The Millennium Development Goals

In September 2000, 189 world leaders met at the United Nations and promised to free more than a billion people from extreme poverty by 2015.

They agreed on a roadmap setting out eight time-bound and measurable goals to be reached by 2015, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

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The good news is that there has been significant progress in reaching some of these goals, with poverty reduction on target, more children in school, and more people able to access life-saving medicines. The bad news is many hard-won achievements have been undone by the global food and economic crises. Many families must choose between feeding their children and sending them to school, climate change is threatening agriculture and livelihoods in poor countries, and 960 women die in pregnancy or childbirth every day for want of simple medical care.

At a time of economic crisis, Oxfam is calling on world leaders to redouble efforts to achieve the MDGs.

What are the MDGs?

MDG 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger


10 million die every year from hunger. 1 billion still live in extreme poverty. Progress is being made but governments must deliver on aid.

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Between 1990 and 2015, MDG 1 aims to halve the proportion of people who earn less than $1 a day. It also aims to make sure everyone who wants to work has a safe job with fair pay. The final element of this goal is to halve the number of people who go hungry. In 2005 1.4 billion people lived on $1.25 or less a day, and millions were dying of hunger related diseases.

The developing world as a whole is on track to achieve the poverty reduction target by 2015. The overall poverty rate is still expected to fall to 15 per cent by 2015, which translates to around 920 million people living under the international poverty line—half the number in 1990. However, large disparities between regions remain, with sub-Saharan Africa in particular a long way adrift from the target. And while considerable progress has been made on reducing hunger in some regions, it is unlikely that this part of the MDG will be achieved in global terms. More than 1 billion people are undernourished, and go to bed hungry every night.

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MDG 2: Achieve universal primary education


We need our governments to support the Global Campaign for Education in giving 75 million children places at school and the chance of a better future.

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This goal demands that by 2015, governments ensure boys and girls in every country get to complete primary school. When people, and especially women, can read and write, societies become richer and healthier. Although the number of children out of school has fallen from 120 million in the last three years, there are still around 75 million children, and over two-thirds of whom are girls, who don’t have the chance to go to school.

However this MDG is unlikely to be met by the 2015 deadline. There are still around 72 million children, and over two-thirds of whom are girls, who don’t have the chance to go to school.

The reasons children miss school vary, but the main one is poverty. In many countries, school fees, transport and amenities at the school mean that children can’t go to school. When school fees were abolished in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya, seven million additional children started going to school. Well-trained and well-supported teachers are essential to providing education for girls and boys. Between now and 2015, the number of new teachers needed in sub-Saharan Africa alone equals the current teaching force in the region..

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MDG 3: Promote gender equality and empower women


Women and girls are worst affected by poverty. Only 18 of 113 countries are on target to have all girls in school by 2015.

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The MDG on gender aims to make sure women and men are treated equally. This starts with getting as many girls into school as boys. Cultural values often mean boys get priority when it comes to going to school. This MDG also calls for increased protection and promotion of women’s rights and for women to be less burdened with domestic responsibilities. It encourages countries to promote women’s choices on fertility, sexuality and marriage. Specific recommendations include adoption of laws to protect women from violence and discrimination in society and in the workplace, and make it possible for them to become leaders.

The educational opportunities for girls, though still unequal, are improving. There have also been modest improvements in women’s political representation worldwide, and in their access to the labor market, though women are typically paid less and have less secure employment than men.

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MDG 4: Reduce child mortality


10 million children a year still die before their fifth birthday, and malnutrition leaves one-quarter of the world’s children suffering from stunted growth.

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The aim is to reduce the number of children who die before reaching their fifth birthday. Millions of children die each year from preventable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and measles.

Globally, the total number of under-five deaths declined from 12.5 million in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2008. This means that, in 2008, 10,000 fewer children died each day than in 1990. Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Niger have seen absolute reductions of more than 100 per 1,000 live births since 1990. But despite these achievements, this MDG is not on track for 2015.

The highest rates of child mortality are in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2008, one in seven children there died before their fifth birthday. Four diseases—pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and AIDS— accounted for 43 per cent of all deaths in children under five worldwide in 2008.

Millions of children are not getting enough to eat and do not have clean water to drink and wash with, and if they get sick, there aren’t enough doctors or medicines to help them recover.

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MDG 5: Improve maternal health


Maternal health is the worst performing of all the MDGs. World leaders must protect all mothers before, during and after their children are born.

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The goal is to reduce by three quarters the proportion of women who die in childbirth, and to achieve universal access to reproductive health.

Although there is a lack of up-to-date figures, this appears to be the most severely off-track of all MDGs. The risk of dying in childbirth or from complications of pregnancy is marked by enormous global inequality, with the lifetime risk of death from such causes much greater for sub-Saharan African women than for their counterparts in Europe and North America. An acute shortage of healthcare staff is one factor that impedes progress on this MDG in large parts of the developing world.

Almost 1000 women will die today and every day because of complications in pregnancy and childbirth. For every woman who dies, 30 more suffer chronic illness or disability as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. Although almost all maternal deaths are preventable, pregnancy remains one the leading killers of women in their reproductive years in developing countries. Some poor countries have made dramatic progress on this MDG however. Sri Lanka, Egypt, Thailand and Honduras all took less than 10 years to dramatically improve women's chances of surviving pregnancy. In Nepal the number of women dying from pregnancy has also fallen dramatically.

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MDG 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases


Despite a tenfold increase in the antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS in the last 5 years, less than 10% of people living with HIV/AIDS can access to anti-retroviral treatment.

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The spread of HIV appears to have stabilized in most regions, and more people are surviving longer. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most heavily affected region, accounting for 72 per cent of all new HIV infections in 2008. Twelve times as many people now receive life-saving HIV treatment as in 2003. However, for every two people who start treatment each year, five are newly infected with HIV.

Although more and more tuberculosis patients are being cured, millions will remain ill because they lack access to high-quality care. Tuberculosis remains second only to HIV in the number of people it kills.

Worldwide action on malaria, too, falls short of what is needed, in terms both of funding and of measures such as the use of bed nets to protect children from infection. Half the world’s population is at risk of malaria. External funding is helping to reduce malaria incidence and deaths, but additional support is needed. Intensive efforts to control malaria could help many African countries reach a two-thirds reduction in child mortality by 2015, as targeted in MDG 4.

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MDG 7: Ensure environmental sustainability


This goal calls on governments to make sure economic development does not damage our planet.

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Governments must try to reverse and reduce the environmental damage caused by humans by protecting species, making future urban growth sustainable and restoring natural habitats. By 2015 this MDG wants to halve the proportion of the population who do not have regular access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation. By 2020 MDG 7 calls on governments to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million people who live in slums.

The consequences of climate change are felt disproportionately by those in developing countries. Rich countries produce most of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. More frequent and unpredictable droughts, floods, hunger and disease mean that poor people are hit first and hardest by climate change. In poorer countries, many people live in areas that can flood, or be affected by disasters. Poor people do not have savings to fall back on in an emergency, and poor diet, sanitation and health care also help spread infectious diseases.

If current trends continue, the world will meet the MDG drinking water target by 2015, but with half of all people of developing regions without basic sanitation, this 2015 target appears to be out of reach.

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MDG 8: Global partnership for development


Since 1999 poor countries benefiting from debt cancellation have more than doubled the total sum that they invest in fighting poverty.

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This overarching MDG is central to the achievement of the other goals. It addresses the special needs of the least developed countries, from new states to landlocked countries and small islands. It stresses the need to develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, fair-trading and financial system. It also demands that the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications, are made widely available.

Unfortunately, there are only sporadic indications that the developed world is rising to this challenge. Most of the financial aid that rich countries have been pledging to the developing world has not materialized.

Commitments made in 2005 to increase aid by $50bn by 2010 will be missed by as much as $20bn. Promises to invest more in healthcare and end hunger remain way off track – with both rich and poor countries falling short of their commitments. Only five donor countries - Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden - have reached the UN target for official aid.

Use of information and communications technology continues to grow worldwide, but access to the World Wide Web is still closed to the majority of the world’s people. By the end of 2008, 23 per cent of the world’s population was using the Internet. But in developing countries, only 1 in 6 people were online.

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