United Nations

UN Goals: On Track

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In 2000, under the leadership of then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the UN member states launched the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  The MDGs were 8 logical, measurable, agreed-upon goals dealing with poverty, education, gender equality, child and maternal mortality, diseases, the environment and global partnerships.

In the final report on the Millennium Development Goals recently released by the UN, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the global mobilization to implement the  MDG goals by the end of 2015 has produced "the most successful anti-poverty movement in history."

Ban continued to stress that, even with the successes, inequality still persists. Currently,  80 percent of the people who live on less than $1.25 a day reside in two regions — southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and 60 percent in just five countries, India, Nigeria, China, Bangladesh and Congo.

A major success of the MDGs was that they galvanized governments, businesses in the private sector, service clubs such as Rotary International and Lions International, faith-based groups and tens of thousands of others, to marshal their resources to help achieve the goals. As might be expected, some countries achieved all of the goals; whereas, others secured only a few of them.

Following is a quick overview:

MDG 1 was to reduce extreme poverty and hunger by 50%.

Although the MDGs helped to extricate more than one billion people out of extreme poverty and reduced the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015, the target of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger was barely missed. A major reason that the goal was nearly achieved was due to the rapid economic growth in China and India.

Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of undernourished people fell from 23.3% to 12.9%, which leaves approximately 795 million people undernourished. 

A litany of obstacles have hindered this goal, such as higher food and energy prices, extreme weather, natural disasters, political instability, humanitarian crises and two major economic recessions.

MDG 2 was to achieve universal primary school education.

This goal has mixed success, given that achieving the universal primary school education target was barely missed. The net enrollment rate rose from 83% in 2000 to 91% in 2015. The number of out-of-school children dropped dramatically from 100 million 15 years ago to 57 million today.

Incredibly, even with such challenges as a rising population, high levels of poverty, and armed conflicts, sub-Saharan Africa made the greatest progress in primary school enrollment of all the developing regions, with its rate growing from 52% in 1990 to 78% in 2012.

Some of the incentives governments utilized ranged from offering tuition-free schooling and free lunches to providing private outhouses and toilet facilities for girls.

MDG 3 was to promote gender equality and to empower women. 

Outside of the agricultural sector, women now comprise 41% of paid workers, up from 35% in 1990.

Another major success has been the proportion of women in parliaments which nearly doubled over the past 20 years; however, only one in every five seats is held by a woman.

Some of the main obstacles hindering women's empowerment include societal discrimination in law and cultural practices, violence against women and girls, and inequitable employment opportunities.

MDG 4 was to reduce child mortality rates by two-thirds for children under five years of age.

Although the child mortality rate has declined by more than half over the past 25 years – falling from 90 to 43 deaths per 1,000 live births – it has not declined by the MDG aim of two-thirds.

Vaccination prevented nearly 15.6 million deaths from measles between 2000 and 2013, but that progress has slowed since 2010, with an estimated 21.6 million infants not receiving the vaccine in 2013.

Pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria, which kill 16,000 children a day, are the major preventable causes of death for children under five.

MDG 5 was to improve maternal health.

The goal of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters has not been realized, with the ratio falling by nearly half (from 380 deaths per 100,000 live births to 210).

The major problems are that only half of the pregnant women in developing regions receive the recommended minimum of four prenatal visits, and 25% of babies worldwide are delivered without skilled care. Additionally, some governments have been slow to adequately fund health facilities, especially in rural areas.

MDG 6 was to combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases.

Due to massive investments in fighting diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, the new HIV infections dropped by 40 percent between 2000 and 2013, and the number of people dying from malaria has fallen almost by half since 1990.

The incidence of malaria reduction has been achieved due to a tenfold increase in international financing since 2000 and sustained malaria prevention and treatment initiatives. Between 2000 and 2015, over 6.2 million deaths have been prevented because of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor spraying, diagnostic testing and the use of effective drugs.

MDG 7 was to ensure environmental sustainability.

This goal was achieved five years ahead of  schedule thus providing 2.6 billion people access to improved sources of water.

On the negative side, sanitation initiatives have not done as well. Statistics show that 2.1 billion people have gained access to a toilet since 1990, but leaving the number of people without access to basic sanitation short by nearly 700 million.

A third of the planet, approximately 2.4 billion people in developing countries, still lack access to improved sanitation facilities while 946 million people still participate in open defecation.

 MDG 8 was to develop a global partnership for development.

An increase has occurred in the amount of official development assistance (ODA) that rich countries transfer to developing nations. For example, between 2000 and 2014, ODA increased by 66% in real terms and scored a record high of nearly $135 billion.

In conclusion, when the world leaders meet at the UN in September, they will adopt a new set of goals. The Sustainable Development Goals will have 17 goals with 169 targets to be achieved by 2030.

Although the achievements of some of the MDGs were mixed, public administrators at the UN and worldwide, along with billions of people and thousands of organizations will have the opportunity to build upon the original MDGs and strive to improve the quality of life for all 7.3 billion inhabitants over the next 15 years.

Bill Miller is the accredited Washington International journalist covering the UN and is the Producer/Moderator of “Global Connections Television.” (www.globalconnectionstelevision.com/video-gallery)

Cover photo by Muhammad Ghouri