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Millennium Development Goals Report 2011

On 7 July 2011, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Millennium Development Goals Report 2011, which – while highlighting progress made in advancing the MDGs – draws attention to numerous challenges that remain as the 2015 deadline draws near. These challenges include empowering women and girls; promoting sustainable development; and protecting the most vulnerable from the devastating effects of multiple crises – whether conflicts, natural disasters or volatility in prices for food and energy.

In a keynote address to the Economic and Social Council’s High-level segment held in Geneva from 4-8 July, Mr. Ban said the 2011 MDG Report painted a mixed picture: on the one hand, it was clear that the Goals had made a tremendous difference; at the same time, progress had been uneven. “The poorest of the poor are being left behind. We need to reach out and lift them into our lifeboat. Now is the time for equity, inclusion, sustainability and women’s empowerment,” he urged.

The MDG Report 2011 [1] suggests that many of the development successes – reducing extreme poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease – are driven by continued economic growth in some developing countries, including China and India, as well as targeted efforts in critical MDG areas, such as health. “Achieving the goals will require equitable and inclusive economic growth – growth that reaches everyone and that will enable all people, especially the poor and marginalized, to benefit from economic opportunities,” Mr. Ban said.

The report finds that the proportion of people in the developing world who went hungry in 2005-2007 remained stable at 16%, despite significant reductions in extreme poverty. Based on this trend, and in light of the economic crisis and rising food prices, the report warns that it will be difficult to meet the hunger-reduction target in many regions of the developing world. “The disconnect between poverty reduction and the persistence of hunger has brought renewed attention to the mechanisms governing access to food in the developing world,” the report highlights, noting that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) will undertake a comprehensive review of the causes behind this discrepancy to better inform hunger-reduction policies in the future.

The report also notes that the slowdown in progress against poverty is reflected in the number of working poor. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), one in five workers and their families worldwide were living in extreme poverty (on less than US$1.25 per person per day) in 2009, representing a sharp decline in poverty from a decade earlier, but also a flattening of the slope of the working poverty incidence curve beginning in 2007. The report suggests that the estimated rate for 2009 is 1.6 percentage points higher than the rate projected on the basis of the pre-crisis trend. “While this is a crude estimate, it amounts to about 40 million more working poor at the extreme US$1.25 level in 2009 than would have been expected on the basis of pre-crisis trends,” it cautions.

Below, a number of highlights from the Millennium Development Goals Report 2011 are provided.

Advances have been made:

• In developing regions, 96 girls were enrolled in primary and in secondary school for every 100 boys in 2009. This is a significant improvement since 1999, when the ratios were 91 and 88, respectively.

• Despite growing numbers of women parliamentarians, the target of equal participation of women and men in politics is still far off. By end-January 2011, women held 19.3% of seats in single or lower houses of parliament worldwide – an all-time high. Yet this confirms a pattern of slow progress over the past 15 years from a world average of 11.6% in 1995.

• Globally, the mortality rate for children under five has declined by a third, from 89 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, to 60 in 2009.

• Despite proven interventions that could prevent disability or death during pregnancy and childbirth, maternal mortality remains a major burden in many developing countries. The most recent estimates suggest significant progress. In the developing regions as a whole, the maternal mortality ratio dropped by 34% between 1990 and 2008, from 440 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births to 290 maternal deaths. However, the MDG target is still far off.

• Expanded coverage of immunization against measles is an important indicator for child survival. In 2009, 80% of children in the appropriate age group received at least one dose of the measles vaccine, up from 69% in 2000.

• Globally, deaths from malaria are down by an estimated 20% – from nearly 985,000 in 2000 to 781,000 in 2009. In all countries, the decreases are associated with intensive control efforts.

• Progress to improve access to clean drinking water has been strong. Globally, coverage increased from 77% in 1990 to 87% in 2008. If this trend continues, the MDG drinking water target of 89% coverage will be met by 2015.

Challenges to be overcome:

• In developing regions overall, the majority of workers are engaged in “vulnerable employment,” defined as the percentage of own-account and unpaid family workers in total employment.

• As of end 2010, close to 43 million people worldwide were displaced due to conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid-1990s – and about half a million more than the previous year.

• In 87 urban areas for which the UNHCR has data, 37% of refugee children had no access to schooling. When they do, it is often a difficult experience, due to stigma and discrimination that can result from being an outsider, the fact that they may not understand the language of instruction, and difficulties in obtaining certification of classes completed.

• Despite proven interventions that could prevent disability or death during pregnancy and childbirth, maternal mortality remains a major burden in many developing countries.

• The world is far from meeting the sanitation target – at the current rate of progress, it will take until 2049 to provide 77% of the global population with flush toilets and other forms of improved sanitation. Almost half the population of developing regions and some 2.6 billion people globally were not using an improved form of sanitation in 2008.

• In absolute terms, the number of slum dwellers continues to grow, due in part to the fast pace of urbanization. The number of urban residents living in slum conditions is now estimated at some 828 million, compared to 657 million in 1990 and 767 million in 2000.

To address these challenges, the report reiterates the need for urgent action. It notes that efforts need to be intensified; address rural-urban disparities in progress; and target the poorest of the poor and the disadvantaged (based on sex, age, ethnicity or disability). Countries need to embark on a rejuvenated global partnership; deliver on their commitments already made; and implement targeted interventions. Examples of policiy interventions that could improve equity, with benefits for child survival (as provided in the report) include: empowering women, removing financial and social barriers to welfare, encouraging innovations to make critical services more available to the poor, and increasing the accountability of health systems at the local level.

Moreover, in the words of the UN Secretary-General: “Let us strive to connect the dots among water, energy, food, gender, global health and climate change so that solutions to one can become solutions to all.”

The complete report is available online.