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MDGs: How Far Have We Gotten?

NOTE: This guest post was written by Dana Terry. Dana is a 2014 graduate of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Her specializations include International Organizations, Conflict Negotiation/Management, and Post-Conflict Statebuilding. She has previously published pieces on Bosnia & Herzegovina (Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Political Economy and Possibilities for Reform and Why Bosnia and Herzegovina Should Not Be Ignored) and is currently researching  the relation between politicized ethnicity and income inequality.


Poverty reduction has come a long way since the advent of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000. For instance, the number of people living in extreme poverty has decreased by 700 million, 3.3 million lives have been saved on account of malaria interventions, and substantial progress has been made towards women’s empowerment and universal primary education for all. However, if the world truly wants to meet the agenda, global efforts will have to be intensified. For those of you unable to read the full 59 page MDG report, I have compiled a few highlights below.

Climate Change

A commitment to aforestation by countries such as Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Rwanda and Viet Nam has reduced the annual net loss of forests from about 8.3 million hectares in 1990 to 5.2 million hectares between 2000 and 2010. Combating deforestation helps ensure the survival of biodiversity, food security, clean water, soil, and clean air with less carbon dioxide along with protecting the economic assets and livelihood of communities which depend on the forest.

The emission of global greenhouse gases is arguably the only MDG statistic that has gotten worse. In 2011, the global CO2 emissions had risen 48.9 percent above that of the 1990 level. One of the main challenges faced by the UN is how to address the differential rate of emissions between developed and developing countries. Developed countries have an average per capita emission rate that is nearly four times higher than their developing counterparts. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is hoping to draft a new protocol to address the emission challenge at its conference in Paris at the end of 2015. The good news is that the world has nearly stopped the use of ozone depleting substances in accordance with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Without the protocol, our atmosphere was projected to have had greenhouse gas emissions comparable to over 135 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Child Mortality and Malaria

90 percent of the lives saved by malaria interventions were children, significantly reducing under 5 child mortality. Through increasing financial and political support for malaria intervention programs such as insecticide treated bed-nets (ITNs), malaria surveillance systems, and Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), the MDG malaria target is expected to be fully met by 2015. In order to prevent, diagnose, and treat this disease, the world must allocate $5.1 billion annually for the resources to combat malaria. The world failed to meet this target in 2012 by $2.6 billion which left millions of people without access to these malaria intervention programs.

Disparity and Resources

Remarkable progress has been achieved in youth and adult literacy rates which has coincided with a decrease in the literacy gender gap during the past two decades. However, women still account for 60 percent of illiterate youth and adult populations globally. Household surveys taken between 2006 and 2012 in developing countries show that the most pervasive disparities in primary school attendance are that of location, gender, and poverty. Rural children are twice as likely to be out of school compared to their urban counterparts, and girls in poverty stricken areas are substantially less likely to be enrolled in school than boys. In particular, only twenty-three percent of poor, rural girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete primary school.

Education in the poorest countries is threatened by a decline in aid. It appears that the commitment made in Dakar in 2000 that no country would be left behind on an account of inadequate resources has all but been forgotten. Donor aid has been steadily declining since 2010 and moving away from those who need it most. According to the report, it would appear that aid has shifted away from lower income countries, once receiving 1/3 of aid for basic education, to middle income countries as aid has fallen for the least developed by 9 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Poor urbanization practices also accounts for limited access to basic human needs. Though the target to improve the lives of nearly 100 million slums dwellers has been met, urbanization has vastly increased the number of people residing in slums. Between 25 to 30 percent of land should be allocated to streets for the basic needs of a well-planned city to be met, but less than 15% of land is allocated to roads in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Importance of Reproductive Health Education

While the MDGs are largely interlinked, access to reproductive health education and contraception is the most connected to the other MDGs. Teen pregnancy is not only harmful to the health of the young mother and child, but the opportunity costs negatively affect other targets such as poverty reduction, universal education, gender equality, and child mortality. Thanks in part to greater access to safe and affordable methods, contraceptive use amongst couples aged 15-49 has increased nearly two fold in developing regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

Reproductive health has benefited from safe sex education. Between 2001 and 2012, the number of HIV infected people has declined by 44 percent due largely to prevention efforts such as safe sex education. Unfortunately, this progress hasn’t persisted as steadily into this decade on substantial account of risky behavior such as declined condom usage with only 37 percent of women and 57 percent of men claiming to use a condom during ‘higher risk sex’. This appears to be partially due to a lack of HIV education amongst youth. Only 39 percent of young men and 28 percent of young women ages 15 to 24 have a comprehensive knowledge of HIV and how it is transferred.

Roads for Reform

The lack of basic transportation infrastructure is damaging to the achievement of the development agenda. The world has made substantial progress towards the MDGs, but a greater commitment is necessary. The post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals will require an increased financial and political commitment from both the international community and the affected countries.

Naturally, it would appear that more HIV education campaigns would be a necessity in high risk areas along with safe sex education. Such campaigns should include the importance of condom use in particular since the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV and AIDS set a target of 95% condom use back in 2001. Building more streets will allow authorities to provide basic sanitation and water services. Furthermore, roads are required for the transportation of medical supplies and doctors which are an integral part of maternal health, child survival, reproductive health and safe sex education, and the treatment of major diseases such as Malaria, TB, and HIV. Of course, great care will have to be taken to ensure that these roads are built using sustainable construction practices.


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