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The Millennium Development Goals

What is in this guide?

Source: UNDP- these materials can be found on the UNDP website

This guide explains the Millennium Development Goals which were agreed on at international conferences and world summits during the 1990's. It has the following sections:

  1. What are the Millennium Development Goals?
  2. Goals and targets

2.1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2.2 Achieve universal primary education
2.3 Promote gender equality and empower women
2.4 Reduce child mortality
2.5 Improve maternal health
2.6 Combat HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases
2.7 Ensure environmental sustainability
2.8 Develop a global partnership for development

  1. Are we on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015?
  2. Are Millennium Development Goals affordable?
  3. Do Millennium Development Goals make good economic sense?
  4. Can the resources gap be bridged?
  5. Can Official Development Assistance (ODA) and debt relief make a difference?
  6. Is trade not more important than aid?
  7. Are countries' capacities strong enough to handle additional funds?
  8. Why a global Millennium Development Goals campaign?

  1. What are the Millennium Development Goals?

The Millennium Development Goals summarize the development goals agreed on at international conferences and world summits during the 1990s. At the end of the decade, world leaders distilled the key goals and targets in the Millennium Declaration (September 2000).
The Millennium Development Goals, to be achieved between 1990 and 2015, include:

    1. Halving extreme poverty and hunger;
    2. Achieving universal primary education;
    3. Promoting gender equality;
    4. Reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds;
    5. Reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters;
    6. Reversing the spread of HIV and AIDS, malaria and TB;
    7. Ensuring environmental sustainability;
    8. Developing a global partnership for development, with targets for aid, trade and debt relief.


  1. Goals and targets

The Millennium Development Goals are an ambitious agenda for reducing poverty and improving lives that world leaders agreed on at the Millennium Summit in September 2000. For each goal one or more targets have been set, most for 2015, using 1990 as a benchmark:

2.1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Target for 2015: Halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and those who suffer from hunger.
More than a billion people still live on less than US$1 a day: sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and parts of Europe and Central Asia are falling short of the poverty target.

2.2 Achieve universal primary education

Target for 2015: Ensure that all boys and girls complete primary school.
As many as 113 million children do not attend school, but the target is within reach. India, for example, should have 95 percent of its children in school by 2005.

2.3 Promote gender equality and empower women

Targets for 2005 and 2015: Eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.
Two-thirds of illiterates are women, and the rate of employment among women is two-thirds that of men. The proportion of seats in parliaments held by women is increasing, reaching about one third in Argentina, Mozambique and South Africa.

2.4 Reduce child mortality

Target for 2015: Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five
Every year nearly 11 million young children die before their fifth birthday, mainly from preventable illnesses, but that number is down from 15 million in 1980.

2.5 Improve maternal health

Target for 2015: Reduce by three-quarters the ratio of women dying in childbirth.
In the developing world, the risk of dying in childbirth is one in 48, but virtually all countries now have safe motherhood programmes.

2.6 Combat HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Target for 2015: Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.
Forty million people are living with HIV, including five million newly infected in 2001. Countries like Brazil, Senegal, Thailand and Uganda have shown that the spread of HIV can be stemmed.

2.7 Ensure environmental sustainability


  • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources.
  • By 2015, reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water.
  • By 2020 achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

More than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water and more than two billion lack sanitation. During the 1990s, however, nearly one billion people gained access to safe water and the same number to sanitation.

2.8 Develop a global partnership for development


  • Develop further an open trading and financial system that includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction - nationally and internationally;
  • Address the least developed countries' special needs, and the special needs of landlocked and small island developing States;
  • Deal comprehensively with developing countries' debt problems;
  • Develop decent and productive work for youth;
  • In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries;
  • In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies - especially information and communications technologies.


UNDP, in collaboration with national governments, is coordinating reporting by countries on progress towards the UN Millennium Development Goals. The framework for reporting includes eight goals -- based on the UN Millennium Declaration. For each goal there is one or more specific target, along with specific social, economic and environmental indicators used to track progress towards the goals.

The eight goals represent a partnership between the developed countries and the developing countries determined, as the Millennium Declaration states, "to create an environment-at the national and global levels alike-which is conducive to development and the elimination of poverty."

Monitoring progress is easier for some targets than for others and good quality data for some indicators are not yet available for many countries. This underscores the need to assist countries in building national capacity in compiling vital data.

  1. Are we on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015?

A simple look at poverty trends since 1990 would suggest that the world is on track to halving income-poverty by 2015. Unfortunately, the reality is more complicated and decidedly less satisfactory. If one excludes China, progress has been less than half the rate needed. The number of income-poor in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America combined, has increased by some 10 million each year since 1990. Dozens of countries experienced absolute declines in average living standards in the past two decades.

At present, an estimated 1.2 billion people have to struggle every day to survive on less than US$1 per day - about the same number as a decade ago.

Progress towards the other goals has been mixed too. In 1990, the 'education for all' goal was set for the year 2000. The good news is that the education gender gap was halved; but the sad truth is that the 1990s saw only a tenth of the progress needed. Not surprisingly, the goalpost was moved to 2015; but at the current rate, this promise to ensure education for all children will not be kept either, unless progress is accelerated fourfold.

Progress on child and maternal mortality, malnutrition, access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation actually slowed down in the 1990s compared with earlier decades. Because of the AIDS epidemic, the resurgence of other diseases (malaria, TB), and the broken state of health services, conditions have worsened markedly in the 1990s.

  1. Are Millennium Development Goals affordable?

Yes, they are financially affordable and technically feasible. Several countries, however, will require considerably more development assistance, improved policies and stronger institutions.

It is unrealistic to expect that the poorest countries can meet the Millennium Development Goals without extra international support. Progress in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen further behind; HIV and AIDS is undermining human development.

  1. Do Millennium Development Goals make good economic sense?

Returns on investment in human development in low-income countries are very high. Many economies are caught in a poverty trap, due to ill health, poor nutrition, low education, limited access to safe water, and often rapid population growth. Many of the poorest countries are burdened by extreme geographical limitations - landlocked and small islands, far from world markets, tropical diseases, extreme environmental degradation, and climate change.

These various conditions - some man-made, some physical - explain why private capital flows and foreign direct investment largely by-pass many low-income regions. Extra help will be needed to extricate countries from the poverty trap.

Investment in human development will accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and also stimulate economic growth, create more jobs, enhance people's productivity and generate additional fiscal revenue - making macro-economic stability a more feasible goal. The Millennium Development Goals make excellent economic sense.

  1. Can the resources gap be bridged?

Cost estimates by UNICEF, World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that meeting most Millennium Development Goals by 2015 will require an additional $50 billion per year in development assistance. This implies a doubling of current aid levels.

Although this figure may appear large in absolute terms, it represents around one-fifth of one per cent (0.2%) of income in donor countries.

In light of the expected benefits in overcoming poverty and enabling millions to live healthier, longer and more productive lives, the Millennium Development Goals offer an excellent investment opportunity.

  1. Can Official Development Assistance (ODA) and debt relief make a difference?

Aid works, when directed at development needs. The record is clear on one health project after another, exemplified by the disease control programmes supported by the Carter Center (e.g. trachoma, guinea worm, river blindness); the eradication of smallpox and polio; and the campaigns to extend immunisation.

ODA and debt relief will be indispensable, especially for the least developed countries. Total ODA now stands at a mere one-third of the agreed target of 0.7 per cent of the combined Gross National Income of developed countries. The shortfall amounts to about $125 billion per year.

Regrettably, none of the G-7 countries (the 7 biggest economies) is a member of the 'G-0.7' group (countries that meet the 0.7% aid target), which comprises Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden - and more recently Luxembourg.

A recent study of budgetary spending in over 30 developing countries found that two-thirds spend more on debt servicing (interest on loans) than on basic social services. Some spend three to five times more on debt. In sub-Saharan Africa, governments spend about twice as much to comply with their financial commitment to external creditors than to comply with their social obligation to their people. Debt servicing often absorbs between one-third and one-half of the national budget - making macro-economic stability an elusive goal.

To spend more on external debt than on basic social services - when tens of millions of people see their fundamental human rights denied - is ethically wrong and makes poor economic sense.

The Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative remains the best hope for solving the debt crisis, but its implementation is painfully slow; the initiative itself should be broadened and deepened. The enhanced HIPC initiative was launched in 1999; it is encouraging that Uganda - the first country to receive HIPC support - is spending most of the debt dividend on primary education and AIDS orphans. We need to make sure that debt sustainability is measured against real human needs - specifically against the ability of countries to mobilise the resources necessary to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

  1. Is trade not more important than aid?

Yes, but both are needed. Access for exports from poor countries to markets in rich countries - for agriculture, clothing and textiles - would significantly accelerate growth and create jobs; thereby fostering human development and reducing poverty. But, by itself, more trade will not generate enough resources to enable the poorest countries to attain the goals.

Greater financial resources will be necessary to address the critical areas of health, education and the environment. Without more money, the poorest countries will simply be unable to meet the needs for health and education services, sanitation and water, and other critical challenges.

While it is encouraging that the 2001 World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, agreed to place more emphasis on the development implications of future trade agreements; the reality remains that developed countries maintain high levels of protection. Their markets remain closed in areas of specific priority concern of the poorest countries: textiles and clothing, and processed agricultural products. Ghana, for example, can export its cocoa beans duty free to Europe, but must pay more than 25 per cent tariffs on processed chocolate; food processing is shifted to Europe, leaving Ghana without the manufacturing base to escape from poverty.

Human and institutional capacities are complementary elements that are required for countries to benefit from open trade. Poor countries often lack these elements, so that 'aid for trade' will remain important, even if private capital flows and foreign direct investment continue to increase.

  1. Are countries' capacities strong enough to handle additional funds?

Resources alone are unlikely to be sufficient to ensure that poor countries attain the goals, but donor resources can play an important role in strengthening their ability to use resources effectively. This is a focus of UNDP work in many countries in partnership with governments, donors and civil society. Human and institutional capacities need to be made stronger. Collecting taxes efficiently and equitably, making sure that budget priorities reflect the Millennium Development Goals and influence actual spending, gender-sensitive budgeting, and aligning aid with national and sub-national priorities all require strong national capacities. These are political objectives, but also expensive management needs. Donor assistance can dramatically improve service delivery. Of course, it will help those countries keen on helping themselves.

To put this another way, the frequent argument that existing resources have to be used more efficiently before more public money is to be invested creates a false separation. It misses the point that insufficiencies of resources create inefficiencies of service delivery. Policy-makers seldom face a choice between either improving efficiency or increasing budget allocations. In most cases, they have to address both aspects at the same time. Indeed, inefficiencies and insufficiencies are not independent, but interdependent.

  1. Why a global Millennium Development Goals campaign?

The purpose of the campaign is to keep the eyes and actions of the world focussed on the Millennium Development Goals. In developed countries, the campaign will focus on making the case for aid and for urgent debt relief, based on clear evidence of results; ensuring that aid is allocated to sectors and services relevant to the Millennium Development Goals; and opening markets more widely to developing countries, especially the least developed countries.

In developing countries, the campaign will focus on mobilising domestic resources, prioritising budget expenditure on the Millennium Development Goals, and strengthening human rights, democracy and good governance as specified in the Millennium Declaration. Each of these objectives must be pursued in ways sensitive to country context and target groups. It will be is absolutely critical for campaign activities to be tailored to country-specific circumstances.

A 'continuous campaign' running all the way to 2015 will help transform the political and intellectual debate at the national and global levels and make the Millennium Development Goals a high priority; create business plans, deeply grounded in evidence, on how to achieve the goals; build informed constituencies for more spending on health and education, by demonstrating the enormous returns from such spending; and focus on equity and human rights as part and parcel of the Millennium Development Goals.


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