Nearing A Deadline, Is The World Going To Meet The Millennium Development Goals?

The latest UN appraisal shows progress, but in some areas, such as child mortality and biodiversity loss, we’re falling short.

Nearing A Deadline, Is The World Going To Meet The Millennium Development Goals?
[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

In the year 2000, the world agreed to an ambitious eight-point agenda called the Millennium Development Goals and set a deadline for meeting them. Now a year before we hit that deadline in 2015, the UN’s latest appraisal shows a lot of progress, but also highlights the long road still ahead.


On the positive side, economic growth has lifted a lot of boats. The world has met the first MDG of halving the proportion of people who live on less than $1 a day. There are 700 million fewer people in extreme poverty than there were in 1990. From 2011 to 2013, there were 173 million fewer extremely hungry people than from 1990 to 1992.

Similarly, the world has met MDG number six, which sought to stem the spread of diseases like malaria and HIV. Interventions for malaria averted 3.3 million deaths between 2000 and 2012, the report says. Efforts to fight tuberculosis saved 22 million lives from 1995 onwards. The world has also met its targets for access to “improved” water, for less disparity between the number of girls and boys going to primary school, for the percentage of women participating in politics, and for a trading system more favorable to developing nations.

But that still leaves a lot of other goals unmet. For example, MDG 7 seeks to reduce biodiversity loss and the number of people living in slums. Since 2000, we’ve continued to cut down forests (driving species to near extinction), use more fresh water supply than is sensible, and there are now more people living in slums (because of increased urbanization) than before the turn of the century. Global carbon dioxide levels are 50% above their 1990 level, the report points out.

The most shocking statistics concern children. There are now 15% fewer kids who have experienced stunted growth, usually due to malnutrition, than there were in 1990, but the drop has only been from 40% to 25%. Child mortality has halved. But, in 2012, 48 of out 1,000 kids didn’t make it to their fifth birthday.

Maternal mortality remains high. MDG 5 aims to cut deaths during pregnancy and child birth three-quarters by 2015 compared to 1990 levels. But the rate fell only 45% in that time: 300,000 women died from maternal-related causes in 2013.

The United Nations will look towards a new, post-2015 agenda next year. Hopefully, it will be more successful.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.