The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals that all 193 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. They include eradicating extreme poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting disease epidemics such as AIDS, and developing a global partnership for development.
The aim of the MDGs is to encourage development by improving social and economic conditions in the world's poorest countries. They derive from earlier international development targets, and were officially established following the Millennium Summit in 2000, where all world leaders present adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration. The Millennium Summit was presented with the report of the Secretary-General entitled ‘We the Peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the Twenty-First Century’. Additional input was prepared by the Millennium Forum, which brought together representatives of over 1,000 non-governmental and civil society organizations from more than 100 countries. The Forum met in May 2000 to conclude a two-year consultation process covering issues such as poverty eradication, environmental protection, human rights and protection of the vulnerable. The approval of the MDGs was possibly the main outcome of the Millennium Summit. In the area of peace and security, the adoption of the Brahimi Report was seen as properly equipping the organization to carry out the mandates given by the Security Council.
Ideas behind the MDG
The MDGs originated from the Millennium Declaration produced by the United Nations. The Declaration asserts that every individual has the right to dignity, freedom, equality, a basic standard of living that includes freedom from hunger and violence, and encourages tolerance and solidarity. The MDGs were made to operationalize these ideas by setting targets and indicators for poverty reduction in order to achieve the rights set forth in the Declaration on a set fifteen-year timeline. The Millennium Declaration was, however, only part of the origins of the MDGs. It came about from not just the UN but also the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The setting came about through a series of UN-led conferences in the 1990s focusing on issues such as children, nutrition, human rights, women and others. On the side of the OECD, there was a criticism of the fall of global Official Development Assistance (ODA) by major donors. With the onset of the UN's 50th anniversary, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan saw the need to address the range of development issues. This led to his report titled, We the Peoples: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century which led to the Millennium Declaration. By this time, the OECD had already formed its International Development Goals (IDGs) and it was combined with the UN's efforts in the World Bank's 2001 meeting to form the MDGs.
The MDGs focus on three major areas of Human development (humanity): bolstering human capital, improving infrastructure, and increasing social, economic and political rights, with the majority of the focus going towards increasing basic standards of living. The objectives chosen within the human capital focus include improving nutrition, healthcare (including reducing levels of child mortality, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and increasing reproductive health), and education. For the infrastructure focus, the objectives include improving infrastructure through increasing access to safe drinking water, energy and modern information/communication technology; amplifying farm outputs through sustainable practices; improving transportation infrastructure; and preserving the environment. Lastly, for the social, economic and political rights focus, the objectives include empowering women, reducing violence, increasing political voice, ensuring equal access to public services, and increasing security of property rights. The goals chosen were intended to increase an individual’s human capabilities and “advance the means to a productive life”. The MDGs emphasize that individual policies needed to achieve these goals should be tailored to individual country’s needs; therefore most policy suggestions are general.
The MDGs also emphasize the role of developed countries in aiding developing countries, as outlined in Goal Eight. Goal Eight sets objectives and targets for developed countries to achieve a “global partnership for development” by supporting fair trade, debt relief for developing nations, increasing aid and access to affordable essential medicines, and encouraging technology transfer. Thus developing nations are not seen as left to achieve the MDGs on their own, but as a partner in the developing-developed compact to reduce world poverty.
The MDGs were developed out of the eight chapters of the United Nations, signed in September 2000. There are eight goals with 21 targets and a series of measurable indicators for each target.
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Target 1A: Halve the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day
Proportion of population below $1 per day (PPP values)
Poverty gap ratio [incidence x depth of poverty]
Share of poorest quintile in national consumption
Target 1B: Achieve Decent Employment for Women, Men, and Young People
GDP Growth per Employed Person
Proportion of employed population below $1 per day (PPP values)
Proportion of family-based workers in employed population
Target 1C: Halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
Prevalence of underweight children under five years of age
Proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
Target 6A: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS
HIV prevalence among population aged 15–24 years
Condom use at last high-risk sex
Proportion of population aged 15–24 years with comprehensive correct knowledge of HIV/AIDS
Target 6B: Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it
Proportion of population with advanced HIV infection with access to antiretroviral drugs
Target 6C: Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases
Prevalence and death rates associated with malaria
Proportion of children under 5 sleeping under insecticide-treated bednets
Proportion of children under 5 with fever who are treated with appropriate anti-malarial drugs
Prevalence and death rates associated with tuberculosis
Proportion of tuberculosis cases detected and cured under DOTS (Directly Observed Treatment Short Course)
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Target 7A: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs; reverse loss of environmental resources
Target 7B: Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss
Proportion of land area covered by forest
CO2 emissions, total, per capita and per $1 GDP (PPP)
Consumption of ozone-depleting substances
Proportion of fish stocks within safe biological limits
Proportion of total water resources used
Proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected
Proportion of species threatened with extinction
Target 7C: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation (for more information see the entry on water supply)
Proportion of population with sustainable access to an improved water source, urban and rural
Proportion of urban population with access to improved sanitation
Target 7D: By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers
Proportion of urban population living in slums
Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development
Target 8A: Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system
Includes a commitment to good governance, development, and poverty reduction – both nationally and internationally
Target 8B: Address the Special Needs of the Least Developed Countries (LDC)
Includes: tariff and quota free access for LDC exports; enhanced programme of debt relief for HIPC and cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) for countries committed to poverty reduction
Target 8C: Address the special needs of landlocked developing countries and small island developing States
Through the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States and the outcome of the twenty-second special session of the General Assembly
Target 8D: Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long term
Some of the indicators listed below are monitored separately for the least developed countries (LDCs), Africa, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States.
Official development assistance (ODA):
Net ODA, total and to LDCs, as percentage of OECD/DAC donors’ GNI
Proportion of total sector-allocable ODA of OECD/DAC donors to basic social services (basic education, primary health care, nutrition, safe water and sanitation)
Proportion of bilateral ODA of OECD/DAC donors that is untied
ODA received in landlocked countries as proportion of their GNIs
ODA received in small island developing States as proportion of their GNIs
Proportion of total developed country imports (by value and excluding arms) from developing countries and from LDCs, admitted free of duty
Average tariffs imposed by developed countries on agricultural products and textiles and clothing from developing countries
Agricultural support estimate for OECD countries as percentage of their GDP
Proportion of ODA provided to help build trade capacity
Total number of countries that have reached their HIPC decision points and number that have reached their HIPC completion points (cumulative)
Debt relief committed under HIPC initiative, US$
Debt service as a percentage of exports of goods and services
Target 8E: In co-operation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable, essential drugs in developing countries
Proportion of population with access to affordable essential drugs on a sustainable basis
Target 8F: In co-operation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications
Telephone lines and cellular subscribers per 100 population
Personal computers in use per 100 population
Internet users per 100 Population
DEBATE SURROUNDING THE MDGs
Some economists argue that the drawbacks of the MDGs include the lack of analytical power and justification behind the chosen objectives [Deneulin, Séverine, with Lila Shahani. 2009]. The MDGs leave out important ideals, such as the lack of strong objectives and indicators for equality, which is considered by many scholars to be a major flaw of the MDGs due to the disparities of progress towards poverty reduction between groups within nations. The MDGs also lack a focus on local participation and empowerment (excluding women’s empowerment). The MDGs also lack an emphasis on sustainability, making their future after 2015 questionable. Thus, while the MDGs are a tool for tracking progress toward basic poverty reduction and provide a very basic policy road map to achieving these goals, they do not capture all elements needed to achieve the ideals set out in the Millennium Declaration.
Another criticism of the MDGs is the difficulty or lack of measurements for some of the goals. Amir Attaran, an Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health, and Global Development Policy at University of Ottawa, argues that goals related to maternal mortality, malaria, and tuberculosis are in practice impossible to measure and that current UN estimates do not have scientifically validity or are missing. Household surveys are often used by the UN organizations to estimate data for the health MDGs. These surveys have been argued to be poor measurements of the data they are trying to collect, and many different organizations have redundant surveys, which waste limited resources. Furthermore, countries with the highest levels of maternal mortality, malaria, and tuberculosis often have the least amount of reliable data collection. Attaran argues that without accurate measures of past and current data for the health related MDGs, it is impossible to determine if progress has been made toward the goals, leaving the MDGs as little more than a rhetorical call to arms [Amir Attaran. 2005].
Proponents for the MDGs argue that while some goals are difficult to measure, that there is still validity in setting goals as they provide a political and operational framework to achieving the goals. They also assert that non-health related MDGs are often well measured, and it is wrong to assume that all MDGs are doomed to fail due to lack of data. It is further argued that for difficult to measure goals, best practices have be identified and their implication is measurable as well as their positive effects on progress. With an increase in the quantity and quality of healthcare systems in developing countries, more data will be collected, as well as more progress made. Lastly the MDGs bring attention to measurements of wellbeing beyond income, and this attention alone helps bring funding to achieving these goals.
The MDGs are also argued to help the human development by providing a measurement of human development that is not based solely on income, prioritizing interventions, establishing obtainable objectives with operationalized measurements of progress (though the data needed to measure progress is difficult to obtain), and increasing the developed world’s involvement in worldwide poverty reduction. The measurement of human development in the MDGs goes beyond income, and even just basic health and education, to include gender and reproductive rights, environmental sustainability and spread of technology. Prioritizing interventions helps developing countries with limited resources make decisions about where to allocate their resources through which public policies. The MDGs also strengthen the commitment of developed countries to helping developing countries, and encourage the flow of aid and information sharing. The joint responsibility of developing and developed nations for achieving the MDGs increases the likelihood of their success, which is reinforced by their 189-country support (the MDGs are the most broadly supported poverty reduction targets ever set by the world).
Progress towards reaching the goals has been uneven. Some countries have achieved many of the goals, while others are not on track to realize any. The major countries that have been achieving their goals include China (whose poverty population has reduced from 452 million to 278 million) and India due to clear internal and external factors of population and economic development. However, areas needing the most reduction, such as the Sub-Saharan Africa regions have yet to make any drastic changes in improving their quality of life. In the same time as China, the Sub-Saharan Africa reduced their poverty about one percent, and are at a major risk of not meeting the MDGs by 2015. Fundamental issues will determine whether or not the MDGs are achieved, namely gender, the divide between the humanitarian and development agendas and economic growth, according to researchers at the Overseas Development Institute. Achieving the MDGs does not depend on economic growth alone and expensive solutions. In the case of MDG 4, some developing countries like Bangladesh have shown that it is possible to reduce child mortality with only modest growth with inexpensive but effective interventions, such as measles immunization.
Goal 8 of the MDGs is unique in the sense that it focuses on donor government commitments and achievements, rather than successes in the developing world. The Commitment to Development Index, published annually by the Center for Global Development is often considered to be the numerical targeting indicator for the 8th MDG. It is a more comprehensive measure of donor progress than simply Official Development Assistance as it takes into account policies on a number of indicators that affect developing countries such as trade, migration, and investment. To accelerate progress towards the MDGs, the G-8 Finance Ministers met in London in June 2005 (in preparation for the G-8 Gleneagles Summit in July) and reached an agreement to provide enough funds to the World Bank, the IMF, and the African Development Bank (ADB) to cancel an additional $40–55 billion debt owed by members of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC). This would allow impoverished countries to re-channel the resources saved from the forgiven debt to social programs for improving health and education and for alleviating poverty.
Backed by G-8 funding, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the ADB each endorsed the Gleaneagles plan and implemented the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) to effectuate the debt cancellations. The MDRI supplements HIPC by providing each country that reaches the HIPC completion point 100% forgiveness of its multilateral debt. Countries that previously reached the decision point became eligible for full debt forgiveness once their lending agency confirmed that the countries had continued to maintain the reforms implemented during HIPC status. Other countries that subsequently reach the completion point automatically receive full forgiveness of their multilateral debt under MDRI.
While the World Bank and ADB limit MDRI to countries that complete the HIPC program, the IMF's MDRI eligibility criteria are slightly less restrictive so as to comply with the IMF's unique "uniform treatment" requirement. Instead of limiting eligibility to HIPC countries, any country with annual per capita income of $380 or less qualifies for MDRI debt cancellation. The IMF adopted the $380 threshold because it closely approximates the countries eligible for HIPC. Yet, as 2015 approaches, increasing global uncertainties such as the economic crisis and climate change have led to an opportunity to rethink the MDG approach to development policy. According to the 'In Focus' Policy Brief from the Institute of Development Studies, the 'After 2015' debate is about questioning the value of an MDG-type, target-based approach to international development, about progress so far on poverty reduction, about looking to an uncertain future and exploring what kind of system is needed after the MDG deadline has passed.
Further developments in rethinking strategies and approaches to achieving the MDGs include research by the Overseas Development Institute into the role of equity. Researchers at the ODI argue progress can be accelerated due to recent breakthroughs in the role equity plays in creating a virtuous circle where rising equity ensures the poor participate in their country's develop and creates reductions in poverty and financial stability. Yet equity should not be understood purely as economic, but also as political. Examples abound and include Brazil's cash transfers, Uganda's eliminations of user fees and the subsequent huge increase in visits from the very poorest or else Mauritius's dual-track approach to liberalization (inclusive growth and inclusive development) aiding it on its road into the World Trade Organization. Researchers at the ODI thus propose equity be measured in league tables in order to provide a clearer insight into how MDGs can be achieved more quickly; the ODI is working with partners to put forward league tables at the 2010 MDG review meeting. The effects of increasing drug use have been noted by the International Journal of Drug Policy as a deterrent to the goal of the MDGs.
Other development scholars, such as Naila Kabeer, Caren Grown, and Noeleen Heyzer argue that an increased focus on women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming of MDGs-related policies will accelerate the progress of the MDGs. Kabeer argues that increasing women’s empowerment and access to paid work will help reduce child mortality. She supports her point with evidence that South Asian countries with the high levels in of gender discrimination that limit women’s access to food and healthcare cause these same countries to have the highest rates of low birth weight babies in the world. This is because women experiencing malnutrition have low birth weight babies. Since low-birth weight babies have limited chances of survival, improving women’s health by increasing their bargaining power in the family through paid work, will reduce child mortality. Another way empowering women will help accelerate the MDGs is the inverse relationship between mother’s schooling and child-morality, as well as the positive correlation between increasing a mother’s agency over unearned income and health outcomes of her children, especially girls. Increasing a mother’s education and workforce participation increases these effects. Lastly empowering women by creating economic opportunities for women decreases women’s participation in the sex market which decreases the spread of AIDS, a MDG in itself (MDG 6A).
Grown asserts that the resources, technology and knowledge exist to decrease poverty through improving gender equality, it is just the political will that is missing. She argues that if donor countries and developing countries together focused on seven “priority areas”: increasing girl’s completion of secondary school, guarantying sexual and reproductive health rights, improving infrastructure to ease women’s and girl’s time burdens, guaranteeing women’s property rights, reducing gender inequalities in employment, increasing seats held by women in government, and combating violence against women, great progress could be made towards the MDGs.
Both Kabeer and Heyzer believe that the current MDGs targets do not place enough emphasis on tracking gender inequalities in poverty reduction and employment as there are only gender goals relating to health, education and political representation. In order to encourage women’s empowerment and progress towards the MDGs, increased emphasis should be placed on gender mainstreaming development policies and collecting data based on gender.