Population Matters

A Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals: How Far Have We Come?

August 5th, 2011

The clock is quickly counting down to the 2015 deadline for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a framework established by the United Nations in 2000 to guide development in the areas of poverty, education, hunger, and disease. The MDGs are now more than a decade old and, according to a new report from the UN, while encouraging progress has been made, much work remains.

First, the good news: malaria deaths are down by 20 percent globally, more than one billion people gained access to an improved drinking water source, and between 1990 and 2005 the worldwide poverty rate – the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day – dropped from 46 percent to 27 percent. This rate is expected to drop even further so that by 2015 it will be below 15 percent; lower even than the MDG’s targeted 23 percent.

Yet, the news is not all good. While some regions continue to develop, other regions are falling far behind. For example, much of the reduction in the global poverty rate came from Eastern Asia where economic growth in China and India helped cut the rate from 60 to 16 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa, however, saw a drop of only seven percentage points – 58 to 51 percent – in its poverty rate during the same time frame.

In education, worldwide youth literacy has risen to 89 percent. Northern Africa increased its literacy rate by 19 percentage points and Southern Asia by 20. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, rose only seven points from 1990 to 2009.

The results are similarly mixed in the area of maternal health. The report notes that globally “the maternal mortality ratio dropped by 34 percent between 1990 and 2000.” Regionally, the ratio dropped by 53 percent between 1990 and 2008 in Southern Asia, but only by 26 percent in sub-Saharan Africa. The MDG of reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters remains far off.

More than half of all married women between the ages of 15 and 49 were using some form of contraception by 2008, but progress has slowed “in almost all regions.” With international family planning aid on the chopping block, progress is likely to slow further. According to the report, the number of women worldwide between the ages of 15 and 19 is “approaching 300 million” and “intensified efforts are urgently needed to delay or prevent unintended pregnancies among this vulnerable age group.”

There is also a worrisome gap between the progress of development in urban and rural communities. In the foreword to the report, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, called these disparities “pronounced and daunting.” The MDG report states that, “Children in developing regions are twice as likely to be underweight if they live in rural rather than urban areas.” Additionally, an urban dweller in sub-Saharan Africa is “1.8 times more likely to use an improved drinking water source than a person living in a rural area.”

With four years left to meet the development goals set forth in 2000, time is running out. Much has been achieved – millions have been lifted out of poverty, more children are being educated, fewer people are dying from malaria and HIV, and many more. However, as previously mentioned, progress has not been evenly distributed, especially among the poorest of the poor and those living in rural areas. The UN appears confident that the MDGs will be met on time but in the words of the Secretary-General, “Achieving all the MDGs will require extra effort.”

Posted by Christina Daggett, Program Associate

One Response to “A Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals: How Far Have We Come?”

  1. Steven Earl Salmony Says:

    There is no way back to the Garden of Eden, back to nature, and no chance of becoming the gods we appear to think we are now. We neither would want to overcome nature nor would we want to go back to nature. There is at least one more option: to find balance with nature. This could be a sensible, alternate path to the future and a goal to be reached with all deliberate speed for the sake of the children. After all, we are borrowing this world from our children. Surely we will not continue mortgaging the children’s future and ruining the planet all of us inhabit here now to the point Earth cannot be fruitfully inhabited by them and coming generations. Certainly not on our watch!

    Responsible people will have to stop colluding in elective mutism and ignoring the best available scientific evidence of human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth. The time remaining for us elders to secure a good enough future for the children is fairly short, I suppose. We cannot effectively address any global challenge if we do not allow ourselves to understand from whence it orginates. If people cannot see that an actual threat exists for which the human species bears great responsibility, that itself is a problem to be understood and confronted forcefully. Fortunately many of us in this community can see that the family of humanity has a human-driven global predicament before us that has not been adequately acknowledged, let alone begun to meaningfully address and actively overcome by the human family.

    Some people say that we have too many challenges to confront now; that we have to deny how certain global ecological challenges are themselves posed to humankind by the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers. Unfortunately the human community appears not to have space-time available to much longer avoid facing the question of why looming threats to future human wellbeing and environmental health are occuring with such vengeance in our time. Please consider that we cannot wait “until tomorrow” to respond ably to such ominous threats as appear to be emanating from the colossal scale and unbridled global growth of human overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities. Please take time to reflect upon the untapped potential of the human species. Within the human family there is the capability to deal with the formidable ecological challenges that are already visible on the horizon. Despite the pathetic ways we are behaving, we can do better than we are doing now much better than ostriches when it comes to choosing a posture suitable for seeing the world in which we live. Look up, look ahead!

    Human beings may be acting in our time as if we are more stupid than ostriches when we place our heads firmly in the sand while proclaiming we see what is happening. But the human species embodies so many more gifts from God than the ostriches, even though many too many of us with our heads in the sand follow leaders who take pride and engage in unsustainable overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities that make our stupidity plain to see. How much longer will knowledgeable members of the human community with splendid gifts such as only human beings possess silently stand by and, by so doing, condone the incredible greed, the pathological arrogance, the extreme foolhardiness of a tiny minority of the family of humanity, that is not only ruling the world absolutely in our time but threatening to destroy life as we know it and the Earth as a fit place for the children to inhabit? A remarkably small group of self-proclaimed masters of the universe hold the ‘destiny’ of all in their hands. This elite international group appears to be operating behind the scenes these days and “growing” the global political economy to such a colossal scale that it could soon become patently unsustainable on a planet with the relatively small size, make-up and environs of Earth. Although we are presented with a virtual blizzard of propaganda to the contrary, our planetary home is not, definitely not “too big to fail.”

    Earth is bounded and finite; its ecology is frangible. It cannot be sensibly compared to a maternal presence, in the sense of it being like a mother’s teat at which humankind can forever suckle. Neither a mother’s teat nor the Earth is actually inexhaustible, despite the children’s fantasy and adults’ belief that either one is an eternal source of sustenance. The human family ignores human biological limits and Earth’s physical limitations to support life as we know it at our peril.

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