The Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, were established in September 2000. Almost 10 years ago, world leaders adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration and committed their
nations to a global partnership to achieve a set of specific objectives by 2015— they include ending poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, improving child health, improving maternal health, fighting HIV/AIDSand promoting environmental sustainability.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moonconvened a three-day meeting of world leaders September 20–22 to discuss progress toward achieving the U.N.-sponsored Millennium Development Goals by
2015. All around the world, we have seen efforts to achieve MDG-based targets improve the lives of millions of people: The doors of education have been opened to tens of millions of children, boys and girls; new cases of HIV/AIDS and malaria and tuberculosis are down; access to clean
drinking water is up and hundreds of millions of people have been lifted from extreme poverty. However, too many people remain caught in extreme poverty, too many remain hungry and sick, too many mothers die in childbirth, and too many children still do not go to school.
The Washington-based Center for Global Development (CGD) recently published an index of how much progress countries are making toward the MDGs. The analysts singled out 15 “star” performers that they said were likely to meet at least half the MDG goals by 2015. Honduras stood at the top of their list, followed by Kyrgyz Republic, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Armenia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ghana, Malawi, Mongolia and Uganda. CGD also identified a dozen “laggard” countries making the least progress. At the bottom were Guinea-Bissau and Afghanistan, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Liberia, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic. Most countries fall somewhere in between, demonstrating solid progress on some indicators and little on others. A recent United Nations report released in July said the global financial crisis of the past few years and epic natural disasters such as the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, the Haitian earthquake of January 2010 and the current massive flooding across
Pakistan all have set back progress.
The World Health Organization had called the health of mothers in developing countries “the MDG target for which progress has been most disappointing.” Every year, over half-a- million women die from largely preventable complications in pregnancy or childbirth. We also know that maternal health is inextricably linked to neonatal and child health. According to the World Health
Organization, some one million children are left motherless each year, and these children are 10 times more likely to die within two years of their mothers’ death. Interventions—such as skilled birth attendants, access to emergency obstetric care, pre- and post-natal care, nutrition, and access to family planning—will improve maternal and child health. We also need to address the myriad economic, cultural, social, and legal barriers that impact women’s welfare. The unacceptably high rate of maternal mortality is directly linked to persistent gender inequalities, including gender-based violence, harmful traditional practices such as early and forced marriage, lack of education, and lack of economic opportunity.
Development was once the province of humanitarians, charities, and governments looking to gain
allies in global struggles. Today it is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative – as central to advancing American interests and solving global problems as diplomacy and defense. The United States is unveiling a new global development policy that seeks broad-based economic growth, democratic governance and the use of new technology to unleash the transformational change needed to end the cycle of dependence. Countries are more likely to prosper when they encourage entrepreneurship; when they invest in their infrastructure; when they expand trade and welcome investment. So, the United States will be seeking partners who want to build their own capacity to care for themselves. The strategy calls for a focus on game-changing innovations to solve long-standing development challenges such as helping countries to develop their agriculture sectors, improve crop yields and get products to market, rather than merely delivering food aid. And because, over the long run, democracy and economic growth go hand in hand, the United States will focus development efforts on countries that promote good governance and democracy; the rule of law and equal administration of justice; transparent institutions with strong civil societies; and respect for human rights. This approach highlights the difference between aid and investment. Through aid, the United States supplies what is needed to the people who need it – be it sacks of rice or cartons of medicines. But through investment, it seeks to break the cycle of dependence that aid can create by helping countries build their own institutions and their own capacity to deliver essential services. Aid chases need; investment chases opportunity.
There is no doubt that the eight Millennium Development Goals and their framework of accountability have served the world well. They have not only provided a much-needed sense of direction to national plans and international cooperation -- they have also delivered measurable results. However, this is the reality we must face -- that if the international community just keeps doing the same things the same way, we may make some modest progress here and there, but we
will miss many development goals.