“Meeting the Millennium Development Goals depends on reaching vulnerable children throughout the developing world. There cannot be lasting progress if we continue to overlook the children most in need – the poorest and most vulnerable, the exploited and the abused.”
Ann M. VenemanUNICEF Executive Director
In a world connected through our common humanity - the air we breathe, the water we drink, the spread of diseases, the goods we trade as well as terrorism, the injustices and suffering experienced in any part of the world are essentially connected to and felt in all other parts of the world. On such an interconnected planet, it is crucial that all peoples and governments work together to improve the quality of life for everyone.
- With 1.2 billion people in the majority world living in absolute poverty; more than 800 million going to bed hungry; 40 million infected with HIV/AIDS, and with a deterioration of economic and social conditions in regions around the world – particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, it can be said that we are facing a development crisis.
This crisis is precisely the reason why 191 countries came together in September 2000 to adopt the UN Millennium Declaration, which led to the Millennium Development Goals.
What Are the Millennium Development Goals?
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a set of specific targets intended for poverty reduction, health, education, gender equality, environmental sustainability and global partnerships to be reached by the year 2015. Developing countries, which make up the majority of people in the world, have the main responsibility to implement the MDGs, and are supported and enabled to do so by commitments made by the industrialized countries of the world through aid, trade, and debt relief, and technical expertise.
Breaking Them Down
The MDGs focus on 8 areas of development:
1. Eradication of Extreme Poverty and Hunger
This MDG aims to cut in half the number of people who live on less than $1.00 a day. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report that hunger and malnutrition continues to kill more than 5 million children each year, and more than 800 million people in developing countries still suffer from chronic hunger - a number representing more people than the total population of the top seven industrialized countries.
2. Achievement of Universal Primary Education
This MDG aims to ensure that by 2015, children everywhere will be able to complete primary school. Basic education for all is a basic human right, and is central to the world’s strategy for reducing extreme poverty and achieving the other MDGs. Currently, approximately 125 million children in the world do not attend school; 65 million of these are girls. The Global Campaign for Education estimates that free, quality education for all children would cost ten billion dollars, the equivalent of 4 days of global military spending.
3. Promotion of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
This MDG aims to eliminate gender inequality in all levels of education by 2015. While the lives of women worldwide have generally improved, women are still disadvantaged in many areas of life. For example, the UN estimates that 63 million primary school age girls are not enrolled in school, and two thirds of the world’s illiterate citizens are female.
According to UNESCO, female education has spillover effects for society including improved fertility rates, household and child health, and educational opportunities for the rest of the household. Also, increased skill level allows women to participate more in the economy, and increase the economic prosperity of the family
4. Reduction of Child Mortality
This MDG focuses on reducing the death rate of children under the age of five years by two-thirds by the year 2015. Currently, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the highest level of under-five mortality. Estimated at 174 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2002, this rate is twenty times that of industrialized countries. The vast majority of these deaths could have been prevented with improved access to medical treatments and medicines.
The diseases responsible for over 50 percent of these deaths include:
- HIV/AIDS infection
5. Improvement of Maternal Health
This MDG seeks to reduce the maternal mortality rate by three-quarters by 2015. The maternal mortality rate is highest in Sub-Saharan Africa where it is estimated that 920 women out of every 100,000 die during pregnancy and while giving birth. Maternal deaths occur due to inadequate health systems, water and sanitation, and education for women in developing countries, especially in rural areas. Many of these deaths could be prevented with basic education and healthcare both prior to and during pregnancy.
- Currently in Sub-Saharan Africa, women have little or no skilled support when delivering children – less than half, for instance, have a skilled attendant to help them through labour.
6. Eradication of HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other Diseases
This MDG strives to stop and reverse the spread of communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS by 2015. In 2005, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS globally has reached an estimated 40.3 million people. In the same year, more than 3 million people died of AIDS related illnesses; of these, more than 500,000 were children.
In addition to the AIDS pandemic, one million people die each year from malaria, and 1.8 million from tuberculosis. Neither of these tropical diseases are the research priority of pharmaceutical companies who tend to cater their research to populations who can afford expensive pharmaceuticals. Additionally, antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS infections are expensive and not accessible to the majority of infected people.
7. Ensuring Environmental Sustainability
By the year 2015, this MDG aims to cut in half the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. It also strives to integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs to reduce the loss of environmental resources.
- Throughout the 1990’s the world lost an estimated 9.4 million hectares of forests per year.
- Between 1990 and 2002, 2.6 billion people did not have access to adequate sanitation facilities.
8. Fostering Global Partnerships for Development
This MDG works to further develop open, transparent, rule-based, nondiscriminatory trading and financial systems in order to increase levels of aid to from industrialized countries to 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product, and to deal with the problems of national and international debt.
The Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson first proposed that industrialized countries commit to 0.7% of GDP to foreign aid in 1969. Currently, only 5 countries have achieved this goal: Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden.
A meaningful partnership between wealthy and poor nations needs to address developing countries’ access to technology, medicines, and jobs for their growing populations. The ability to absorb the roughly 514 million additional people expected to enter into world labour markets between 2003 and 2015 depends on a commitment to devote specific attention to the creation of decent and productive employment opportunities for young people who, in developing regions, are over 4 times more likely to find themselves unemployed when compared with older workers.
While there is much work yet to be done by the international community before the Millennium Development Goals are reached, this UN initiative is a great example of the numerous possibilities for positive change when countries work together towards social, economic, and environmental justice.
Want to Learn More?
1. Canadian International Development Agency: Canada and the Millennium Development Goals
2. UN Millennium Development Goals
3. UN Development Programme
4. Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals
5. World Health Organization: Health in the Millennium Development Goals
6. Women’s Human Rights Net: Women and the Millennium Development Goals