New Internationalist

Missing the Millennium Development Goals

Issue 375

All the member states of the UN adopted a Millennium Declaration at a special session of the General Assembly in September 2000. They went on to agree a set of Development Goals that are now a formal priority for every relevant UN agency. Here the NI takes a critical look at them - and keeps the score.

The goals were made deliberately modest. Even more ‘realistic’ targets were then set for each goal. The start date was fixed at 1990, the finish date 2015 – a period of 25 years in all – so projections for the future would relate to established trends. Just 10 of the 25 years now remain.

How the targets were to be met was left unclear. A ‘global partnership for development’ was to be ‘developed’. A UN Conference on Financing for Development in March 2002 pledged few new resources – fewer still have been delivered. The focus was to be on aid, rather than ‘innovative’ measures (such as a ‘Tobin’ tax on currency speculation) or any change to the mechanisms of debt and trade.

In 2003 the UNDP Human Development Report made an assessment of progress. It painted a bleak picture, from which the comments below are derived. On current trends sub-Saharan Africa is going backwards. In the world as a whole (including rich countries), the target on hunger is unlikely to be reached until after 2040; on child mortality until nearly 2050; on primary education until after 2090.

All the projections rely on current economic growth rates in India and China, which are likely to prove unsustainable. Overall, the best-performing region is Latin America where, since the overthrow of military dictatorships, neoliberal economic orthodoxy has been most hotly contested.

Disrespect for the lives of many millions of people is, however, set to continue for generations to come – if not indefinitely. Many of the trends are adverse and cast into doubt the whole ‘development’ project itself.

ECONOMIC
Goal: Develop a global partnership for development

TARGET: Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system.

TARGET: Address the special needs of the least developed countries.

TARGET: Address the special needs of landlocked countries and small island developing states.

TARGET: Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long term.

TARGET: In co-operation with developing countries, develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth.

TARGET: In co-operation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries.

TARGET: In co-operation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications.

COMMENT: The ‘partnership for development’ prescribes current neoliberal orthodoxy – with the ‘private sector’ (corporations) and pharmaceutical companies thrown in. Aid would need to increase by $50 billion a year just to regain the levels of the early 1990s, and by $120 billion (half of it from the US) a year to reach the target 0.7 per cent of rich-country income that was reasserted by the 2002 Finance for Development Conference – which itself produced just $15 billion. A 2003 report on ‘third world’ debt found that since 2000 progress had been ‘glacial’: ‘It appears that creditors have done their best to ensure that as few countries as possible trickle through the net of debt cancellation.’

SOCIAL
Goal: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

TARGET: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day.

COMMENT: In sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union, the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day will have increased by 2015.

TARGET: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

COMMENT: Although malnourishment is declining almost everywhere, only in Latin America and the Caribbean is the target likely to be met.

Goal: Achieve universal primary education

TARGET: Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

COMMENT: Primary school enrolment is increasing everywhere except in East Asia and the Pacific, but the target will be missed everywhere except in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Goal: Promote gender equality and empower women

TARGET: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and to all levels of education no later than 2015.

COMMENT: Accurate information is remarkably scarce except in South Asia and the Arab States, where the target will be missed. In Latin America the target had almost been reached by 2000.

Goal: Reduce child mortality

TARGET: Reduce by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate.

COMMENT: Child mortality rates are falling everywhere, except in southern Africa, but the target will not be met anywhere except in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Goal: Improve maternal health

TARGET: Reduce by three-quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.

COMMENT: No official projections. The current situation is shocking. The lifetime risk of dying from maternal causes in sub-Saharan Africa is 1 in 16, compared with 1 in 160 in Latin America and 1 in 4,000 in Western Europe.

Goal: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

TARGET: Have halted by 2015 and have begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.

COMMENT: The global HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to worsen. Some countries could reach the target, but not without an unprecedented increase in the level of effort.

TARGET: Halt by 2015 and have begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

COMMENT: No authoritative projections. The World Health Organization estimates that 300-500 million cases of malaria occur each year, leading to 1.1 million deaths. Each year tuberculosis kills around 2 million people and there are about 8 million new cases.

ENVIRONMENTAL
Goal: Ensure environmental sustainability

TARGET: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the losses of environmental resources.

COMMENT: Little progress, and sharp deterioration across a range of environmental measures.

TARGET: Halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

COMMENT: Both targets will be missed in sub-Saharan Africa.

TARGET: Achieve by 2020 a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

COMMENT: UN-HABITAT estimates that there are currently 924 million slum dwellers in the world and that without significant intervention to improve access to water, sanitation, secure tenure and adequate housing this number could grow to 1.5 billion by 2020.

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