Millennium Development Goals: A Call to Action, Not Wishful Thinking

By Patricia J. Liever, staff editor

When heads of state signed the “Millennium Declaration” in 2000, nearly a third of the global population was living on less than $1 a day.  In response, signatories committed themselves to a rather visionary ideal.  They agreed to work together to eradicate global poverty, achieve universal education, and reduce child mortality (among many other things).  All of which would be achieved in 15 years.

Following last month’s UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there has been increasing coverage of the impending failure of developed countries to reach their lofty goals by 2015.  Critics have suggested amending the goals, replacing them with something a bit more realistically achievable.  By suggesting this, critics disregard one of the central purposes of the MDGs: uniting those passionate about development under the banner of ending global poverty.

The MDGs have been incredibly successful in unifying the efforts of 192 UN member countries, numerous UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations, socially conscious businesses, and various other actors with an interest in global development.  These actors come from every corner of the globe with differing levels of expertise, resources and influence. Their disparate mission statements now find direction and purpose – and importantly funding – within the context of the MDGs.   Thirteen countries exemplify this unity and have codified it within their official international development plans.  The United Kingdom, for example, includes public sector agencies, private sector pharmaceutical and information technology companies, and nongovernmental organizations in its aid efforts for the MDGs.

It is easy to criticize the progress that has been made in the past ten years toward achieving the MDGs.  The most recent data released by the UN show that the global recession has reversed recent progress on some indicators including per capita GDP growth. By other indicators, the progress is extraordinary.  For example, nearly 80% of children in the least developed countries are now enrolled in school, up from 52% in 1990.

The MDGs indeed are lofty and ambitious goals.  And critics are right that the developed world will not likely meet them in time.  But that is no excuse to trade them in for easier benchmarks that help us sleep better at night by thinking we “accomplished” what we set our minds to.  Very rarely is something worth working for easily accomplished.  The millions of people still living in poverty are desperate for us to keep trying to honor our commitments.  To paraphrase the words of Terry Sanford, if the MDGs are “pie in the sky” then we must keep cooking.

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