Millenium Development Goal

8 Millennium Development Goals: Where Are We Today?

Photo courtesy of USAID via Flickr

Nearly a decade and a half ago, the UN set in motion eight vital millennium development goals to be achieved by 2015.

Now that 2015 has arrived, we’re able to look back on the past fifteen years and take a look at how well the planet has done in reaching the UN’s lofty humanitarian goals.

1. Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty

The good news: The UN’s goal to halve global poverty by 2015, according to the UN, was reached five years ahead of schedule.

The bad news: Depending on how you look at the data, this may not quite be true.

Critics have claimed that the UN’s poverty metrics are inaccurate, as the goals have been diluted several times over the years to emphasize poverty reduction.

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The goal was changed from a reduction of over 800 million to only 345 million. But the definition of poverty itself is also skewed: the IPL (international poverty line) refers to what $1.25 a day could buy a U.S. citizen in 2005, even though it is impossible to survive on this amount.

If the IPL were doubled to $2.50 (a more reasonable IPL) the narrative would change to show a global increase in poverty instead of reduction: half of world’s population, and rising.

2. Achieve universal primary education

The good news: According to the UN, enrollment in primary education in developing regions was up to 90 percent in 2010 from 82 percent in 1999, and a 2 million decline in out-of-school  children since 2007.

The bad news: Some 58 million children of primary school age were still out of school in 2012. Not all countries have seen improvement, with the lowest rates seen in sub-saharan Africa. Critics also speculate that enrollment does not necessarily equate with learning quality.

The UN’s goal won’t be reached, but 90 percent isn’t bad.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women

The good news: Support for gender equality has increased steadily since the 1970s, more women are involved in politics and education, and the health gap between genders is about 96 percent closed.

The bad news: Though women still two thirds of the world’s working hours and produce half of the world’s food, they earn just 10 percent of the world’s income and own 1 percent of the world’s property. Women are still also disproportionately illiterate, and make up 70 percent of those in poverty.

Most countries have achieved gender equality in primary education, but only two have on higher levels. Overall, progress in this area has been slow.

4. Reduce child mortality

The good news: According to the UN, the number of children under 5 dying has decreased by 17,000 a day between 1990 and 2013. The measles vaccine in particular has averted of 14 million deaths.

The bad news: Though globally child mortality is in decline, the proportion is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. In spite of this admittedly accelerated reduction, 65 percent of countries will not meet the goal of a two-thirds reduction by 2015.

Though thankfully American anti-vaxxers aren’t clouding the progress in this area. But 3 million infant deaths a year from preventable causes is 3 million too many.

5. Improve maternal health

The good news: The maternity mortality rate dropped by 45 percent between 1990 and 2013.

The bad news: Only half of women in developing nations have access to the healthcare recommended, and there are no regions on track to meeting the UN’s goal of decreasing maternal mortality rate by 75 percent by 2015.

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

The good news: In 2014, AIDS-related deaths were at their lowest in a decade worldwide. According to the UN, HIV infections per 100 adults declined by 45 percent between 2001 and 2012.

The bad news: Though the UN’s goal to reverse diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV have seen declines nearing 50 percent, none will be eradicated. Universal access to treatment, another UN target, will also not be attained this year.

7. Ensure environmental sustainability

The good news: The UN asserts that their goal to halve the proportion of people without access to clean water was met in 2010, five years ahead of schedule.

The goal of significantly improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers has also been been achieved, though by just how much is not known.

The bad news: Some contest the UN’s alleged achievement on clean water may misleading, and not an appropriate measure of actual water safety. But even taken at face value, one in five people could be without drinking water by 2025 due to a rising population.

Similarly, the goal to reverse biodiversity has yet to be met: wildlife declined by as much as half in recent decades, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature. Though this claim may be inflated, it’s still indicative of a trend of biodiversity loss.

8. Develop a global partnership for development

The good news: The UN’s website cites increased development assistance and increased technology adoption by developing nations.

The bad news: This particular goal did not set any time-bound targets, making it hard to keep wealthy countries accountable. A UN taskforce has also said that it’s been difficult to identify areas of significant progress, and even noted some backsliding in 2012.

The takeaway

Of the goals mentioned, some have seen more growth and solutions than others. The world has made great strides in education and medicine, while other issues such as poverty, gender equality, and sustainability remain murky and comparatively stagnant.

One study has even suggested that the rate of improvement may have had little to do with the UN’s millennium development goals, statistically, as the trajectory was consistent with developmental progress prior to its launch.

The millennium development goals are admittedly mostly aspirational rather than practical, and any bit of improvement can be viewed as a partial success. As expected, there is a lot more work to do.

New Sustainable Development Goals, which will replace the MDG in 2015, are currently being negotiated by the UN.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert