Millennium Development Goals approach… Certain Development?

(Students Rebuild)

ALL EIGHT of the Millennium Development Goals simultaneously crossed a milestone earlier this year – “1000 Days Left.” Or maybe it’s more of a warning sign.

Since the Year 2000 (and those heady days of roboboogie), 189+ nation states have been working to eradicate extreme poverty around the world, prompted by the United Nations. The idea that all people on Earth deserve the most basic human rights – to health, education, shelter and security –  which seemed like good, agreeable aim all of a sudden. And certainly more possible in this day and age than any that have preceded it.

Following discussions at an infrequently-held Millennium Summit, the UN proposed eight goals for 2015 – to see that all 6.1 billion (now 7.1 billion) of us gain access to the barest essentials for human dignity:

  1. Eradicate extreme hunger and povertyincluding halving* proportion of those earning less than $1/day
  2. Achieve universal primary educationyep, for every child worldwide
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women – eliminating gender disparity in education
  4. Reduce child mortalityby ⅔* for children under 5
  5. Improve maternal healthreduce by ¾* the maternal mortality ratio
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseaseshalting the spread and beginning the reverse of the world’s most threatening diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainabilityincluding introducing sustainable policies into governmental law, and halving the proportion of people lacking access to safe drinking water and sanitation
  8. Develop a global partnership for development – addressing debts, special needs of developing nations, and access to work, essential drugs and technology

(*between 1990 and 2015. Worth noting the UN also set out, within these goals, 18 targets and 48 indicators of success.)

To say the least, these goals are lofty, especially considering the timeframe.

What exactly does nearly 200 countries eradicating poverty in 15 years look like? Well, it’s messy. But recently the UN has been celebrating the effectiveness, to date, of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“The world has made significant progress in achieving many of the Goals,” notes the timeless Millennium Project website. “Between 1990 and 2002 average overall incomes increased by approximately 21 percent. The number of people in extreme poverty declined by an estimated 130 million 1. Child mortality rates fell from 103 deaths per 1,000 live births a year to 88. Life expectancy rose from 63 years to nearly 65 years. An additional 8 percent of the developing world’s people received access to water. And an additional 15 percent acquired access to improved sanitation services.”

Progress is being made – woot! But, as the citation itself admits, a lot seems to have been accomplished against the 1990 baseline even before the Goals were created. (And in fact a study released last month challenged whether the MDGs had any effect whatsoever on what could be naturally occurring progress.)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is unphased by these criticisms.

Secretary General Ban is the most propulsive force behind the MDGs – ambitious, striving, and altogether too cognizant of the extreme difficulties of such a commitment. Still – he urges every UN member to pull all the stops to meet the Goals.

In April, Mr. Ban announced a special 1000-day campaign to close the gap, a call for “accelerated action” to close the development gap. He’s a long-term thinker with a keen eye on the short-term steps needed to get there – an interesting combination that may have grown in part from his childhood living through the Korean war – and the UNs efforts rebuilding the country.

Ban Ki-moon – 1000 Days to the Deadline of MDGs – 2:02

The Secretary General is also quick to note that just because 2015 will come and go, that does not mean our mission as a world is accomplished. Some of the Goals only get us part of the way there…and where do you stop when thinking about how to make the world better anyway??

Just yesterday the UN General Assembly reconvened for its 68th session. The key topic is determining what path to take in the next “development cycle,” after 2015. The Assembly has structured a series of debates and reviews of progress made on the Goals…with of course Ban’s accompanying pleas for collaboration.

In a way, a big way, the Millennium Development Goals have already succeeded, if only for the enormous spotlight they cast on poverty around the world, and bringing this self-awareness to each of the UN’s member nations. The awareness makes all the difference.

The other day a friend posted a photo series showing the bedrooms of slum apartments in Hong Kong. The images were striking, and looking over all the personal items, so carefully arranged in the smallest spaces, I got an intimate sense of how folks half a world away lead their lives. There are real, rural areas in Africa whose clinics don’t have electricity. Afghanistan historically disallowed girls from attending school (though that’s rapidly changing). Beyond our bedrooms is a huge, turbulent world, and the fact that we, as countries and citizens, are driven to improve it is astonishing.

“No one must be left behind,” Ban concludes in the latest MDGs report from July.

“We must continue to build a future of justice and hope, a life of dignity for all.”


Image: The sanitation block at Pele School in Haiti nears completion – delivering on Goal 7 (water and sanitation) to hundreds of students. Photo by Stanley Joseph, Architecture for Humanity

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