TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (June10/08)
28 June 2010
Third World Network

Uneven progress towards achieving the MDGs
Published in SUNS #6951 dated 24 June 2010

Geneva, 23 Jun (Kanaga Raja) -- Progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been uneven and, without a major push forward, many of the MDG targets are likely to be missed in most regions of the world, the United Nations has cautioned in its latest progress report on the MDGs released Wednesday.

In an overview in the "Millennium Development Goals Report 2010", the UN says that many countries, including some of the poorest, are moving forward, demonstrating that setting bold, collective goals in the fight against poverty yields results. For every life that has benefitted from the establishment of a quantitative, time-bound framework of accountability, the MDGs have made a real difference.

"But unmet commitments, inadequate resources, lack of focus and accountability, and insufficient dedication to sustainable development have created shortfalls in many areas. Some of these shortfalls were aggravated by the global food and economic and financial crises."

Nevertheless, the UN adds, the data and analysis in the report provide clear evidence that targeted interventions, sustained by adequate funding and political commitment, have resulted in rapid progress in some areas. In others, the poorest groups, those without education or living in more remote areas, have been neglected and not provided the conditions to improve their lives.

The collective efforts towards achievement of the MDGs have made inroads in many areas. Encouraging trends before 2008 had put many regions on track to achieve at least some of the goals. "The economic growth momentum in developing regions remains strong and, learning from the many successes of even the most challenged countries, achieving the MDGs is still within our grasp."

The report, produced by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, is an annual assessment of regional progress towards the eight Goals - first agreed at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000 - and reflects the most comprehensive, up-to-date data compiled by over 25 UN and international agencies.

The eight MDGs set global objectives for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development by 2015.

Among the successes highlighted in the report are that progress on poverty reduction is still being made, despite significant setbacks due to the 2008-2009 economic downturn, and food and energy crises. The developing world as a whole remains on track to achieve the poverty reduction target by 2015.

Major advances have also been made in getting children into school in many of the poorest countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, remarkable improvements in key interventions - for malaria and HIV control, and measles immunization, for example - have cut child deaths from 12.5 million in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2008.

Increased use of improved water sources in rural areas has narrowed the large gap with urban areas, where coverage has remained at 94% - almost unchanged since 1990. Between 2003 and 2008, the number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy increased ten-fold - from 400,000 to 4 million - corresponding to 42% of the 8.8 million people who needed treatment for HIV.

"Though progress has been made, it is uneven. And without a major push forward, many of the MDG targets are likely to be missed in most regions," the report warns.

Old and new challenges threaten to further slow progress in some areas or even undo successes achieved so far.

For instance, the most severe impact of climate change is being felt by vulnerable populations who have contributed least to the problem. Armed conflict remains a major threat to human security and to hard-won MDG gains. In 2009, 42 million people had been displaced by conflict or persecution, four fifths of them in developing countries.

The number of people who are undernourished has continued to grow, while slow progress in reducing the prevalence of hunger stalled - or even reversed itself - in some regions between 2000-2002 and 2005-2007.

"An estimated 1.4 billion people were still living in extreme poverty in 2005. Moreover, the effects of the global financial crisis are likely to persist: poverty rates will be slightly higher in 2015 and even beyond, to 2020, than they would have been had the world economy grown steadily at its pre-crisis pace."

Gender equality and the empowerment of women are at the heart of the MDGs and are preconditions for overcoming poverty, hunger, and disease. But progress has been sluggish on all fronts - from education to access to political decision-making, says the report.

Policies and interventions will also be needed to eliminate the persistent or even increasing inequalities between the rich and the poor, between those living in rural or remote areas or in slums versus better-off urban populations, and those disadvantaged by geographic location, sex, age, disability or ethnicity, the report stresses.

With respect to the target of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day (one of the targets under MDG No. 1), the report says that robust growth in the first half of the decade reduced the number of people in developing regions living on less than $1.25 a day (the World Bank has revised the poverty threshold from $1 a day to $1.25) from 1.8 billion in 1990 to 1.4 billion in 2005, while the poverty rate dropped from 46% to 27%.

The global economic and financial crisis, which began in the advanced economies of North America and Europe in 2008, sparked abrupt declines in exports and commodity prices and reduced trade and investment, slowing growth in developing countries.

Nevertheless, the momentum of economic growth in developing countries is strong enough to sustain progress on the poverty reduction target. The overall poverty rate is still expected to fall to 15% by 2015, indicating that the MDG target can be met. This translates into around 920 million people living under the international poverty line - half the number in 1990, says the report.

Newly updated estimates from the World Bank suggest that the crisis will leave an additional 50 million people in extreme poverty in 2009 and some 64 million by the end of 2010 relative to a no-crisis scenario, principally in sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern and South-Eastern Asia.

According to the report, the fastest growth and sharpest reductions in poverty continue to be recorded in Eastern Asia. Poverty rates in China are expected to fall to around 5% by 2015. India, too, has contributed to the large reduction in global poverty. Measured at the $1.25 a day poverty line, poverty rates there are expected to fall from 51% in 1990 to 24% in 2015, and the number of people living in extreme poverty will likely decrease by 188 million.

All developing regions except sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia are expected to achieve the MDG target.

On the other MDG No. 1 target of achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people, the UN notes that the bursting of the housing bubble in the United States in 2007 and subsequent paralysis of the global financial system became an economic and labour market crisis that plagued the world throughout 2009. The cascading crisis crippled economies, reduced enterprise capacities and forced millions of people out of work. Many workers resorted to vulnerable forms of employment as the ranks of the working poor swell.

The report cites the International Labour Organization (ILO) as estimating the global vulnerable employment (defined as the sum of own-account workers and contributing family workers) rate in 2009 to be between 49% and 53%, which translates into 1.5 billion to 1.6 billion people who are working on their own or as unpaid family workers worldwide.

Working poverty (defined as those who are employed but live in households where individual members subsist on less than $1.25 a day) is likely to have increased as well. It is estimated that an additional 3.6% of the world's workers were at risk of falling into poverty between 2008 and 2009, an alarming increase and a setback to many years of steady progress.

On the third target under MDG No. 1 (that of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger), the report finds that since 1990 developing regions have made some progress towards the target of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger. The share of undernourished populations decreased from 20% in 1990-1992 to 16% in 2005-2007, the latest period with available data.

"However, progress has stalled since 2000-2002. Overall progress in reducing the prevalence of hunger has not been sufficient to reduce the number of undernourished people. In 2005-2007, the last period assessed, 830 million people were still undernourished, an increase from 817 million in 1990-1992."

The report also finds that from 1990 to 2008, the proportion of children under five in the developing regions who are underweight declined from 31% to 26%. Progress in reducing underweight prevalence among children has been made in all regions except Western Asia. Eastern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries in Asia have reached or nearly reached the MDG target, and South-Eastern Asia and Northern Africa are on track.

"Progress is being made, but not fast enough to reach the MDG target," says the report, adding that data are not yet available to fully understand the impact of the food and financial crises on underweight prevalence, but the achievement of the MDG target may be further threatened by them.

On the MDG No. 2 target of ensuring that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling, the report says that enrolment in primary education has continued to rise, reaching 89% in the developing world. But the pace of progress is insufficient to ensure that, by 2015, all girls and boys complete a full course of primary schooling.

But a good deal has been accomplished in many regions. Though enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa remains the lowest of all regions, it still increased by 18 percentage points - from 58% to 76% - between 1999 and 2008. Progress was also made in Southern Asia and Northern Africa, where enrolment increased by 11 and 8 percentage points, respectively, over the last decade.

With respect to MDG No. 3 on eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels no later than 2015, the report says that the developing regions as a whole are approaching gender parity in educational enrollment. In 2008, there were 96 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in primary school, and 95 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in secondary school. In
1999, the ratios were 91:100 and 88:100 for the two levels of education, respectively.

Despite this progress, gender parity in primary and secondary education - a target that was to be met by 2005 - is still out of reach for many developing regions. For primary education, the steepest challenges are found in Oceania, sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia.

In secondary education, the gender gap in enrollment is most evident in the three regions where overall enrolment is lowest - sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and Southern Asia. In tertiary education, the ratio between girls and boys in the developing regions is close to parity, at 97 girls per 100 boys.

On MDG No. 4 on reducing by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate, the UN finds that substantial progress has been made in reducing child deaths. Since 1990, the mortality rate for children under age five in developing countries dropped by 28% - from 100 deaths per 1,000 live births to 72 in 2008. Globally, the total number of under-five deaths declined from 12.5 million in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2008.

The report however cautions that many countries still have unacceptably high levels of child mortality and have made little or no progress in recent years. The highest rates of child mortality continue to be found in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2008, one in seven children there died before their fifth birthday; the highest levels were in Western and Central Africa, where one in six children died before age five (169 deaths per 1,000 live births).

With respect to the target of reducing by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio (one of the targets under MDG No. 5), the report finds that preliminary data show signs of progress, with some countries achieving significant declines in maternal mortality ratios. However, the rate of reduction is still well short of the 5.5% annual decline needed to meet the MDG target.

On the first target under MDG No. 6 (halting by 2015, and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS), the report finds that globally, the spread of HIV appears to have peaked in 1996, when 3.5 million people were newly infected. By 2008, that number had dropped to an estimated 2.7 million. AIDS-related mortality peaked in 2004, with 2.2 million deaths. By 2008, that toll had dropped to 2 million, although HIV remains the world's leading infectious killer.

The epidemic appears to have stabilized in most regions, although prevalence continues to rise in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and other parts of Asia due to a high rate of new HIV infections. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most heavily affected region, accounting for 72% of all new HIV infections in 2008. An estimated 33.4 million people were living with HIV in 2008, of whom 22.4 million are in sub-Saharan Africa.

On the second target of achieving by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it, the report says that at the time of the launch of the 3-by-5 initiative in 2003 - a global effort to provide 3 million people in low- and middle-income countries with antiretroviral therapy by 2005 - an estimated 400,000 people were receiving this life-prolonging treatment. By December 2008, that figure had increased 10-fold - to approximately 4 million people - an increase of over 1 million people from the previous year alone.

The greatest gains were seen in sub-Saharan Africa, where two thirds of those needing treatment live. By the end of 2008, an estimated 2.9 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were receiving antiretroviral therapy, compared to about 2.1 million in 2007 - an increase of 39%.

In 2008, 42% of the 8.8 million people needing treatment for HIV in low- and middle-income countries received it, compared to 33% in 2007. This means that 5.5 million people in need did not have access to the necessary medications.

On the third target of halting by 2015 and beginning to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases, the UN finds that half the world's population is at risk of malaria, and an estimated 243 million cases led to nearly 863,000 deaths in 2008. Of these, 767,000 (89%) occurred in Africa.

The report further finds that the global burden of tuberculosis is falling slowly. Incidence fell to 139 cases per 100,000 people in 2008, after peaking in 2004 at 143 cases per 100,000. In 2008, an estimated 9.4 million people were newly diagnosed with tuberculosis worldwide.

"If current trends are sustained, the world as a whole will have already achieved the MDG target of halting and reversing the incidence of tuberculosis in 2004."

On the target (under MDG No. 7) to halve by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, the UN finds that if current trends continue, the world will meet or even exceed the MDG drinking water target by 2015. By that time, an estimated 86% of the population in developing regions will have gained access to improved sources of drinking water. Four regions, Northern Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Asia and South-Eastern Asia, have already met the target.

At the current rate of progress, the world will miss the target of halving the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation. In 2008, an estimated 2.6 billion people around the world lacked access to an improved sanitation facility. If the trend continues, that number will grow to 2.7 billion by 2015. In 2008, 48% of the population in developing regions were without basic sanitation. The two regions facing the greatest challenges are sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, where 69% and 64% of the population, respectively, lack access.

Concerning MDG No. 8 on developing a global partnership for development, the report notes that in 2009, net disbursements of official development assistance (ODA) amounted to $119.6 billion, or 0.31% of the combined national income of developed countries.

In real terms, this is a slight increase (of 0.7%) compared to 2008 even though, measured in current US dollars, ODA fell by over 2% - from $122.3 billion in 2008.

Noting that the economic slowdown has put pressure on government budgets in the developed countries, the report says that while the majority of the initial commitments (made at the Gleneagles G8 summit and the UN World Summit in 2005) remain in force, some large donors have reduced or postponed the pledges they made for 2010.

On the basis of current 2010 budget proposals, as well as the lower GNI forecasts, total ODA for 2010 is projected to be $108 billion (at 2004 prices).

The shortfall in aid affects Africa in particular, the report stresses, noting that it is estimated that Africa will receive only about $11 billion out of the $25 billion increase envisaged at the Gleneagles Summit, due mainly to the under-performance of some European donors who earmark large shares of their aid to Africa. +