Ten-year MDG assessment yields mixed view of present, future

September 20, 2010

As the United Nations convened on Sept. 21 in New York for the second day of a three-day summit on the Millennium Development Goals, many delegates were considering a mountain of statistics-filled reports attempting to give the world a sense of how close the goals are to being achieved by their 2015 deadline.

The goals are a set of eight targets designed to reduce by half poverty, hunger, maternal and child deaths, disease, inadequate shelter, gender inequality and environmental degradation. The world's leaders agreed in 2000 to achieve the goals by 2015.

The two major reports available are the U.N.'s 80-page 2010 MDG report, which notes that "uneven" progress has been made towards achieving the goals and calls for a "major push forward," and the 102-page 2010 report of the MDG Gap Task Force. The former reports on the achievements thus far for every goal while the latter looks specifically at the work done on Goal 8, which calls for the development of global partnerships.

"The goals are achievable when nationally owned development strategies, policies and programs are supported by international development partners," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon writes in the foreword of the 2010 MDG report.

The goal-by-goal report notes that "collective efforts towards achievement of the MDGs have made inroads in many areas."

Researchers measured progress towards the eight Millennium Development Goals through 21 targets and 60 official indicators against a 1990 baseline. The resulting aggregate numbers are "a convenient way to track progress," the report notes, but adds that "the situation of individual countries within a given region may vary significantly from regional averages." More detailed data is available here.

Below are brief summaries of the MDG report's findings, predictions and warnings for each goal.

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

  • The overall poverty rate is still expected to fall to 15 percent by 2015, indicating that the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target can be met. This means that about 920 million people will still be living under the international poverty line -- half the number in 1990.
  • Poverty rates will be slightly higher in 2015 and even beyond, to 2020, than they would have been had the world economy grown steadily at its pre-economic crisis pace.
  • "Progress to end hunger has been stymied in most regions" by recent financial and food crises.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

  • Hope is dimming for universal education by 2015, even though many poor countries have made "tremendous strides."
  • Enrollment in primary education has continued to rise, reaching 89 percent in the developing world. "But the pace of progress is insufficient to ensure that, by 2015, all girls and boys complete a full course of primary schooling," in part because to reach the goal by the target date all children at the official entry age for primary school would have had to be attending classes by 2009 or so.
  • In half of the sub-Saharan African countries with available data, at least one in four children of primary-school age was out of school in 2008.
  • Countries have to supply enough teachers and classrooms if the goal is to be met. For instance, the number of new teachers needed in sub-Saharan Africa between now and 2015 equals the region's current teaching force.
  • Though enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa remains the lowest of all regions, it still increased from 58 percent to 76 percent between 1999 and 2008, and progress also was made in Southern Asia and Northern Africa.

Goal 3: Promote gender quality and empower women

  • "The developing regions as a whole are approaching gender parity in educational enrollment," according to the report. In 2008, there were 96 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in primary school, and 95 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in secondary school. In 1999, the ratios were 91:100 and 88:100 for the two levels of education, respectively.
  • Gender parity in primary and secondary education -- a target that was to be met by 2005 -- "is still out of reach for many developing regions," with the "steepest challenges" for primary education found in Oceania, sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia.
  • Girls of primary-school age from the poorest 60 percent of households are three times more likely to be out of school as those from the wealthiest households, and their chances of attending secondary school are even slimmer. Older girls in general are more likely to be out of school.
  • Working women do not always have "secure, decent jobs," and are typically paid less than men.
  • In countries with agriculture-based economies, women are "largely in vulnerable jobs … with no or little financial security or social benefits."
  • "Women are slowly rising to political power, but mainly when boosted by quotas and other special measures."

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

  • Child deaths are falling, but not quickly enough to reach the target.
  • Since 1990, the mortality rate for children under age five in developing countries dropped by 28 percent -- from 100 deaths per 1,000 live births to 72 in 2008. Globally, the total number of under-five deaths declined from 12.5 million in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2008. In 2008, 10,000 fewer children died each day than in 1990.
  • Pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and AIDS accounted for 43 percent of all deaths in children under five years worldwide in 2008. French President Nicholas Sarkosy noted that 30 African children died of malaria during his nearly 8 minute speech to the General Assembly on Sept. 20.

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

  • Measuring maternal deaths resulting from the complications of pregnancy or childbirth "is challenging at best" because of systematic underreporting and misreporting.
  • An acceleration in the provision of maternal and reproductive health services to women in all regions, along with "positive trend data," suggest that the world is making some progress on this goal.
  • Most maternal deaths could be avoided; hemorrhage and hypertension account for half of all deaths in expectant or new mothers in developing regions. Indirect causes, including malaria, HIV/AIDS and heart disease, result in 18 percent of maternal deaths.
  • More rural women are receiving skilled assistance during delivery.
  • Poverty and lack of education perpetuate high adolescent birth rates while use of contraception is lowest among the poorest women and those with no education.

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

  • The spread of HIV "appears to have stabilized in most regions, and more people are surviving longer."
  • However, "many young people still lack the knowledge to protect themselves against HIV."
  • There is a "wide gap" between knowledge of HIV and preventive action, sometimes due to cultural mores. There is growing evidence linking gender-based violence with the spread of HIV.
  • AIDS orphans are at greater risk of poor health, education and protection than children who have lost parents for other reasons.
  • Production of insecticide-treated mosquito nets has soared, and expanded use of insecticide-treated bed nets in Africa is protecting many communities from malaria.
  • Endemic African countries have received enough nets to cover more than half of their populations at risk of malaria.
  • The "global burden of tuberculosis" is falling slowly. The 2008 rate was 139 cases per 100,000 people in 2008, compared with 143 cases per 100,000 in 2004.

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

  • Deforestation seems to be decreasing, "but is still alarmingly high." About 13 million hectares of forest worldwide were converted to other uses or lost through natural causes each year in the last 10 years, compared to 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s.
  • In 2007, global emissions of carbon dioxide again rose 3.2 percent from 2006, reaching 30 billion metric tons, a 35 percent increase above the 1990 level.
  • Per capita emissions are highest in the developed regions with about 12 metric tons of CO2 per person per year in 2007, compared to about 3 metric tons per person in the developing regions and 0.9 metric tons in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • "The number of species facing extinction is growing by the day, especially in developing countries" and the loss of biodiversity "unrelenting." Nearly 17,000 species of plants and animals are known to be threatened with extinction and the loss of species means "increasing risk of dramatic shifts in ecosystems and erosion of benefits for society."
  • Overfishing has stabilized, but "steep challenges remain" to ensure the sustainability of global fisheries.
  • The MDG drinking water target will be met by 2015 if current trends continue. An estimated 86 percent of the population in developing regions will have access to improved sources of drinking water.
  • However, with half the population of developing regions living without sanitation, that target "appears to be out of reach."

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development

  • Aid continues to rise despite the financial crisis, but Africa is being short-changed.
  • In 2009, net disbursements of official development assistance amounted to $119.6 billion, or 0.31 percent of the combined national income of developed countries, which the report says was in real terms, this is a slight increase (0.7 percent) compared to the previous year.
  • Developing countries are gaining greater access to the markets of developed countries. Least-developed countries benefit most from tariff reductions, especially on their agricultural products.
  • Debt burdens are easing for developing countries and remain well below historical levels. Among other benefits, lower debt affects a country's creditworthiness and its vulnerability to further economic shocks.

The Episcopal Church has been committed since 2003 to helping the world achieve the standards called for in the MDGs. The goals formed the basis of the church's budget priorities for the 2006-2009 triennium and a continued commitment to the goals was included in a different set of priorities for the 2010-2012 budget.

Meanwhile, noting that "much has been done," Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said via a video message Sept. 20 that Anglicans need to work in harmony with governments and non-governmental organizations around the world in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the deadline.

Video streams of individual speakers during the Sept. 20 and 21 plenary sessions are available here, as is video from MDG-related press conferences and other special summit events.

The texts of the statements by heads of states and other officials made during the two days of plenary sessions are here, many of them in the native language of the speaker.