The Millennium Development Goals Report 2008

31 Dec 2008


In adopting the Millennium Declaration in the year 2000, the international community pledged to “spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty.” We are now more than halfway towards the target date – 2015 – by which the Millennium Development Goals are to be achieved.

The MDGs encapsulate the development aspirations of the world as a whole. But they are not only development objectives; they encompass universally accepted human values and rights such as freedom from hunger, the right to basic education, the right to health and a responsibility to future generations. We have made important progress towards all eight goals, but we are not on track to fulfil our commitments. This report quantifies the achievements that have been registered and provides a measure of the tasks that remain.

These tasks have now become more challenging because the largely benign development environment that has prevailed since the early years of this decade, and that has contributed to the successes to date, is now threatened. We face a global economic slowdown and a food security crisis, both of uncertain magnitude and duration. Global warming has become more apparent. These developments will directly affect our efforts to reduce poverty: the economic slowdown will diminish the incomes of the poor; the food crisis will raise the number of hungry people in the world and push millions more into poverty; climate change will have a disproportionate impact on the poor.

The need to address these concerns, pressing as they are, must not be allowed to detract from our long-term efforts to achieve the MDGs. On the contrary, our strategy must be to keep the focus on the MDGs as we confront these new challenges. Some of the recent adverse developments reflect a failure to give these matters sufficient attention in the past. The imminent threat of increased hunger would have been lessened if recent decades had not been marked by a lack of investment in agricultural and rural development in developing countries.

Climate change would be a less immediate threat if we had kept pace with commitments to sustainable development enunciated again and again over the years. And the current global financial turmoil reveals systemic weaknesses that we have known about – and left inadequately addressed – for some time now.

The current troubled climate poses a risk that some advances in reducing poverty may unravel. There could also be setbacks with regard to other MDGs. Some gains, however, cannot be undone. A child will forever benefit from the primary education he or she might not otherwise have received. Many individuals are alive today thanks to a measles vaccination or antiretroviral therapy for AIDS. Millions of tons of ozone-depleting substances have been prevented from entering the atmosphere.

External debts have been written-off, freeing resources for development. These and other examples provide ample evidence of what can and has been achieved with sound strategies backed by political will and financial and technical support. Looking ahead to 2015 and beyond, there is no question that we can achieve the overarching goal: we can put an end to poverty. In almost all instances, experience has demonstrated the validity of earlier agreements on the way forward; in other words, we know what to do. But it requires an unswerving, collective, long-term effort.

Time has been lost. We have wasted opportunities and face additional challenges, making the task ahead more difficult. It is now our responsibility to make up lost ground – and to put all countries, together, firmly on track towards a more prosperous, sustainable and equitable world.

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