleting substances, providing solar energy systems and installing water systems.

Goal #8, to develop global partnerships for development, has had mixed results. A level of Official Development Assistance (ODA) of .7 of 1% of gross national income, which was agreed upon in Monterrey in 2002, and at the Gleneagles Group of 8 Summit and at the UN World Summit in 2005, has not been achieved.

Although the US, France, Germany and Japan are the largest aid donors, only Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have achieved the ODA goal of .7%.

To help achieve the MDGs, the UN has taken several major steps:

-- 1. Secretary-General Ban established the MDG Advocacy Group of eminent personalities, such as Bill Gates, Ted Turner and Bob Geldorf, to build political will and mobilize global action to achieve the MDGs.

-- 2. The UN sponsored the UN Private Sector Forum, a meeting of over 300 major business executives, UN agencies, governments and NGOs, to brainstorm as to how companies can help achieve the MDGs.

-- 3. The UN established the Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UNGAID) which is a web-based knowledge tool and information resource to help developing countries achieve the MDGs. UNGAID can disseminate better market information to businesses, students can access educational materials and physicians can provide long-distance health care.

Although the MDG results are mixed, progress has been uneven and some regions will achieve some or all of the goals, the reviews show that the MDGs are achievable with proven policies, sufficient levels of financial and technical investment and international support. But what more can be done?

First, wealthy nations need to keep their promise and deliver on the .7 of 1% commitment, which is only 70 cents on every $100.00. Many of these MDG problems can be defeated with increased funding.

Second, economic growth, that is trade rather than aid, will do more to reduce poverty. Developed countries should open their markets more to exports from poorer countries. Businesses should be more involved in job creation.

Third, any assistance funding must be more transparent, accountable and effective in reaching the target population.

Improving the plight of the most needy will reduce suffering and death, promote social, economic and political stability and create new markets.

'We must not fail the billions who look to the international community to fulfill the promises of the Millennium Declaration for a better world,' said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently.

Hundreds of thousands of faith-based groups, businesses, sports associations, youth groups and individuals are getting involved to help achieve the MDGs. No one country or group can be successful by itself, yet the sheer force of numbers and sharing resources can virtually make the difference between victory or defeat.

The world has the knowledge and financial resources to the job. Does it have the political will? Time is running out.


Bill Miller, former Chair of the UN Association of the USA's Council of Chapter and Division Presidents, is the accredited Washington International journalist covering the UN and is the Producer/Moderator of “Global Connections Television.”