Environment, education and health need urgent progress, says MDG report

Article originally published on 1 July 2013 on The Guardian

Millions of lives have been saved and improved as several millennium development goals (MDGs) have been met or are within reach, but bolder action is needed in many areas, a UN report card said on Monday, with less than three years until the 2015 deadline.

Though targets on halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and on access to clean drinking water have been met, progress on the eight MDGs, which have a number of sub-targets, has been uneven between regions and countries, and within countries, according to this year’s annual progress report (pdf).

“Children from poor and rural households are much more likely to be out of school than their rich and urban counterparts,” said Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, in the report’s foreword.

Access to reproductive health services is also divided along urban-rural lines. In 2011, only 53% of births in rural areas were attended by skilled health workers, compared with 84% in urban areas. A total of 83% of people without access to drinking water live in rural communities.

Environmental sustainability is another area of major concern. Global emissions of carbon dioxide are accelerating, the UN noted, and are now 46% higher than 1990 levels, yet less aid money is going to help the poorest countries that are most adversely affected.

“Forests continue to be lost at an alarming rate. Overexploitation of marine fish stocks is resulting in diminished yields. More of the Earth’s land and marine areas are under protection, but birds, mammals and other species are heading for extinction at an even faster rate,” said the report.

Although the goal of halving the proportion of people living on $1.25 a day was met five years ahead of schedule, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa, almost half of the population live on less than $1.25 a day. It is the only region in which the number of people living in extreme poverty rose steadily, from 290 million in 1990 to 414 million in 2010, accounting for more than a third of destitute people worldwide.

The World Bank projects that, by 2015, about 970 million people will still be living on less than $1.25 a day in countries classified as low- or middle-income in 1990. Sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia will each be home to about 40% of the developing world population living in extreme poverty.

The MDGs on which progress is lagging most are education- and health-related. Global targets for infant, under-five and maternal mortality – and, to a lesser extent, access to basic sanitation – are significantly behind.

The mortality rate for children under five dropped by 41% – from 87 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 51 in 2011, or 14,000 fewer deaths per day. That means 6.9 million children under five died in 2011, mostly from preventable diseases. The report said efforts must be redoubled to meet the target of reducing the under-five mortality rate. India and Nigeria account for more than a third of all deaths of children under five. Only eight of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to achieve the MDG target, if trends continue.

The maternal mortality rate fell by 47% over the past two decades, from 400 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births to 210 between 1990 and 2010. This falls far short of the target of reducing the rate by three-quarters. Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have the highest levels of maternal mortality. In 2011, only 36% of pregnant women in southern Asia and 49% in sub-Saharan Africa received at least four antenatal care visits – the minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation.

On MDG eight, covering aid, debt and trade, the UN said total aid dropped in 2012 for the second year running to £125.6bn, but that the trade climate continues to improve for poor countries. Duty-free market access to developed countries by least developed countries and developing countries in 2011 reached 83% and 80% of their exports respectively.

Work has started on a post-2015 development framework. A UN panel co-chaired by UK prime minister David Cameron, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia last month proposed 12 development goals and 54 targets. Goals include ending extreme poverty by 2030, universal access to food and water, promoting good governance, and boosting jobs and growth.

The panel’s report said the world had to go beyond the MDGs as they do not focus enough on reaching the poorest and most excluded people. The post-2015 report will be discussed at the UN general assembly in September. Next year, a separate group will report to the UN with its recommendations on sustainable goals.


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