At the turn of the century, as much as 10 percent of the world’s children died before they reached their fifth birthday, and one-fourth of the global population lacked clean drinking water. But in 2000, the world’s leaders unanimously agreed to eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce these and other grim statistics by 2015.
Now, as the target date for these goals approaches, delegates to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) are evaluating progress and renewing their commitment to this ambitious global project. While no single goal will likely be fully met by the December 2015 deadline, experts note that sub-Sahara Africa has made significant progress. The U.N.’s country-by-country assessments track this progress.
On September 19, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “To achieve our ambitious goals on global hunger, on cutting carbon emissions, or with respect to extreme poverty, we have to be just as ambitious in modernizing our approach to development as we are in the vision that we express.”
During the 2014 UNGA session, the United States is focusing particular attention on three urgent challenges:
Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger
The global population living on less than $1.25 a day has declined from 47 percent to 22 percent since 1990, halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. Progress in eradicating hunger, however, has been less dramatic — one in eight people is still undernourished.
Promoting gender equality and empowering women
Worldwide, primary-level schools can boast of gender equality — in sub-Saharan Africa, primary school enrollment for girls rose from 47 percent to 75 percent between 1990 and 2011. But in higher education, workplaces and politics, women are underrepresented. Poverty and violence against women remain problems in many places.
Ensuring environmental sustainability
Some environmental goals have been met ahead of schedule, among them improving slum conditions and access to clean water, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Two billion more people have access to clean water now than in 1990. Environmental problems persist, however, due to lack of toilets, deforestation and carbon emissions.
What else have the MDGs accomplished?
Progress on other goals has been considerable. Aid money for development set a record in 2013. Internet use in Africa doubled in the last four years. More women than ever before have access to prenatal care. Nearly all children in developing countries are enrolled in primary school. And the MDGs are credited with saving 25 million lives from malaria and tuberculosis.