Millennium development goals: Two down, six to go

Millennium development goals: Two down, six to go

The United Nations has met two of its eight development goals, well ahead of the 2015 deadline. Six goals are left.

The first goal, to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty — or on less than $1.25 a day — was announced to have been met in a World Bank report last week. The economic recession appears not to have halted that progress, despite fears that it would. For the first time since the World Bank started recording statistics in 1981, poverty fell in every region of the world.

The second millennium goal, to ensure environmental sustainability, has been met in large part because we have cut in half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, according to a report issued by the U.N. children’s agency and the World Health Organization. More than 2 billion people gained access to safe drinking water between 1990 and 2010, meaning 89 percent of the world’s population now has access. Meeting the basic sanitation target or decreasing the number of animals threatened with extinction, however, will be much harder to achieve.

Below, we lay out the six millenium development goals that remain and how likely we are to meet them:

Achieve universal primary education

Status: Unlikely to be met.

Why not? Although enrollment in primary education rose to 89 percent in the developing world in 2008, the pace of progress is “insufficient” to ensure that all girls and boys will complete a full course of primary schooling by 2015, according to the U.N.

How could we do better? Ethi­o­pia, one of Africa's poorest countries, is one of the countries on track to meet the goal. But Voice of America reports that getting children in classrooms is just a start — they also need to be brought up to basic literacy levels.  

Promote gender inequality and empower women

Status: Unlikely to be met.

Why not? The U.N. reports that gender gaps in university-level education and in some developing regions remain high. The proportion of women employed outside agriculture is still as low as 20 percent in Southern Asia, Western Asia and northern Africa. And while the proportion of women in government is rising globally, it’s happening very slowly.

How could we do better? The U.N. suggests that women’s quotas in parliament could ensure gender equality, the Pakistan Observer reports.

Reduce child mortality

Status: Unlikely to be met.

Why not? While child deaths are falling — the U.N. reports they fell by 28 percent between 1990 and 2008 — they aren’t falling fast enough. Almost 9 million children still die annually before they are 5. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2008, one in seven children died before that birthday.

How could we do better? SOS Children’s Villages, a children’s rights organization, says many deaths could be prevented in parts of Africa if medical centers used the right supplies.

Improve maternal health

Status: Unclear.

Why? Although serious progress has been made in maternal health, mortality for mothers remains very high. The millennium development goal calls for reducing by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio by 2015. While some sub-Saharan African countries have halved those levels, and other regions have done even better, others are still missing the mark.

How could we do better? The Guardian argued this week that the World Bank should cut health-care user fees and expand grants in spending on reproductive health if it wanted to truly improve the health of mothers.

Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Status: Could be achieved.

Why? The number of new HIV infections fell from a peak in 1996 of 3.5 million to 2.7 million in 2008. Deaths from AIDS-related illnesses have also dropped, and the epidemic appears to have stabilized in most regions. However, HIV infections are still rising in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

How could we do better? All Africa reported last month that although the major grant by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has finally been released, many local non-governmental organizations in Africa still have not received the money.

Develop a global partnership for development

Status: Somewhat achieved.

Why? In some way, the Millennium Development Goals actually are the global partnership for development. But the U.N. says that in order to declare that it accomplished this goal, levels of official development assistance need to continue to rise, especially in Africa.

How could we do better? The Philippine Institute for Development Studies, a think tank in the Philippines, suggested to BusinessWorld this week that the government needed to be more efficient and transparent in the use of official development assistance funds.

By Elizabeth Flock  |  04:49 PM ET, 03/06/2012