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Progress, But Less Promise for Development Goals

BY Talea Miller  September 20, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST

Food aid in Somalia; AFP/Getty

World leaders are meeting to assess goals to reduce poverty, improve health services and access to education and promote gender equality at the U.N. Millennium Development Goals summit this week.

Of the eight goals created in 2000, none look likely to be fulfilled completely by 2015, but major gains have been made in reducing the number of people living on $1 a day, cutting maternal and child mortality and boosting primary school education around the globe.

“These goals are not well known, to say the least, in the United States,” Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University ancd special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told reporters. “But these goals have become, I would say to the surprise of many people, the true organizing principles for development efforts throughout most of the world.”

Learn more about the Millennium Development goals and where they stand now:

Goal 1 | Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Overall, the world is on track to meet the stated target of reducing the number of people living on less than $1 a day by half, says the United Nations, despite progress being slowed by the global economic crisis.

The number of people going hungry, however, has increased over the last decade, making the goal of halving the number of undernourished by 2015 unlikely — one in four children in the developing world is still underweight.

“The places that have seen the least progress in income poverty have seen the least progress in rural development,” said John McArthur, chief executive officer of Millennium Promise, a non-profit focused on the MDGs. “So some of the big boosts in poverty reductions could come through supporting small holder agriculture.”

Goal 2 | Achieve universal primary education

Enrollment in primary education is on the rise and has reached 89 percent in the developing world, but without acceleration of this progress the goal will not be met, the U.N. says.

More than half of the 69 million children not in school around the globe in 2008 were in sub-Saharan Africa and more than a quarter were in Southern Asia.

“The overarching story is that Africa started from the furthest behind, it started to turn the tide and made huge gains but a lot more needs to be done in the next five years,” McArthur said.

Goal 3 | Promote gender equality and empower women

Gender parity in education, employment and quality of employment is lagging, with disparities particularly pronounced in higher-level education and leadership job positions.

Aaron Sherinian, executive director of communications at the U.N. Foundation, said to expect a pronounced focus on women and girls and the goals associated with women’s issues at this week’s summit.

“Without focusing on women and the goals that relate to women, we know we aren’t going to be able to get as much progress on the others,” Sherinian said.

Goal 4 | Reduce child mortality

New data released last week by UNICEF showed the number of children who die before age five has declined by one-third since 1990. But the goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015 will not be reached without an acceleration of efforts to prevent and treat childhood diseases, the U.N. says.

“MDG 4 is not going to be met unless we focus on two particular diseases, pneumococcal disease and diarrheal disease,” said Alex Palacios, GAVI’s special representative to the United Nations. “The two together represent almost 40 percent of the [death] toll for children.”

Goal 5 | Improve maternal health

Maternal deaths are down one third in the last two decades, according to new numbers released last week by the World Health Organization, but the rate of improvement will still likely fall short of cutting maternal mortality 75 percent by 2015.

Although more women are accessing antenatal care and health services, about 1,000 women still die each day around the world from causes related to pregnancy, including hemorrhaging, infection, hypertension and unsafe abortion. More than half of the deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa.

McArthur said to expect “major announcements” this week around the maternal and child health goals.

Goal 6 | Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

The last decade has seen a huge global effort to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, in large part through the multilateral efforts of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

One of the targets for the goal has already been missed: achieving universal access to antiretroviral treatment by 2010. However the spread of HIV has stabilized in most regions, according to the U.N., and more than 5 million people are now on treatment.

Incidence of malaria is decreasing and there is talk of eliminating malaria cases entirely by 2015. There have also been gains in reducing tuberculosis, but the disease remains the second largest killer after HIV.

The health goals have seen some of the most substantial progress, said Todd Summers, the senior adviser for global health at the ONE Campaign. Sustaining donor commitments around these health initiatives is now one of the biggest concerns.

“Donor support stagnation is potentially arresting the great progress,” Summers said. “These are diseases where you have to keep up the effort for years; these are efforts that require long-term commitments of resources over time and that’s obviously turned out to be a challenge especially in the current economic climate.”

Goal 7 | Ensure environmental sustainability

Among the targets of this goal are integrating sustainability in country policies, conserving resources and reversing loss of resources like forests, preserving biodiversity and increasing the number of people with consistent access to clean, safe drinking water and sanitation.

“This [goal] is one of the other greatest gaps. We’ve seen large increases in access to safe drinking water, but overall the drinking water issue is still far behind, especially in Africa,” McArthur said. “The broader challenges — climate, biodiversity, ecosystems, are even further behind.”

Goal 8 | A global partnership for development

MDG 8 cuts a broad swath, including creating an open, rule-based financial system, providing aid to the poorest countries and reducing developing country debt.

Debt relief efforts have been enormously successful and will likely be achieved, said McArthur, but sustaining aid levels is of paramount concern with the global recession taking a toll on national budgets.

“It’s unquestionably a very difficult fiscal environment,” said McArthur. “Politicians need to keep in mind these are not giveaways. This is an investment, these are smart foreign policy investments.”