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Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010

EDITORIAL

Millennium progress lagging

Ten years ago, world leaders set out an ambitious program to fight poverty and related social problems around the globe. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were to be reached by 2015. Many of those same world leaders met Sept. 20-22 at the United Nations to assess progress toward those targets. While the results have been mixed, there is no mistaking the disappointment at the efforts by the developed world to meet those goals. Success is possible, but it is not likely — not without a considerable rededication of effort and money.

The MDGs focus on eight areas. They aim to: end extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce incidences of HIV and other diseases, curb climate change, get developed countries to help poor countries to develop, improve maternal health and reduce child mortality. To that end, national governments will enact legislation, conduct public information campaigns and make progress reports to the U.N.

Progress has been uneven. The number of people living in extreme poverty (subsisting on less than $1.25 a day) dropped from 46 percent of the population of developing countries to 27 percent from 1990 to 2005. This MDG target is within reach; even so, 920 million people will still experience extreme poverty.

The number of children in primary schools has risen from 83 percent in 2000 to 89 percent in 2008; sadly, 70 million children are not attending schools. Universal primary education by 2015 looks too ambitious.

The goal of reducing maternal mortality and child mortality by two-thirds remains distant. By 2008, such deaths had dropped by 34 percent, but that is less than half the goal set in 2000.

While the number of new AIDS infections has fallen from a peak of 3.5 million in 1996 to 2.7 million in 2008, there are still 2 million AIDS-related deaths a year. Five people are becoming infected for every two who start treatment, and it is estimated that only 40 percent of people who have HIV are aware of their infection.

Much of the improvement in the developing world is the result of efforts by China and India to develop their economies. In 1990, those two governments accounted for more than 60 percent of the world's poor. The reduction of extreme poverty in China from 60 percent to 16 percent in 2005 is the cause of much of the global improvement.

The document agreed at the end of the MDGs summit, "Keeping the Promise: United to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals," acknowledges the uneven progress and reaffirms the 140 world leaders' commitment to the MDGs. In it, they "reaffirm our resolve to work together for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples."

To that end, the U.N. Development Program has drawn up a strategy document that focuses on and disseminates the success stories. While money and opportunities for growth — such as the conclusion of a trade round that opens the doors in developed markets to developing nations' goods — are crucial, smaller steps can have an equally profound impact. For example, merely requiring teachers to provide a time-stamped photo to prove they were in school as required will reduce absenteeism. The publication of the amount of money school districts are supposed to receive reduces the "misplacement" or "misdirection" of those funds.

Every reduction in corruption is valuable. Of course, all policies must be adapted to the particulars of each case: The UNDP document insists that projects must be tailored to fit each nation's needs and characteristics.

At one level, money is essential. On this count, the developed world has not done its job. The pledges have piled up, but the funds have not. The U.N. estimates that $35 billion is needed annually to achieve the MDGs; there is a shortfall of $20 billion this year and the economic crisis has made those governments even more reluctant to reach into their pockets to provide foreign aid when needs at home are increasing. Rich countries were supposed to raise their foreign aid budgets to 0.7 percent of gross domestic product. While Japan and all European Union governments promised to do that, only Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have kept that promise.

With hundreds of millions of people, many (if not most) of them women and children, hungry, homeless, sick and uneducated, that record is appalling. The progress of the last 10 years is proof that a concerted effort can succeed. The defeatism reflected in the notion that "the poor will always be with us" is an abdication of responsibility.

What is required is an awareness of the need for action and the recognition that this will be an incremental process in which everyone has a role to play and a contribution to make. Money is required, but so is the necessity for leaders who act with broader interests than their own in mind. We must reinforce that message at every opportunity.



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