Progress on Millennium Development Goals with less than1000 days to go
Progress on Millennium Development Goals with less than1000 days to go

In 2015, the day of reckoning will appear and countries worldwide will have to defend their policies and achievements towards the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) put forth by the United Nations. Conceived of and passed in 2000, the eight MDGs provide a road map, with measurable targets to reduce poverty worldwide.  The UN is starting to accelerate the pace of achievement of the MDGs, as most of the MDGS are not ready to hit their targets by 2015.

One recent achievement includes the commitment of $1.5 billion dollars in funds from private and public donors to achieve quality universal education, one of the MDGs.  Commitment of funds is crucial as many of the MDGs will not be achieved without such financial support.

As the date approaches, many are starting to think about the post-MDG era. Critiques of the MDGs can be found amongst many communities worldwide, spurring what is likely to become a lively debate about the post-2015 development agenda.

This news analysis will examine the progress of the MDGs, showcase major critiques of the MDG process, and highlight post 2015 options.

State of the Millennium Development Goal Implementation

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013 highlights the progress in achieving the eight goals and their 20 target measures. These achievement include:

  • Two full targets (1.a. Half extreme poverty and 7.D. Improve lives of 100 million slum dwellers) have been met
  • Half of another target has been met (7.C.Half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water)
  • Two targets are likely to be met in 2015 (6.b. Universal access to HIV/AIDs treatment and 6.C. Reverse incidence of malaria and other major diseases).

The rest of the MDGs have not been met.

While there has been progress on a global scale for some of the targets, the picture is much bleaker on a regional scale. Sub-Saharan Africa has not yet met any of the MDG targets, neither has South Asia, West Asia or Central Asia.Fifteen targets have not been met by any region.

On the positive side, East Asia has met three targets. One shining example is Nepal. Nepal has reported it is on track to achieve the most MDGs, including targets on poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender equality and women’s empowerment, child mortality and maternal health (Nepal to achieve most MDGs by 2015, 2013).

The following chart provides a snap-shot of the achievements covered in The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013:

Reasons behind the achievements and failures
Goal 1:  Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Progress has been made in reaching the first MDG. Poverty rates have been halved worldwide (Target 1.A), but 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty. China is responsible for much of the progress as their extreme poverty dropped from 60 percent in 1990 to 12 percent in 2010. One critique of this goal is that while extreme poverty has received a lot of attention, 60.9 percent of developing country populations are still “moderately poor,” living on $2- $4/day Regional differences are also pronounced as extreme poverty rose in sub-Saharan Africa and is very high in Southern Asia (Millennium Development Goals Report 2013).

The second target to achieve full and productive employment for all is much more elusive. The 2009 economic downturn severely hampered national efforts to generate employment.  Furthermore, the employment differential between men and women is 24.8 percent globally and is very high in North Africa, and Southern and Western Asia (Millennium Development Goals Report 2013). The International Labor Organization (ILO) notes that donor organizations and recipient countries have not paid that much attention to this target, which was only added in 2007 (Jobs and livelihoods: Meaningful ways to set targets and monitor progress, 2013).  Lack of attention may explain why this target has not been reached.

The third target to halve the proportion of those suffering from hunger has not been achieved globally, but has been achieved in the Caucuses and East Asia. About 870 million people worldwide are still undernourished (Millennium Development Goals Report 2013).  This target is hard to define. UN Hunger focuses on chronic undernourishment (caloric intake) and not on other factors, such as price spikes, economic shocks, reduced quality of the diet, etc. Also, minimum calories are calculated for a “sedentary lifestyle,” not for normal or intense activity. If either of these categories are used, the number of undernourished would be much higher (Provost, 2012). Hence, the way statistics are defined make a big difference in determining MDG achievement and sometimes the statistics may be too narrow to address the real issues at play.

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

This goal has not been met. Fifty-seven million children were still out of primary school in 2011 and half of these children lived in sub-Saharan Africa. The UN 2013 Report notes that poverty is the main factor keeping kids out of school and from completing school. Primary school dropouts are one of the key obstacles to achieving universal primary education (Millennium Development Goals Report 2013).  Tesse San Martin, President and CEO, Plan International USA believes that the achievement of this goal will only occur when countries help more girls go to and stay in school by helping finance girls’ education and by keeping schools safe for girls (Martin, 2013).

Goal 3 Promote gender equality
Target 3.A. focuses on gender parity on primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Only two countries reached parity at all three levels. Gender parity at the primary levels is close, though the same cannot be said for the the other other levels. N. Africa, Caucuses, East Asia, Central Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean all have more women than men enrolled at the tertiary level.

One innovative solution might be to make secondary education more flexible, as young female students are often required to leave school to work. In regions where parity is lacking on the secondary level, there have been major gains in cellphone use. Mobile phones could be used to train more female teachers in these regions and provide online curricular materials that could be used for helping girls obtain decrees in a more flexible fashion (Zelezny-Green, 2013).

Goal 4 Reduce child mortality

Progress has been made in reducing child mortality for children under the age of five. Two regions (North Africa and East Asia) met Target 4.A.. On a global scale though, the world is not on track to meeting the target by 2015.

About 6.9 million children under the age of five died in 2011, mostly from preventable diseases and mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Most of the deaths take place in the first month of life. Neonatal deaths are increasing across all regions.

Action must be taken to target the main causes of neonatal deaths, such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and under nutrition. Immunizations, which are very cheap, are another way to bring down the mortality rates (Millennium Development Goals Report 2013). Others recommend more holistic approaches to addressing child mortality that include educating mothers, rather than just distributing medicine. Countries often focus on easy-to-count interventions, but lose site of the big picture (Stuart, 2013).

Goal 5 Improve maternal health
Reducing the maternal mortality rate by 75 percent (Target 5.A) and achieving universal access to reproductive health (Target 5.B) are not close to being attained in 2015. The maternal mortality rate has decreased on a global scale by 47 percent, but accelerated intervention is needed to reach the target.

Women are not receiving the minimum antenatal visits and millions are delivering without skilled attendance. Child brides are still common in some developing regions, contributing to lack of achievement of both targets (Millennium Development Goals Report 2013).  Beyond addressing adolescent births, interventions must address increased prenatal visits, better nutrition, and should focus on regions and populations with high levels of incidences.

Goal 6 Combat HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases
Targets 6.A and B  address the reversing of the spread of HIV/AIDs and achieving universal access for treatments. While incidences are declining on a global scale, the world is not on track for reversing the spread. However, achieving universal treatment access is possible if countries remain vigorous in their efforts to disperse antiretrovirals.

About 2.5 million people, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa (1.8 million) were newly infected with HIV/AIDs in 2011. Incidences also doubled in the Caucuses and Central Asia. One of the main problems is lack of knowledge among young people in these regions. The main issue for achieving these targets is sustainability. Simply redirecting already existing HIV/AIDs funding may help as well (The Race to Improve Global Health, 2013).

Target 6C focuses on reversing the spread of malaria and other major diseases. Mortality rates for malaria decreased by 25 percent from 2000 to 2010. Insecticide-treated netting is increasingly being used in sub-Saharan Africa to protect against the diseases and there has been progress in the spread of free, rapid diagnostic tests as well. As for TB, the world is on target for reaching this target as major campaigns, such as the Stop TB Strategy, have saved lives. Similar to HIV/AIDs, the key to reaching this target is continued attention and budget dollars (Millennium Development Goals Report 2013).

Goal 7 Ensure Environment Sustainability

Goal 7 has four targets:

A: Sustainable development policies at national level
B: Reducing biodiversity loss
C: Increasing access to drinking water and basic sanitation
D: Improving the lives of slum dwellers.

Of these targets, only D and half of C (drinking water access) have been met. While target D has been met, the number of slum dwellers (particularly in sub-Saharan Africa) is growing, so the problems still looms on the horizon.

For Targets A and B, global fish stocks are down, deforestation continues (particularly in South America and Africa), carbon dioxide emissions are up, and species extinction is increasing.  On the positive side, protected areas are increasing as well.

Clearly the first two targets need significant global and national action to be implemented (Millennium Development Goals Report 2013).

One of the MDGs success stories is the increased accessed to safe drinking water. However, access to basic sanitation (the other half of the equation) is one of the key challenges for this MDG. Another billion people need to access improved sanitation facilities to reach this target. The United Nations considers sanitation to be one of the largest challenges in implementing the MDGs. To address this issue, the United Nations is campaigning to stop open defecation and is trying to change community norms (Millennium Development Goals Report 2013).

Goal 8 Global Partnership for Development
Goal 8 has five targets addressing official development assistance, trade liberalization, developing countries’ debt, and cooperation with the private sector on information communication technologies (ICTs).

Progress has been made in reducing debt, increasing duty-free market access and increasing access to ICTs, though official development assistance is declining, particularly to the lowest income countries. The lack of a Doha Round trade agreement makes it difficult to achieve some of these targets.As usual, there are regional differences and sub-Saharan Africa faces the lowest Internet penetration, reaching only 20 percent (Millennium Development Goals Report 2013).

Addressing this MDG will require major changes in national and international trade and development policy, unlikely to occur before the 2015 deadline.

What’s Next Post-2015 Agenda

The development community has a wide range of priorities for the post-2015 development agenda. Many international civil society organizations want goals that are set locally, rather than globally with better systems of accountability and resourcing . They also want goals that have stronger links to civil society. In Sierre Leone, for example, civil society organizations did not feel connected to the MDGs, as their role in implementing them was not clearly defined (Civil Society review of the MDGs in Sierra Leone, n.d.).

The Commonwealth Foundation concurs that the lack of civil society involvement in framing and monitoring the MDGS has hampered their success. Topics such as youth employment, transparency, accountability, and governance were not part of the equation and many of these issues are critical for the success of multiple MDGs. The Foundation supports connecting global issues to national priorities. Civil society would play a larger role in enabling the laws and policies, collecting data and promoting civic involvement in the implementation (Breaking Point: The post-2015 MDG agenda, 2013)

One concern not addressed in the MDG is job creation. Lack of jobs is a concern of countries worldwide. Inter-related is the lack of social protections for those who are out-of-work or who are employed in the informal sector. Jobs are crucial for economic growth and for poverty reduction. Countries that perform high on other measures, but do not have strong labor markets face the prospect of unrest. The ILO would like to see this element covered in the post-2015 development agenda. Targets could focus on the quantity and quality of jobs to help gauge sustainability, not only progress. Strengthening mechanisms to gather statistics is important is a goal of its own.

Another concern with the MDGs was sustainability, as many projects fear that if donor funds dry up, then the progress will relapse. One possibility is to shift to the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), an outcome of the Rio 20+ conference. The United Nations has already begun dialogue on the SDGs as a potential replacement once the MDGs are over in 2015.

The Independent Research Forum (IRF) recently published its first white paper (2013) outlining how the SDGs can address water, agriculture, food security, energy security and urbanization. The IRF recommend the following changes: universal global compact (instead of development assistance), multi-stakeholder decision-making process (instead of top-down decision making), tackling systemic barriers to progress (vs. “easy” development targets), scaled up interventions (vs. concepts and testing), and cross-scale coordination (vs. multiple discreet actions), among other recommendations. If followed, these recommendations would address many of the concerns with the current MDG system.

Works Cited

Civil society review of the MDGs in Sierra Leone (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Commonwealth Foundation (2013, September 9). Breaking Point: The post-2015 MDG agenda. Retrieved from:

Independent Research Forum (2013). Post-2015: framing a new approach to sustainable development. Retrieved from:

International Labour Organization. Jobs and livelihoods: Meaningful ways to set targets and monitor progress (2013, May 20).–en/index.htm

Martin, T.S. (2013, September 17). Achieving universal primary education: success hinges on investing in girls. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from:

Nepal to achieve most MDGs by 2015 (2013, September 11). Retrieved from:

Provost, C. (2012, October 9). MDG target to halve prevalence of hunger within reach, says UN. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

Stuart, E. (2013, September 12). Child mortality rates are falling, but Millennium Development Goal is still far off. The Global Post. Retrieved from:

The race to improve global health (2013, September 10). The New York Times. Retrieved from:

United Nations.  The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013. Retrieved from:

Zelezny-Green, R. (2013, March 4). MDGs: how mobile phones can help achieve gender equality in education. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

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