Millennium Development Goals

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

The United Nations is set up to deal with several sectors of society – government, civil, business, and education. In the United States, we are very familiar with the UN’s work with the government sector primarily through the General Assembly (with the government representatives from all 193 member countries) and the Security Council (of which the US is one of the five permanent members with 10 rotating members). However we are less familiar with the UN’s work with the civil sector or the business sector.

The civil sector work is accomplished through a whole collection of UN Agencies such as UNICEF, UNESCO, WHO, and others. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) has as its mission, “To promote and support international cooperation, to achieve development for all, and assist governments in agenda-setting and decision-making on development issues at the global level”. This is a broad statement and for several years since the birth of the UN in 1945 did a generally decent job.

However it became apparent in the 1990’s that for the Mission to be successful, there needed to be goals set. These goals needed to be identifiable, attainable, measurable and targeted within a set time frame in order to report on progress. In the year 2000, all of the government representatives in the General Assembly agreed on what became known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The number one goal was to eradicate poverty, but there were seven other general goals and each of these eight general goals had from one to five sub goals which were very specific.

Although these goals were approved by the General Assembly, the accomplishments of these goals were not funded by the governments. So the achievement of these goals had to be done through the massive number of Non Government Organizations (NGO’s) through the leadership provided by the UN Agencies dealing with civil society. NGO’s are organizations with a mission to “help make society better”. In the United States, we tend to think in terms of non-profit organizations but there is a difference. NGO’s have as a mission to help make society better. While some non-profits may have that as their mission, many do not. Often, an NGO will be international in scope, but not always. Some of the more common NGOs would be the International Red Cross/Red Crescent, the Doctors Without Borders, Rotary International, the Girl Scouts/Girl Guides, etc. But NGOs may also include think tanks and other organizations that are not attached to any government operations.

MDG Goals

The MDG goals, both general and specific, are as follows:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

    1. Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day.

    2. Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people

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

  2. Achieve universal primary education

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

  3. Promote gender equality and empower women

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

  4. Reduce child mortality

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

  5. Improve maternal health

    1. Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio.

    2. Achieve universal access to reproductive health.

  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other Diseases

    1. Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS

    2. Achieve by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it.

    3. Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases

  7. Ensure environmental sustainability

    1. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs and reverse the loss of environmental resources

    2. Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss.

    3. Halve by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

    4. Achieve, by 2020, a significant improvement of the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

  8. Develop a global partnership for development

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

    2. Address the special needs of least developed countries.

    3. Address the special needs of landlocked developing countries and Small Island developing States.

    4. Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries

    5. In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries.

    6. In cooperation with the private sector, make available benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications.

The first seven goals are targeting the poor in the Least Developed Countries. (The UN categorizes countries as Least Developed Countries, Developing Countries, and Most Developed Countries.) The eighth goal is targeting the partnership required with the Developing Countries and the Most Developed Countries. The year 1990 was used as a base for some of these statistics because at the time the MDGs were published, the 10-year census information universally had not been gathered.

Reducing Poverty

In the forward to the report “Reducing Poverty and Achieving the Millennium Development Goals” published by the UN Population Fund (UN FPA) it states: A bold and ambitious agenda was set forth in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to raise the quality of life for all individuals and promote human development. The goals represent our collective aspirations for a better life, and a minimum roadmap on how to get there.” In 2010, the new Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, established an Advocacy Group to support the Secretary-General in building political will and mobilizing global action for the benefit of the poor and most vulnerable, aiming for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 target date. The World Bank, on its home page says “The World Bank is committed to helping achieve the MDGs because, simply put, these goals are our goals.”

The United Nations publishes an annual report showing graphically as well as statistically (and narratively) the progress that has been made toward each of these goals. The Annual Report of the MDGs for 2013 can be found here.

Many of the goals have been attained in some of the regions. In a Huffington Post article, Hayley Richardson, Policy and Advocacy Officer at United Nations Association – UK, states that “In 1990, 47 percent (1.9 billion) of the total population of developing countries lived on under $1.25 a day. The world celebrated in 2010 when, five years ahead of the MDG deadline, the target to halve this percentage had been met and stood at 22 percent (1.2 billion). (This was a reprint from a chapter in “Global Development Goals: Leaving No One Behind”, a 150 page PDF report published by the UNA-UK.) However, even in these regions that have made these goals there are individual countries that have not. Asia, for example has shown great progress, but this is because of the economic rise of both India and China. Other countries, especially in Southeast Asia, have not done as well. As a region, Africa has done the poorest.

The seventh goal, also, has not been successful. This is why the MDGs are being extended to “2015 and beyond” and will now become known as the Sustainability Development Goals, or SDGs. Some of the other MDGs will also carry over as an SDG so that a goal, such as hunger, will now not only be attained by providing food, but will be attained by providing sustainable food.

The MDGs were a big experiment, and were generally successful. They were tremendously successful in that they showed what it took to set goals for global problem and then to attain them. It has been a learning experience that will hopefully be useful in the setting of the SDGs.

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