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World’s poorest remain vulnerable, according to Millennium Goals report (July 2011)

Rethinking Bretton Woods | Tue, Jul 19, 2011

By Lauren Tonon

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that outline targets to eradicate extreme poverty, improve health, create opportunities for women, promote education, and jump start a partnership for development, are on target, says the latest UN report on MDG progress.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that outline targets to eradicate extreme poverty, improve health, create opportunities for women, promote education, and jump start a partnership for development, are on target, says the latest UN report on MDG progress.  The eight goals set in 2000 were a seemingly gargantuan task in great need of funding and international program coordination to reach the world’s poorest in the most remote corners of the earth.   The recently published UN update reports steady progress, but the 2008 financial collapse derailed many gains the minimalistic goals had made in developing nations.

The poverty rate is falling, and access to education and drinking water is steadily improving as is health and general livelihood.  The remarkable growth in China and India greatly skew the numbers, driving down poverty rates and perhaps is singlehandedly keeping the goals on track. 

The most daunting task of the Millennium Development Project, reaching the poorest of the poor, has eluded the UN, though.  The report concedes that “despite real progress, we are failing to meet the most vulnerable.”  In Sub-Saharan Africa for instance, survey data was only collected from 20% of the region’s population.  Access to programs for rural villages has always been challenging, but the crisis has exacerbated the difficulty to reach the world’s poorest. 

Most alarmingly, the rate of hunger has plateaued.  The Millennium Development Project set out to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.  Hunger was estimated to affect 20% of the world population in 1990 when the Millennium Goal was set, but hunger has only declined to 16% while the number of people living in extreme poverty has diminished at a higher rate.  At this rate, the UN goal to lower hunger to 10% will not be reached by 2015.  The disconnect points to spikes in food prices, a trend that has recently resumed, alongside the announced “recovery” from the global financial crisis.  Hunger also directly adversely affects sanitation and spread of disease.  

As a result of the crisis, unemployment soared in both developing and developed nations.  While the recovery in 2010 alleviated unemployment to some extent, problems remain.  Like in most facets of development, gains for women are noticeably absent.  Furthermore, those lucky enough to be employed are not receiving significant wages and security.  The UN reports that “worldwide, one in five workers and their families are living in extreme poverty” which is less than $1.25 per day.

The international marketplace is experiencing a slight recovery, but the damage in developing countries has been done.  Unemployment and volatile food prices are crippling and protectionist policies and plummeting exports are indebting developing nations without any relief in sight.

In 2010, Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa in particular fell USD 14 billion short of the pledges made at the Gleneagles Group of Eight Summit. The inability of the G8 to deliver promised funds contributes to the growing urgency for innovative sources of finance in developing nations, a topic conspicuously absent from this MDG report on progress. The UN does expect aid to grow at a decreased pace over the next three years.  Measures such as financial transactions taxes or Special Drawing Rights could close the gap and raise funds for development.

Many MDGs are on target in the areas of poverty reduction, education, and health, but their progress is only slow and gradual.  Charts and bar graphs tell a story of growth and progress, but our newspapers are monopolized by a different story of war, poverty, and hunger that plague our globe.   The Millennium Development Goals Project is coming to a close, and its legacy will be disputed.  What it has succeeded in is initiating a unique global coordinated effort to eradicate poverty.  Let us hope they are the beginning, not the last, step in the fight against global injustices.