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Progress on the UN Millennium Development Goals

January 13, 2014

The beginning of 2014 seems like a good time to take a look at the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to see how the world is doing toward the 2015 targets that were set in 2000. (The eight goals were embraced by the world community in 2000 as a concerted attack on poverty and the problems of illiteracy, hunger, discrimination against women, unsafe drinking water and a degraded environment.)

Fortunately, the United Nations recently issued a very detailed report, which can be found here.

According to the report, impressive progress has been made in meeting many of the targets, including halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water. The proportion of slum dwellers has declined significantly, and remarkable gains have been made in the fight against malaria and tuberculosis.

However, one in eight people in the world remain hungry. Too many women die in childbirth and more than 2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation facilities. Additionally, many areas are experiencing the impacts of climate change, and the world's resource base is in serious decline.

To summarize the findings, the report breaks the progress on target goals into three categories:

  • Targets that have already been met or are within close reach
  • Targets where accelerated progress and bolder action are needed
  • Targets where attention needs to focus on disparities that stand in the way of improvements

Met or Nearly Met Targets

  • The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been halved at the global level. About 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990.
  • Over 2 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water. The proportion of the global population using improved drinking water sources reached 89 percent in 2010 up from 76 percent in 1990.
  • Remarkable gains have been met in the fight against malaria and tuberculosis. Mortality rates from malaria fell by more than 25 percent between 2000 and 2010, and death rates from tuberculosis are likely to be halved by 2015 compared to 1990 levels.
  • The population of slum dwellers in the cities and metropolises of the developing world is declining. Between 2000 and 2010, over 200 million slum dwellers benefitted from improved water sources, sanitation facilities, and durable housing exceeding the 100 million target.
  • The hunger reduction target in within reach. The proportion of undernourished people in developing regions decreased from 23 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2010.

Targets Needing Bolder Action

  • Environmental sustainability is under severe threat, demanding a new level of global cooperation. The growth in carbon emissions is accelerating, and emissions today are more than 46 percent higher than their 1990 levels.
  • Big gains have been made in child survival, but more must be done to meet our obligations to the youngest generation. The mortality rate for children under five dropped by 41 percent between 1990 and 2011, but more must be done to meet the 2015 target of two-thirds reduction in child deaths.
  • Most maternal deaths are preventable, but progress in this area is falling short. The maternal mortality rate declined by 47 percent over the past two decades, but meeting the 2015 target of three quarters reduction will require accelerated interventions.
  • Access to antiretroviral therapy and knowledge about HIV prevention must expand. While new HIV infections are declining, an estimated 34 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2011 and the MDG target of universal access to antiretroviral therapy for all that need it by 2010 was missed.
  • Too many children are still denied their right to primary education. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of children out of school declined by almost half, but progress has slowed considerably, and the target of universal primary education by 2015 will likely be missed.
  • Gains in sanitation are impressive - but not good enough. From 1990 to 2011, nearly 2 billion people gained access to a latrine, flush toilet or other improved facility, but more is needed to reach the MDG target of an additional one billion people.

Targets Needing Attention to Disparities

  • Rural-urban gaps persist - access to reproductive health services and to clean drinking water are two examples. In 2011, 53 percent of deliveries in rural areas were attended by skilled health personnel compared to 84 percent in urban areas.
  • The poorest children are most likely to be out of school. Children from the poorest households are three times more likely to be out of school than children from the richest households, and girls are more likely to be out of school than boys.
  • Gender-based inequalities in decision-making power persist. In many places, women continue to be denied equal opportunity with men to participate in decisions that affect their lives.

While the UN Report asserts that the Millennium Development Goals have been "the most successful global anti-poverty push in history," it also acknowledges that more needs to be done to achieve current goals and to set "an ambitious, yet realistic" post-2015 agenda. In the meanwhile, American Express is helping to train and develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders who are tackling these problems head on. And, it's heartening to see that significant progress has been made and overall more people are moving toward the type of world envisioned by the UN General Assembly in 2000.

What do you think? Have we made enough progress on these goals to date? What more can be done? Please share your ideas with us by clicking here. Or alternatively, follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and comment there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog with others.

P.S. Did you know that mobile-cellular subscriptions are moving toward saturation levels and almost 40 percent of the world's population is online, but broadband service is still out of reach for many in developing countries?


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