Where Are We Now? The Millennium Development Goals — Part One

In September 2000, the member nations comprising the United Nations (UN) convened at the New York headquarters to adopt the Millennium Declaration.

Eight individual goals were developed to alleviate extreme poverty and its underlying causes. Collectively, these are known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Using 1990 as a base year for measurement, the UN set out to achieve the MDGs before December 31, 2015. UN member states, along with several developmental institutions such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank, agreed to work toward these goals.

Each MDG goal has its own targets and indicators to measure success. With the deadline swiftly approaching, it is time to measure progress against the MDGs, beginning with the first two goals.

Eradicating Extreme Poverty and Hunger

The UN set three targets to measure progress toward the first MDG of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. The first was to halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day. Initially, this was set at $1 a day, but was changed in 2008 when the World Bank reassessed pricing in the developing world. Regardless, this target was met five years ahead of schedule when the percent of people living beneath the extreme poverty line dropped from 47 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2010.

The second target, achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people, has not had the same success. Since 2007, 67 million people have lost their job or dropped out of the market. An additional 384 million workers still fall below the extreme poverty line. Work, therefore, does not necessarily mean full and productive employment. Furthermore, a substantial gender gap still exists, with nearly a 25 percent difference between men and women when examining the number of people employed compared to the overall population.

While the goal’s first target may have been met, there are 1.2 billion people still living in extreme poverty worldwide.

Between 1990 and 2012, the proportion of undernourished people declined from 23.2 percent to 14.9 percent globally. While only 3.3 percent away from the target, current estimates still suggest that one in eight people go to bed hungry, translating to 870 million people globally.

While the goal’s first target may have been met, there are 1.2 billion people still living in extreme poverty worldwide. UN institutions and member states are expected to set more ambitious goals when they reconvene in 2015 to discuss future targets.

According to UNICEF, educating today’s children is the key to eradicating cyclical poverty, with education being one of the primary factors contributing to the procurement and retention of productive employment. By this reasoning, achieving success toward the first MDG is reliant on achieving the second MDG.

Achieving Universal Primary Education

Only one target was set for this MDG: To ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. Significant strides have been made, with the primary enrollment rate in developing regions currently at 90 percent. This is up from 82 percent in 1999, but it is not close enough to the goal of 100 percent. In addition, 123 million youth between the ages of 15 and 24 lack basic reading and writing skills. This lack of basic literacy skills is found in areas where children are attending primary school, which has brought to light another problem: Primary education is not always effective.

There are different reasons why this goal presents a challenge for many countries. Reasons range from enrollment to transportation fees. Parents in many developing countries also battle real concerns about children’s safety while in transit and at school. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), hunger is also a barrier as it limits concentration, and procuring food often becomes a more immediate need than education for starving families.

More To Accomplish

Looking at the first two MDGs, it becomes apparent just how linked the causes and effects of poverty are, yet success in one area does not directly translate to another.

While poverty does not adhere to national or regional boundaries, the measures of poverty do just that. What constitutes poverty in one region does not necessarily correlate to another. This may complicate local initiatives toward eradicating the challenges presented. Perhaps international pressure at the country level is required to remove the barriers to change.

Where Are We Now? The Millennium Development Goals — Part Two
Where Are We Now? The Millennium Development Goals — Part Three
Where Are We Now? The Millennium Development Goals — Part Four