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Chapter 1: The Diversity of MDG Progress

Chapter Highlights

Poor countries and regions tend to lag in attaining the MDGs. Many low-income countries are progressing well and achieving several MDGs (table 1.1). But because of their greater distance to the goals, as a group, low income countries lag on all the MDGs. While poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa has fallen steeply with the acceleration of growth since 2000, the region is not on track to meet the poverty goal.

The targets remain within reach for many developing countries. Many countries are on track to achieve several MDGs: gender parity in primary education (89 of them), gender parity in secondary education (82), access to safe drinking water (66 of them), primary completion rate (55), and extreme poverty (47). Among lagging countries, the variation is large, but the average gap is not. These countries are on average 23 percent behind being on track to achieve all the MDGs (table 1).

But targets on access to sanitation, maternal mortality, and child mortality are likely to be missed. Among developing countries, 45 percent are far from meeting the target on access to sanitation; 39 percent and 38 percent are far from the maternal and child mortality targets, respectively.


Improving the Odds of the MDGs

Starting points—inherited initial conditions—count in MDG performance, but subsequent growth and policy also matter greatly. Countries that have reached or are on track to reach the targets (except gender parity in primary education) show on average the fastest per capita GDP growth over 1990–2009. Similarly, countries close to the target tend to have faster per capita growth than countries far from the target.

Policy is vital for outcome-based MDGs. Improved policy and institutions appear to be especially important for health-related MDGs, such as maternal mortality, under-five mortality, hunger, and access to safe-drinking water; as outcome-based goals, they depend, in addition to growth and resources, on a myriad of factors that improve the quality of public expenditures and service delivery.

Because policy reforms can take time to implement and bear fruit, it is important to begin now. Overall, an increase in growth and in the quality of policies equivalent to one standard deviation would appear to put 32 more developing countries (44 percent) on track to meet the MDGs. The growth assumption for developing countries is plausible: although the required rate of 3.8 percent in average developing country per capita growth is roughly double its historical 1.8 percent rate, it is comparable both to recent periods of accelerated growth and to current forecasts of growth for 2010–2015. Achieving the assumed improvement in policy and institutions may be even more challenging, given the few years to 2015.


Regional Progress

Latin America and the Caribbean is showing excellent results and leading in several indicators: hunger, primary education completion, gender parity in secondary education, access to safe drinking water, and access to sanitation. Even so, it faces serious challenges on maternal mortality, with just 10 percent of countries (three countries) that have reached or are on track to reach the 2015 target.

East Asia and Pacific is progressing in many areas, particularly on education, gender parity, and access to safe drinking water. Its performance is particularly good for gender parity in secondary education, where 82 percent of countries (14 countries) are on target. South Asia is also closing the development gap. Its performance is encouraging for primary education completion, gender parity, maternal mortality, and access to safe drinking water, although performance needs to improve for extreme poverty and hunger.

Eastern Europe shows important progress on extreme poverty (the region's countries account for 32 percent of countries on target). Advances are also significant for child and maternal mortality. Challenges remain, however—particularly in Central Asia, where progress on extreme poverty, child and maternal mortality, and access to safe drinking water is relatively low. For instance, no Central Asian country is on track to achieve the child mortality goal; but the target is still within reach or close to becoming on target for five countries in the subregion.

The Middle East and North Africa is performing relatively well on gender parity in secondary education and on access to sanitation. However, it needs faster progress on extreme poverty, hunger, and maternal mortality.

Sub-Saharan Africa lags the other regions but can point to some encouraging results. Progress is quite good on extreme poverty (9 countries), hunger (8 countries), gender parity in primary education (27 countries), and access to safe drinking water (15 countries). Goals related to child and maternal mortality, access to sanitation, and primary education completion require stepped-up efforts.


Charts & Tables

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