Article The World We Want In partnership with the UNDP

MDGs and post-2015 development

All statistics have been analysed from 4 different sources that are linked at the bottom.

The Millennium Development Goals were established in 2000 following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations (UN). The eight goals and targets relating to those goals were agreed as follows:

MDG1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

- Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day

- Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people

- Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

MDG2. To achieve universal primary education

- Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling

MDG3. To promote gender equality and empowering women

- Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015

MDG4. To reduce child mortality rates

- Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five

MDG5. To improve maternal health

- Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio

- Achieve universal access to reproductive health & inadequate funding for family planning is a major failure in fulfilling commitments to improving women’s reproductive health

MDG6. To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases

- Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS

- Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it

- Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases

MDG7. To ensure environmental sustainability

- Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources

- Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss

- Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation

- Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020

MDG8. To develop a global partnership for development

- Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system

- Address the special needs of least developed countries

- Address the special needs of landlocked developing countries and small island developing States

- Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries

- In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries

- In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications

Each goal has a very broad definition, but within each goal there are targets. Within each target, there are indicators that are used to determine whether the targets have been met. For example, the indicators for ‘reduce biodiversity loss’ include ‘proportion of land area covered by forest and proportion of species threatened with extinction’ as well as indicators relating to carbon dioxide emissions, fish stocks and water resources. By and large, the concept and widespread acceptance of the MDGs has been a success, particularly when you consider the political blame games that take place at climate change meetings. The MDGs encourage involvement from a wide range of people and organisations at all levels: governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) ranging from local to international and even donations from anyone anywhere. The idea that anyone can get involved is vital and this will become even more apparent in post-2015 development.

What has been achieved so far?

As it stands, three individual targets have been met. Reducing extreme poverty by half (MDG1) was met in 2010. Two targets within MDG7 have been met: halving the number of people without access to clean and safe sources of drinking water and improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. Significant progress has been made towards other targets; there is still just over a year and a half until the total success of the MDGs can be properly substantiated but it is becoming clear where the successes and failures will lie barring any great immediate improvements.

MDG1: The targets for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger have been met, many challenges still remain however. A drastic reduction in poverty rates In East and South Asia disguise the fact that poverty rates in Sub-Saharan Africa have only dropped 8% since 1990. Furthermore, considering poverty purely in economic terms (using $1.25 a day as the poverty line) masks a multitude of other problems that contribute to poverty

MDG2: in 2011, 102 million primary-age children out of school, this has dropped to 57 million in 2011. More than half of these are in Sub-Saharan Africa, and of those children that lack basic reading and writing skills, the majority are female. I will go into more detail on this MDG in a case study below.

MDG3: Substantial progress has been made in reducing the gender gap in education. Most countries show a girl to boy ratio upwards of 90%. A handful of countries still show levels below 70% though. Somalia has the lowest ratio at around 53% while Afghanistan, Chad, Ivory Coast and the Central African Republic lie between 65% and 70%. While progress on gender parity is welcome, there are related concerns over under-enrolment, as many girls still do not enrol which is not accounted for in the figures.

MDG4: All regions show a considerable decline in infant and child mortality but it is unlikely that the overall target will be met unless improvements in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to take effect (a drop from 177/1000 live births to 97/1000 between 1990 and 2012). The developing world average for under-5 mortality has fallen from 99/1000 live births in 1990 to just under 53 in 2012.

MDG5: Maternal mortality has declined by almost a half since 1990 and could reach the target of a 2/3 reduction if Sub-Saharan Africa continues a sharp relative decline in maternal deaths. Around half of all maternal deaths take place here due to a lack of skilled nurses and infrastructure. Also, a lack of education has led to the slowing of contraception use with a continued high level of adolescent births.

MDG6: Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most affected by disease, HIV in particular. Deaths by malaria and HIV have fallen and tuberculosis treatment has saved an estimated 20 million lives. Access to information has improved but could improve further.

MDG7: This particular MDG is very broad and covers issues such as sanitation and carbon dioxide emissions. In this respect, MDG7 has been highly successful with some aspects but a dramatic failure in others. Carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, 1/3 fish stocks are overexploited and many animal species are at risk of extinction. On the other hand, targets 3 and 4 have been met, but the issue of overpopulation could threaten the improvements made in urban slums and further integration into local government needs to be made. Furthermore, as with MDG1, rapid improvements in East Asia skew the overall figures and disguise the lack of progress in Sub-Saharan Africa where only 30% have access to improved sanitation, compared to 25% in 1990. This is perhaps the one area of the MDGs where the most urgent assistance is needed.

MDG8: Overall development aid has fallen since 1990 but connections with trade, imports and tariffs have all improved suggesting a small shift towards trade based assistance rather than direct aid. Debt payments as a ratio of export revenues have declined considerably but this is influenced more by increased exports rather than less debt payments. Internet and mobile access has increased, however regional variations in quality and cost mean that many people cannot afford or receive access. Nonetheless, this is likely to improve in the future as infrastructure develops and costs reduce. Internet access holds a massive amount of potential for contributing to the success of future development aims through collaboration and the spread of information.

Case study: universal education

Since 2000, the percentage of children completing primary education in low income countries had been steadily improving until 2011 when a small decline was recorded. The attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai highlights the danger of sending children, particularly girls, to school in some countries. Delivering a comprehensive education to all children is a complex problem and renewed vigour will be needed to keep up the previous progress made. World Bank data can group the data by region and income status for specific indicators. Using this, it shows that Sub-Sarahan Africa scores the lowest percentage (6%) of countries that have met the target indicator for MDG2. When grouping countries by income, only 11% of low income countries have met the target and when considering countries described as being ‘fragile’ and involved in ‘conflict situations’ the score is also 11%. The data shows that all regions (except South Asia), have a substantial percentage of countries that are not making progress. This can be fallacious when looking at Europe, Latin America and East Asia as they record primary completion rates of 95% upwards, indicating that most of the progress that they can make, has been made, with only small improvements remaining. The most worrying statistic however, is that only 6% of Sub-Saharan African countries have made sufficient progress with a combined 60% showing at least insufficient progress, with half of those seriously off target. This is reflected in low income countries as apart from the 6% that have met the target no country has produced sufficient progress. A recent survey, spanning 63 countries between 2005 and 2011, shows that low household income and rural location correspond strongly with high rates of primary-age children not in school. Many problems undermine progress towards universal primary education such as violence, poor health and travel distance. Achieving MDG2 will take a massive effort and Uganda offers an example of success. A competitive political arena prompted President Museveni to make an election pledge to abolish primary school fees. Museveni subsequently used this to promote later campaigns and education became a measure by which citizens judged government effectiveness. This success depended on voters having information on candidate policies combined with the introduction of education as a policy. ‘A good education’ is currently the highest voted issue on the UN My World vote which was introduced to allow everyone around the world to express their opinion on what they would like to see in post-2015 development. The Ugandan example shows how governments can positively influence change by taking into account what people want. The NGO ‘Plan’ represents another example of success, tackling the problem of violence towards children removes an obstacle that discourages many children from attending school. Ultimately, because the MDGs aim to tackle large complex problems, success is difficult to achieve.

Lessons from MDGs

There are several lessons to be learned from the MDGs. As highlighted by the indicator for MDG1, the scope is too narrow in many cases. Measuring poverty in economic terms ignores a wide range of problems that contribute to poverty such as access to adequate shelter, access to education and susceptibility to violence. In addition to a narrow scope, the MDGs themselves are too broad as they apply equally to every country involved. Some of the statistics shown above highlight the massive variations between regions so adapting post-2015 development to individual countries would likely improve implementation and provide more focus to achieving goals within countries rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. Furthermore, the lack of a proper mechanism for ensuring participation and accountability has contributed to the failure of the MDGs. Participation is a lesson that has already been learned, as the ‘My World’ vote represents. If the MDGs can be considered to be a failure, they at least encouraged the international community to recognise development issues and take some sort of action. Subsequently, there is now a better understanding of what the main issues are and who they affect.

How is post-2015 development taking shape?

Using the lessons from the MDGs, post-2015 development has taken a different approach to development and a considerable amount of work and consultation has already taken place. Ensuring that everyone has a voice underpins post-2015 development, to create a sense of involvement which it is hoped will carry on in the future. The High Level Panel (27 leaders appointed by Ban Ki-moon) has already created a report which focus on five ‘transformative shifts’. These are:

Leave No-one Behind.

Put Sustainable Development at the Core.

Transform Economies for Jobs and Inclusive Growth.

Build Peace and Effective, Open and Accountable Institutions for All.

Forge a New Global Partnership.

In addition, there have been various regional and national consultations to allow groups to develop a coherent position that can later be used in negotiation. It is important that these consultations have included disadvantaged/minority groups, youth/women groups, academic groups and private sector organisations. There have also been global consultations based around 11 themes highlighted by the United National Development Group (inequalities, health, education, growth and employment, environmental sustainability, governance, conflict and fragility, population dynamics, hunger, food and nutrition security, energy, water). These themes already convey a more structured framework to development that was previously lacking. The introduction of governance, conflict and population dynamics shows consideration for previously under considered aspects of poverty. Governance is a particularly pertinent issue as it includes all countries and acts as a means towards development progress but also an end in itself, to allow people to exercise their rights. The earlier example of education in Uganda showed the importance of plurality and democracy in enabling successful development. Good governance also enables transparency and encourages an equal playing field where corporate interests are not prioritised over the interests of the poor.

Professor Mohan Munasinghe took the concept of development beyond poverty to focus on consumption. His argument that development should be sustainable in all aspects (economic, social and environmental) provides a more holistic approach. Focusing on consumption goals such as improved lifestyles, efficient transport and certain taxation as well as development goals indicates that as Munasinghe commented <blockquote>All human beings are stakeholders, when it comes to sustainable development.</blockquote>

Results of ‘My World’ UN survey

The ‘My World’ vote set up by the UN is a global survey that has allowed anyone, anywhere to contribute to the conversation on post-2015 development. The survey utilises online and offline aspects, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to take part. Those taking the survey are asked to choose six priorities from sixteen options. Just over 2.1 million people have completed the survey, with the majority of respondents’ male, between 16 and 30 and from low and middle HDI (Human Development Index) countries. The most voted for issue is ‘a good education’ followed by ‘better healthcare’ and ‘an honest and responsive government’. The three least voted for issues are ‘action taken on climate change’, ‘reliable energy at home’ and ‘phone and internet access’. When breaking the data down into low/middle/high/very high HDI countries, differences begin to emerge. As you go from low to very high, climate change becomes a more important issue each time while issues such as job opportunities and healthcare become less important. This is due to the different stages of development that these groups of countries are in. Additionally, energy and internet access are more important for low HDI countries primarily due to lack of quality or access compared to very high HDI countries where energy and internet access is commonplace and does not appear to be under threat. There are only small variations between different educational levels and age groups; location seems to be the most important determinant of how a person will vote. This further reinforces the need for an adaptable framework that can work for all countries.
The results of this survey will be vital for identifying problem areas in particular countries and regions. This in itself will be useful to national governments as they have the opportunity to listen to the needs of the citizens. The survey is just one of the many tools being utilised to help formulate post-2015 development.

How will climate change fit into post-2015 development?

The one aspect of the survey that is perhaps most surprising is that ‘action’ taken on climate change’ is the lowest voted for issue overall. . In low HDI countries, 13% of people voted compared to 22% overall. Medium HDI countries recorded 24%, high HDI 21% and 40% in very high HDI countries. The consequences of climate change will adversely affect those living in low HDI countries more than those in very high HDI countries. For example, Sudan is considered to be one country most at risk from climate change, due to a high population, high poverty rates and the potential for serious drought. Despite this, only 15% of those that voted from Sudan felt that taking action on climate change was a priority. Many other countries in Africa show similar percentages, highlighting a potential disconnect. It should be noted that many of the votes took place before the recent surge of climate change discussion due to the various IPCC reports that have been released. Climate change also represents an abstract threat as many consequences will occur in the future and cannot be explicitly felt now. Compared to issues such as education and healthcare, where there are tangible effects on a family, it is perhaps understandable why climate change ranks so lowly. The importance of collaboration cannot be understated, as communicating the dangers and acting upon them is crucial.

The lack of a focus on climate change was one of the main failures of the MDGs and with the recent IPCC reports leaving little doubt as to the dangers of climate change, it is likely that tackling climate change will be a major factor in post-2015 development. Climate change threatens to halt or reverse much of the gains made by MDGs, underpins and could amplify several aspects of poverty. Water scarcity and decline in agricultural land could affect efforts to tackle hunger and sanitation. Increased rainfall and higher temperatures in some areas could facilitate the spread of disease. Disrupting a relatively stable climate could also be detrimental to marine food webs, which much of the world rely on.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets in Paris towards the end of 2015. Due to the importance of tackling climate change and its influence on development, there will need to be collaboration between the UNFCCC and the post-2015 framework. Climate change is an issue that spans all aspects of development and ensuring that a consensus is reached on how to act is vital.


Despite the failures of the MDGs, they have helped to advance the conversation on development and offer lessons for the next wave of development after 2015. Allowing everyone to have a say on post-2015 development is vital for getting people to invest in the resultant goals. Ensuring that the post-2015 development framework is comprehensive but adaptable to individual needs is also extremely important. Post-2015 development is expected to provide a more complete approach to development, encompassing a wide-ranging approach that includes everyone: developed and developing countries, governments, NGOs and individuals. Making sure that post-2015 development works for everyone is critical; the resultant framework is expected to last until 2030 after which it will hopefully not be too late to achieve the ‘world we want’ and need.

World Bank trends and targets data

World Bank Global Monitoring Report 2013

UNDP goals/targets/indicators

UNDP 2013 MDG progress report

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