Millennium Development Goals

What are the Millennium Development Goals?

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to in September 2000 by the then 189 UN member states. (there are now 193 member states). The targets are intended to increase efforts to meet the needs of the world's poorest – reducing global poverty and increasing living standards. The goals were officially agreed upon at the 2000 Millennium Summit when world leaders adopted the UN Millennium Declaration.

The Goals

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger:
a. Halve between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people living on less than one U.S. dollar a day.
b. Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people.
c. Halve between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

2. Achieve universal primary education:
a. Ensure that by 2015 all boys and girls everywhere will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women:
a. Close the gender gap in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015.

4. Reduce child mortality:
a. Reduce the mortality rate of children under five by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015.

5. Improve maternal health:
a. Reduce maternal mortality ratio by three quarters.
b. Achieve universal access to reproductive health.

6. Combat HIV/AIDS and other major diseases:
a. By 2015 to have halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.
b. By 2010 achieve universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment for all who need it.
c. By 2015 to have halted and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

7. Ensure environmental sustainability:
a. Integrate sustainable development policies and programmes into national policies and reverse the loss of environmental resources.
b. By 2010 achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss.
c. Halve by 2015 the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
d. To have achieved by 2020 a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

8. Develop a global partnership for development:
a. Address the special needs of least developed countries, land-locked countries and small island developing states.
b. Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system.
c. Deal comprehensively with developing countries' debt.
d. In co-operation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries.
e. In co-operation with the private sector, make available benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York in September 2010, in order to map out a course of action which would accelerate progress and ensure that the MDGs are achieved by the 2015 deadline.


While most agree that MDGs are indeed worthy targets, there is less agreement on whether or not these goals are actually achievable. Many worry that the slow progress so far will fall short of the 2015 deadline, resulting in yet more 'broken promises' to developing countries. This, in turn, may have far-reaching, negative political impacts.

The 2007 Millennium Development Goals Report, argued that the goals were still feasible and reachable by 2015 and pointed to a significant reduction in global poverty and increased education, although it did acknowledge that progress in many target areas had been slow and uneven, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where poverty, maternal mortality, infant mortality, lack of primary education, and major diseases remained most severe.

Another area of controversy is directed at developed countries who have been accused of failing to seriously implement policies aimed towards MDGs. The Netherlands ranked first on the 2007 Commitment to Development Index, followed by Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, while the UK came in 9th and the United States at 14th. The UK ranked high in the areas of foreign investment and environment, and low in migration. However, the UK and US ranked higher on a 'most improved' index.

The impact of foreign aid on developing countries is another hotly debated subject in the context of development, with many scholars and politicians questioning its benefits. Some argue that it does more harm than good, while others say that it can be a necessary evil in certain cases.

In 2009 the only countries to achieve or exceed the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income were Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. The largest donors by volume in that year were the United States, followed by France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan.

In his foreword to the annual MDGs report for 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted "several milestones" which he said had resulted in "a tremendous reduction in human suffering."

The target to reduce extreme poverty by half had been reached five years ahead of the 2015 deadline, as had the target to halve the proportion of people who lacked dependable access to improved sources of drinking water. In addition, conditions for more than 200 million people living in slums had been ameliorated – double the 2020 target; primary school enrolment of girls equalled that of boys, and progress in reducing child and maternal mortality had accelerated.

However, the Secretary-General also warned that there was still much to do, with projections indicating that by 2015, 600 million people worldwide would still be using unimproved water sources, almost one billion would be living on an income of less than $1.25 per day, mothers would continue to die needlessly in childbirth, and children would suffer and die from preventable diseases. 

Other areas of concern were the unfulfilled target of providing primary education for all children, a lack of safe sanitation, biodiversity loss, the continuing threat of greenhouse gas emissions and gender inequality.

Mr Ban also emphasised the need to recognise the "unevenness of progress" within countries and regions and the "severe inequalities" among populations, particularly between rural and urban areas.


Progress of MDGs – 2012.

Extreme poverty is falling in every region:

For the first time since poverty trends began to be monitored, the number of people living in extreme poverty and poverty rates fell in every developing region – including in sub-Saharan Africa, where rates are highest. The proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 47 per cent in 1990 to 24 per cent in 2008 – a reduction from over 2 billion to less than 1.4 billion.

The poverty reduction target was met:

Preliminary estimates indicate that the global poverty rate at $1.25 a day fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate. If these results are confirmed, the first target of the MDGs – cutting the extreme poverty rate to half its 1990 level – will have been achieved at the global level well ahead of 2015.

The world has met the target of halving the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water:

The target of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water was also met by 2010, with the proportion of people using an improved water source rising from 76 per cent in 1990 to 89 per cent in 2010. Between 1990 and 2010, over two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells.

Improvements in the lives of 200 million slum dwellers exceeded the slum target:

The share of urban residents in the developing world living in slums declined from 39 per cent in 2000 to 33 per cent in 2012. More than 200 million gained access to either improved water sources, improved sanitation facilities, or durable or less crowded housing. This achievement exceeds the target of significantly improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, well ahead of the 2020 deadline.

The world has achieved parity in primary education between girls and boys:

Driven by national and international efforts and the MDG campaign, many more of the world’s children are enrolled in school at the primary level, especially since 2000. Girls have benefited the most. The ratio between the enrolment rate of girls and that of boys grew from 91 in 1999 to 97 in 2010 for all developing regions. The gender parity index value of 97 falls within the plus-or-minus 3-point margin of 100 per cent, the accepted measure for parity.

Many countries facing the greatest challenges have made significant progress towards universal primary education:

Enrolment rates of children of primary school age increased markedly in sub-Saharan Africa, from 58 to 76 per cent between 1999 and 2010. Many countries in that region succeeded in reducing their relatively high out-of-school rates even as their primary school age populations were growing.

Child survival progress is gaining momentum:

Despite population growth, the number of under-five deaths worldwide fell from more than 12.0 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010. And progress in the developing world as a whole has accelerated. Sub-Saharan Africa – the region with the highest level of under-five mortality – has doubled its average rate of reduction, from 1.2 per cent a year over 1990-2000 to 2.4 per cent during 2000-2010.

Access to treatment for people living with HIV increased in all regions:

At the end of 2010, 6.5 million people were receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV or AIDS in developing regions. This total constitutes an increase of over 1.4 million people from December 2009, and the largest one-year increase ever. The 2010 target of universal access, however, was not reached.

The world is on track to achieve the target of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of tuberculosis:

Globally, tuberculosis incidence rates have been falling since 2002, and current projections suggest that the 1990 death rate from the disease will be halved by 2015.

Global malaria deaths have declined:

The estimated incidence of malaria has decreased globally, by 17 per cent since 2000. Over the same period, malaria-specific mortality rates have decreased by 25 per cent. Reported malaria cases fell by more than 50 per cent between 2000 and 2010 in 43 of the 99 countries with ongoing malaria transmission.

Achievements were unequally distributed across and within regions and countries. Moreover, progress has slowed for some MDGs after the multiple crises of 2008-2009.

Vulnerable employment has decreased only marginally over twenty years:

Vulnerable employment – defined as the share of unpaid family workers and own-account workers in total employment – accounted for an estimated 58 per cent of all employment in developing regions in 2011, down only moderately from 67 per cent two decades earlier. Women and youth are more likely to find themselves in such insecure and poorly remunerated positions than the rest of the employed population.

Decreases in maternal mortality are far from the 2015 target:

There have been important improvements in maternal health and reduction in maternal deaths, but progress is still slow. Reductions in adolescent childbearing and expansion of contraceptive use have continued, but at a slower pace since 2000 than over the decade before.

Use of improved sources of water remains lower in rural areas:

While 19 per cent of the rural population used unimproved sources of water in 2010, the rate in urban areas was only 4 per cent. And since dimensions of safety, reliability and sustainability are not reflected in the proxy indicator used to track progress towards the MDG target, it is likely that these figures overestimate the actual number of people using safe water supplies. Worse, nearly half of the population in developing regions – 2.5 billion – still lacks access to improved sanitation facilities. By 2015, the world will have reached only 67 per cent coverage, well short of the 75 per cent needed to achieve the MDG target.

Hunger remains a global challenge:

The most recent FAO estimates of undernourishment set the mark at 850 million living in hunger in the world in the 2006/2008 period—15.5 per cent of the world population. This continuing high level reflects the lack of progress on hunger in several regions, even as income poverty has decreased. Progress has also been slow in reducing child
undernutrition. Close to one third of children in Southern Asia were underweight in 2010.

The number of people living in slums continues to grow:

Despite a reduction in the share of urban populations living in slums, the absolute number has continued to grow from a 1990 baseline of 650 million. An estimated 863 million people now live in slum conditions.

Source: UN: Millennium Development Goals Report – 2012


"Achieving the MDGs by 2015 is challenging but possible.

"Much depends on the fulfilment of MDG-8 -the global partnership for development. The current economic crises besetting much of the developed world must not be allowed to decelerate or reverse the progress that has been made.

"Let us build on the successes we have achieved so far, and let us not relent until all the MDGs have been attained."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – 2012