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According to the Millennium Development Goals Report 2010, launched on 23 June, the economic crisis took a heavy toll on jobs and incomes around the world, but its impact does not threaten achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of cutting the rate of extreme poverty in half by 2015. While the annual MDG accounting report highlights a number of successes, it also assesses the human impact of lack of adequate progress on many of the Goals.
“This report shows that the Goals are achievable when nationally owned development strategies and policies are supported by international development partners,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states in his foreword to the report. “At the same time, it is clear that improvements in the lives of the poor have been unacceptably slow, and some hard-won gains are being eroded by the climate, food and economic crises. Billions of people are looking to the international community to realize the great vision embodied in the Millennium Development Goals. Let us keep that promise.”
The report highlights big gains in getting children into primary schools in many poor countries, especially in Africa; strong interventions in addressing AIDS, malaria and child health; and a good chance to reach the target for access to clean drinking water. But disadvantages that hurt the poorest, those living in remote areas or with a disability, or due to ethnicity or gender, have sapped progress on many other fronts, it warns.
Among the findings are that only half of the developing world’s population has access to improved sanitation, such as toilets or latrines; girls in the poorest quintile of households are 3.5 times more likely to be out of school than those from the richest households, and four times more likely than boys from this background; and less than half of the women in some developing regions benefit from maternal care by skilled health personnel when giving birth.
The share of people in the developing world who subsist on less than $1.25 a day, in constant US dollars, dropped from 46% in the baseline year of 1990 to 27% in 2005 – led by progress in China and Southern and South Eastern Asia – and is expected to tumble to 15% by the target year of 2015.
However the MDG Report 2010 also indicates that progress against hunger has been impacted more severely by economic troubles. The ability of the poor to feed their families was hit consecutively by skyrocketing food prices in 2008 and falling incomes in 2009, and the number of malnourished, already growing since the beginning of the decade, may have grown at a faster pace after 2008.
The assessment of Goal 8 – for a global partnership for development – indicates resilience in international cooperation in the face of recent economic difficulties. Official development assistance (ODA) rose in both 2008 and 2009, to reach a total of nearly $120 billion per year; developing and poor countries continued to improve access to rich-country markets; and developing-nation debt burdens continued to ease, due to good debt management and ongoing debt relief for the poorest countries.
“Despite the setback to exports caused by the global economic crisis, the ratio of debt service to exports remained stable or again fell in most developing regions in 2008,” the report states. “Despite further losses of export earnings in 2009 and, for some countries, declining growth, debt burdens are likely to remain well below historical levels.” But the jury is still out on the global partnership’s overall performance. The report cautions that the 2009 ODA increase sorts out as a mere 0.7% over the 2008 total in real terms, and in current US dollars actually constitutes a 2% decline. The report voices concern on projections for 2010 development assistance, which may possibly be jeopardized by fiscal difficulties in donor countries, and also notes a substantial gap in fulfillment of 2005 commitments to double aid to Africa. Moreover, hopes for completing the “development round” of world trade talks, under way since 2001, have been frustrated.
Climate change and Goal 7
Under Goal 7, covering the broad area of environmental sustainability, the UN reports that over the last decade the world lost 13 million hectares of forest each year – an alarming rate which is nevertheless a notch down from the annual average of 16 million hectares recorded during the previous decade.
Population increase and economic growth in the last two decades have produced a nearly 50% increase in global CO2 emissions between 1991 and 2007, from 21.9 to 29.6 billion metric tons. Figures for 2008 are expected to show that the rate of increase has slowed, largely as a result of economic downturn. It is even possible that total emissions may have decreased in 2009. But the same estimates that produced these findings also suggest that unless decisive action is taken, emissions will again rise rapidly as the world economy reboots. The UN convenes the next round of international climate change negotiations late in 2010, in Cancun, Mexico.
MDG +10 Summit: An action agenda to 2015
The UN is convening a special summit in New York, 20-22 September, to agree on a plan to accelerate global action on the Goals. More than 100 Heads of State and Government are expected, along with leaders from the private sector, foundations and civil society organizations.
Some highlights from the report:
Achieving the MDGs will also require increased attention to those most vulnerable. Policies and interventions will be needed to eliminate the persistent or even increasing inequalities between the rich and the poor, between those living in rural or remote areas or in slums versus better-off urban populations, and those disadvantaged by geographic location, sex, age, disability or ethnicity:
• In all developing regions, children in rural areas are more likely to be underweight than urban children. In Latin America and the Caribbean and parts of Asia, this disparity increased between 1990 and 2008.
• The gap between the richest and the poorest households remains enormous. In Southern Asia, 60% of children in the poorest areas are underweight compared to 25% of children in the richest households.
• In developing regions overall, girls in the poorest 20% of households are 3.5 times more likely to be out of school than girls in the richest households and four times more likely to be out of school than boys from the richest households.
• Even in countries close to achieving universal primary education, children with disabilities are the majority of those excluded.
• Maternal health is one of the areas in which the gap between rich and poor is most conspicuous. While almost all births are attended by skilled health personnel in the developed countries, less than half of women receive such care when giving birth in parts of the developing world.
• Disparities in access to care during pregnancy are also striking, with women in the richest households 1.7 times more likely to visit a skilled health worker at least once before birth than the poorest women.
• Lack of education is another major obstacle to accessing tools that could improve people’s lives. For instance, poverty and unequal access to schooling perpetuate high adolescent birth rates, jeopardizing the health of girls and diminishing their opportunities for social and economic advancement.
• Contraceptive use is four times higher among women with a secondary education than among those with no education. For women in the poorest households and among those with no education, negligible progress was seen over the last decade.
• Only about half of the developing world’s population are using improved sanitation, and addressing this inequality will have a major impact on several of the MDGs. Disparities between rural and urban areas remain daunting, with only 40 per cent of rural populations covered. And while 77% of the population in the richest 20% of households use improved sanitation facilities, the share is only 16% of those in the poorest households.
A number of advance have been made:
The collective efforts towards achievement of the MDGs have made inroads in many areas. Encouraging trends before 2008 had put many regions on track to achieve at least some of the goals. The economic growth momentum in developing regions remains strong and, learning from the many successes of even the most challenged countries, achieving the MDGs is still within our grasp:
• Progress on poverty reduction is still being made, despite significant setbacks due to the 2008-2009 economic downturn, and food and energy crises. The developing world as a whole remains on track to achieve the poverty reduction target by 2015. The overall poverty rate is still expected to fall to 15% by 2015, which translates to around 920 million people living under the international poverty line – half the number in 1990.
• Major advances have been made in getting children into school in many of the poorest countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
• Remarkable improvements in key interventions – for malaria and HIV control, and measles immunization, for example – have cut child deaths from 12.5 million in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2008.
• Between 2003 and 2008, the number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy increased tenfold – from 400,000 to 4 million – corresponding to 42% of the 8.8 million people who needed treatment for HIV.
• Major increases in funding and a stronger commitment to control malaria have accelerated delivery of malaria interventions. Across Africa, more communities are benefiting from bed net protection and more children are being treated with effective drugs.
• The rate of deforestation, though still alarmingly high, appears to have slowed, due to tree-planting schemes combined with the natural expansion of forests.
• Increased use of improved water sources in rural areas has narrowed the large gap with urban areas, where coverage has remained at 94% – almost unchanged since 1990. However, the safety of water supplies remains a challenge and urgently needs to be addressed.
• Mobile telephony continues to expand in the developing world and is increasingly being used for m-banking, disaster management and other non-voice applications for development. By the end of 2009, cellular subscriptions per 100 people had reached the 50% mark.
The Millennium Development Goals Report, an annual assessment of regional progress towards the Goals, reflects the most comprehensive, up-to-date data compiled by over 25 UN and international agencies. Produced by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the report has been designated by the UN General Assembly as an official input to the MDG summit.
It is based on a master set of data that has been compiled by an Inter-Agency and Expert Group on MDG Indicators led by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. A number of national statisticians and outside expert advisers also contributed. A complete set of the data used to prepare the report is available online.
Read the Secretary-General’s statement at the launch of the report.
For further information, on the September summit, click here.