The goals fall under eight broad headings (Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, Achieve universal primary education, Promote gender equality and empower women, Reduce child mortality, Improve maternal health, Combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases, Ensure environmental sustainability and Develop a Global Partnership for Development) which each include a number of achievable, quantifiable targets like halving the proportion of people living on less than $1 per day and providing universal access to HIV/AIDS care.
It’s a bold initiative and unarguably the most measurable, well conceived anti-poverty programme ever adopted. However, with just five years to go the world is failing.
Whilst living standards have risen in developing parts of Asia (mainly due to economic growth in India and China) other targets remain far from achievement; the number of women who die in childbirth, for example, remains unacceptably high and world hunger has actually risen since the goals were set.
There are numerous explanations for this. Speeches by the likes of Robert Mugabe today, demonstrated the tendency of many leaders in the developing world to put political point scoring above the welfare of their own people; a situation hammered home by the fact that some of the poorest states – such as Zimbabwe and Burma – were incredibly wealthy before their economies were wrecked by tyrannical dictators. Whilst such people are still in power, any international efforts towards development will be inherently hampered.
But this does not excuse the lack of effort on the part of developed states. The UK – one of the highest donors – still dedicates just 0.51% of its GDP to aid, whilst others such as Italy come in as low as 0.15%. The US, with the world's largest economy, donates just 0.2%. And as the international community still reels from economic crisis, numerous states (including the UK) have talked of cutting their aid budget. Though leaders such as Sarkozy have pointed out that we have no right to hide behind our own financial problems in our failure to provide aid, and have spearheaded calls for initiatives such as a global tax on financial transactions to help reach the Millennium Development Goals, it remains hard to see how -with so much reluctance to commit- they can now be reached.
On Monday UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon expressed his belief that they remain achievable. The truth is that, somehow, they must be achieved. A decade into the 21st century billions of people still die of basic curable diseases, of hungerm of thirst, in childbirth and through lack of shelter. It’s a disgrace to our governments, our states and our global community.
Meeting the Millennium Development Goals in five years, with so far to go, will be an enormous challenge; it will be the test of a generation and if we fail it will be a bitter legacy for an entire era. The question is – are we up to it?