Millenium Development Goals: An Overview

World leaders are gathering in New York City September 20th through 22nd to evaluate the progress of the United Nation’s millennium development goals (MDGs) that were first outlined in 1990.  Because the UN isn’t known for its advertising, I thought an overview of the MDGs would be helpful.  You can click on each topic heading for a more detailed description of where we stand.

Outline: The Basics

Near the dawn of the new millennium, in September 2000, the United Nations member states signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration committing its members and other partners to a global plan to reduce extreme poverty by 2015.   The declaration outlines eight focus areas that the UN considered most integral in this objective: poverty and hunger, eduction, gender equality, child health, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability, and global partnership.  Within each, the UN set specific targets with which to measure its progress.

Poverty and Hunger

  • To half the number of people living on less than a dollar (this standard has been raised to $1.25) a day by 2015.
  • Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and children.
  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the number of people who suffer from hunger.

According to the UN’s Summit website, the world is on track to half the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day by 2015.  Overall poverty rates have reportedly dropped from 46 percent to 27 percent between 1990 and 2005 in developing regions.  These numbers are deceiving, however, because they are due mainly to reductions in Asia, particularly East Asia where, over a 25-year period, poverty fell from nearly 60 percent to less than 20 percent.  Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, and parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia are expected not to achieve the poverty reduction goal target.


To ensure that, by 2015, boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

Though by 2008 enrolment in primary education had increased to 89 percent from its 83 percent in 2000, the summit website reports it is unlikely to meet its target by 2015.  Approximately 69 million school-aged children are not in school, half of those being in sub-Saharan Africa and almost a quarter in Southeast Asia.

Gender Equality

Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels by 2015.

In 2008, there was an average of 96 girls for every 100 boys in primary schools and 95 girls for every 100 boys in secondary schools in developing regions.  Women employed outside of agriculture is as low as 20 percent outside of Southern and Western Asia, and Northern Africa.  Female representation in parliaments remains low at 20 percent, far short of parity.

Child Mortality

Between 1990 and 2015, reduce by two-thirds the under-five mortality rate.

Between 1990 and 2008, the number of child deaths before the age of five dropped from 100 to 72 for every 1,000 live births.  What is shocking, however, is that almost nine million children still die before the age of five each year.  Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the hardest hit with this tragedy, with one in seven children dying before their fifth birthday.

Maternal Health

  • Reduce by three-fourths, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.
  • Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health.

Every year, more than one million children lose a mother in childbirth.  These children are 10 times more likely to die prematurely than those who have not.  The maternal mortality rate is declining only slowly; hundreds of thousands of women still die annually from complications during childbirth, 99 percent of whom are in the developing world.

HIV/AIDS and Other Diseases

  • Halt and begin to reverse, by 2015, the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • Achieve by 2010, universal treatment for HIV/AIDS and those who need it.
  • Halt and begin to reverse, by 2015, the incidence of malaria and other diseases.

Globally, the number of new HIV infections fell steadily from a peak of 3.5 million in 1996 to 2.7 million in 2008. Deaths from AIDS-related illnesses also dropped from 2.2 million in 2004 to two million in 2008.  Still, everyday over 7,400 people are infected with HIV and 5,500 die from AIDS-related illnesses.  Another shocking statistic: HIV remains the leading cause of death for reproductive-age women worldwide.  Once again, sub-Saharan Africa is hardest hit: An estimated 33.4 million people were living with HIV in 2008.

Environmental Sustainability

  • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies.
  • Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss.
  • Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
  • Achieve, by 2020, a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

It is not insignificant to report that, since 1990, 1.7 billion people have gained access to safe drinking water.  It remains that 884 million people still do not have access to safe drinking water and another 2.6 billion do not have basic sanitation.  The UN appears to have admitted defeat on its biodiversity target, saying “based on current trends, the loss of species will continue throughout this century.” As a later post will discuss, the MDGs is also failing to improve the lives of the increasing numbers of slum dwellers in the developing world’s urban areas.

Global Partnership

  • Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system
  • Address the special needs of least developed countries
  • Deal comprehensively with developing countries’ debt
  • Provide access to affordable, essential drugs in developing countries
  • Make available benefits of new technologies, especially ICTs

The UN called on developed countries to contribute 0.7 percent of national income to development assistance.  This number is at a mere 0.31 with only five member countries meeting or exceeding this target.  The good news is that debt levels have dropped below historical levels, and are expected to stay that way.  Despite the efforts to bring technology to even the most remote villages, only one in six people in the developing world has Internet access.

“These are not just challenges for a summit week.  These are challenges everyday.” -Robert Zoellick, President of World Bank, Monday at the UN summit.

It takes little effort for me to sit and type a summary of the UN’s targets and the current state of developing nations.  These numbers tend not to resonate with  many – it’s almost too overwhelming to absorb.  The amount of people living in abject poverty remains high and women continue to be disproportionately affected.  Becoming aware of these issues is just the beginning.

What You Can Do

Donate or volunteer for organizations like CARE or Women Thrive Worldwide. Lobby your congressperson to pass important legislation that affects development (you can follow these bills on CARE’s website).  Perhaps most importantly, remember that each number listed above represents real human faces; people who were born into a situation without a choice.  And we have the resources to help.

3 thoughts on “Millenium Development Goals: An Overview

  1. Pingback: MDG Summit: Binoculars on the Positive « 4WomenWorldwide

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