By Bill Miller
Arguably, it would it would be a gross understatement to claim that the term “millennium development goals (MDGs)” is a kitchen table discussion topic. Few Americans have been exposed to the eight goals adopted by the heads of the 147 nations that met at the United Nations four years ago. Fortunately, they will hear much more about them in the future.
As background, the Millennium Development Goal Summit was the brainchild of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who ably orchestrated the conference in September of 2002 at the UN Headquarters in New York. Annan, being pragmatic and visionary, focused upon how the UN could be more efficient and effective to create a better world in the 21st Century. He used his considerable prestige and clout with the world community to launch the summit and to identify eight targetable goals that are practical, quantifiable, time-specific, and achievable.
The eight UN Millennium Development Goals are:
1) reduce by 50% the number of people living on less than a dollar a day (some 2 billion people) by 2015;
2) by 2015, ensure that all boys and girls complete primary school;
3) promote gender equality, also in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and no later than 2015;
4) by 2015, reduce by two-thirds the mortality rate among children under five;
5) reduce by 75% the ratio of women dying in childbirth by 2015;
7) halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDs and the incidence of malaria and other major diseases by 2015;
8) ensure environmental sustainability by integrating sustainable development principles in country policies and programs, by reversing the loss of environmental resources, by providing people with more access to safe drinking water, and by improving significantly the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers; and,
9) create a global partnership for development by developing an open trading and financial system that includes good governance and poverty reduction, and provide decent and productive work.
Accomplishing the MDGs would improve the world quite dramatically by reducing both suffering and costs in the eight areas, improve the quality of life and standard of living for billions, and reduce some of the negative factors, e.g. abject poverty and grinding illiteracy, that may help spawn terrorism.
The first seven goals can be quantified and monitored over a specific period of time to see if they are being achieved; however, goal number 8 is a bit more nebulous and is one that the US Government has more control over. A major part of creating a global partnership for development is providing international assistance, or foreign aid, to economically developing countries.
In 1992, at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, the US and other countries agreed to work towards an Official Development Assistance (ODA) goal of .7 of 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP). In reality, the US’s share of contributions had been declining—after reaching a high in the Carter Administration—to where the US ranked behind Japan, Germany, and France in total financial assistance levels. This precipitous slide was reversed at the 2002 Monterrey Summit on Financing for Development when President Bush committed the US to a 50% increase over a three-year period that would bring its share up to $15 billion.
National leaders adopted the MDGs in 2000; however, the campaign to achieve them extends far beyond national governments. Governments at all levels, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as religious groups and service clubs, are striving to accomplish many of these goals, although they may not have the foggiest notion of what came out of the MDG Summit. For example, consider the fact that state governments are conducting a wide-range of programs and activities to provide for more decent living standards for people residing within their borders. Rotary International, one of the largest private service organizations, has as three of its major goals this year to enhance educational opportunities, provide clean drinking water, and combat diseases around the world.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recently gave an update as to how well the world is doing in achieving the goals. Briefly, the first group, which comprises most of Asia and Northern Africa, is making great strides in halving extreme poverty by 2015 and achieving other goals. A second group, principally in West Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, has done well towards some individual targets such as achieving universal primary education, but is less successful in reducing poverty. The third group, sub-Saharan Africa and least developed countries in other regions, due to internal ethnic conflict, few financial resources, and rampant health problems, such as AIDs, has not made adequate progress.
Most people around the world can enthusiastically rally around the common-sensical MDGs. At times, a national representative who frequents the hallowed halls of the UN will speak in glowing terms about some laudable goal or program, only to return home to promptly forget about it. As Kofi Annan said, “The Millennium Development Goals are still technically feasible in even the poorest countries, but the window of opportunity is rapidly narrowing and the political will remains largely absent…new realities call for new solutions.” Numerous studies indicate that these problems can be reduced with a firm political commitment, clearly defined and measurable goals, qualified professionals and programs, and, most importantly, sufficient financial resources. All the players in this card game must rally around to achieve the MDGS--over the next 11 years-- because the stakes are too high if they fail.