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World

Millennium Goals show mixed results as deadline approaches

The Millennium Development Goals seek to create a wealthier, healthier world by 2015. But as the deadline approaches, some experts are questioning whether the goals can be accomplished by then.

Image for the film 8, which deals with the MDGs

Some of the eight Millennium Goals have seen progress while others face challenges

Some 200 nations gathered at the UN in New York in September 2000 and openly committed themselves to creating a more just world and set eight targets for themselves to reach by 2015. International cooperation, members of the General Assembly said, would usher in healthier lives, dramatically lower poverty rates and universal access to education around the globe.

But with just five years left before the 2015 deadline, the results are mixed. Tremendous progress in reducing poverty has been made, primarily as a result of the rapid economic growth in China and India. The poverty rate in the developing world dropped 19 percent between 1990 and 2005.

Such progress has left some experts optimistic about how much will be accomplished in the next five years.

Substantial progress

Three laughing chinese children

Economic growth has lifted millions out of poverty in China

"I am amazed about how much progress there is," Eveline Herfkens, founder of the UN Millennium campaign, told Deutsche Welle. "Even with the financial crisis, the world is still on track to achieve the first goal. On goals like do something serious about tuberculosis, like drinking water, there has been tremendous progress, and the world is on track."

Yet the economic crisis has created new obstacles. As unemployment rises globally, the number of working poor has grown, with many former wage and salary employees falling into underemployment and unpaid work in the home. The growth in unemployment coupled with a spike in food prices during 2008 has left 13 million more people hungry than in 1990.

"It doesn't mean that we are going to meet each and every goal in each and every country," Herfkens said. "But the acceleration that has been created by the momentum of these goals has improved millions and millions of lives."

While real reductions in poverty have occurred in countries like China and India, there are other countries - the so-called "Least Developed Countries" - where virtually no progress has been made.

Serious setbacks

A falling stock curve

The financial crisis stole political attention from the Millennium Goals

Heiner Flassbeck, the director of the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD), praised the MDGs as instrumental in building awareness of dire problems. But he said a flaw in the way the goals were established has hindered countries' ability to meet them.

"The question, 'What exactly are the prerequisites so we can reach this?' was not posed," Flassbeck told Deutsche Welle. "Then the global financial crisis caused a huge setback for the MDGs, partly because this very point was neglected. In my belief that's what the UN system has to catch up on now."

The goals have also come under criticism because they lack any means of enforcement. They were created as non-binding agreements, so when a goal is not reached, neither nations as a whole nor people in positions of responsibility face any consequences.

Despite the setbacks, the goals have helped build awareness globally about poverty in the developing world. Herfkens said she believes the goals also created a sense of urgency in the development community that has helped improve living standards for millions of people.

"This agreement is beautiful, and we need it more than ever," Herfkens said. "With the current crisis, politicians are turning inwards, so we need the Millennium Goals as a framework to continue to mobilize citizens, educate citizens so they can demand accountability."

Author: Helle Jeppesen (sk)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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