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Progress on the MDGs: September 2008 update

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Assessment of the MDGs at midpoint presents a mixed picture of significant progress and formidable challenges.

The first MDG calls for reducing extreme poverty and hunger by half. Although the poverty goal is likely to be met at the global level, there are serious shortfalls in fighting hunger.

On current trends, the human development MDGs are unlikely to be met. Prospects are gravest for the goals of reducing child and maternal mortality, but shortfalls are also likely in other MDGs such as primary school completion.

There is much variation across regions and countries. At the regional level, Sub-Saharan Africa lags on all MDGs, including poverty reduction, though many countries in the region are now experiencing improved growth. South Asia lags on most human development MDGs.

At the country level, many countries are making strong progress, but many others are falling behind. On current trends a majority of countries will fall short on most MDGs.

Country Progress
Atlas of MDGs

Regional Progress on the MDGs

Regional Progress 1-4Goal 1Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. New poverty data (preliminary) show that the proportion of people living in extreme poverty fell from 41.7% (1.8 billion people) in 1990 to 25.7% (1.4 billion) in 2005, and at this pace the MDG target of halving extreme poverty would be met at the global level by 2015.

The East Asia and Pacific region has made dramatic progress in reducing poverty—from 56% in 1990 to 18% in 2005. South Asia has cut its poverty rate from 51% to 40%. Sub-Saharan Africa has not shown a consistent downward trend in poverty reduction over time and the number of poor individuals has increased substantially.

There are serious shortfalls in fighting hunger and malnutrition, which has long been the “forgotten MDG.” The prevalence of undernourishment (percent of the population that is undernourished) has only declined from 20% in 1992 to 16% in 2004. The recent hike in food prices is eroding the limited gains in reducing hunger.

Goal 2Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education. Progress on this goal has been widespread. In East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, the primary completion rate is at or close to 100%, though some countries in these regions are not on track.

Middle East and North Africa is on track to achieve this target. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are both not on track to achieve the target, but some countries in these regions have made substantial progress. 

Goal 3Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women. Substantial progress has been made in reducing gender disparity in primary and secondary education. South Asia has made the most progress. Middle East and North Africa has also made strides in reducing gender disparity, as has Sub-Saharan Africa.

The greatest disparity in girls-to-boys schooling is found in regions with the lowest primary completion rates and lowest average incomes. Latin America and the Caribbean and East Asia and the Pacific have reached gender parity in secondary education and are close to reaching it in primary schooling.

All regions except Sub-Saharan Africa are broadly on track to meet the gender parity target, even if some countries in the regions are off track.

Goal 4Goal 4: Reduce child mortality. Despite progress, under-five mortality rates remain unacceptably high. With a child mortality rate of 157 deaths per 1000 live births, Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for about half of the deaths of children under five in the developing world.The HIV/AIDS epidemic and civil conflicts have hampered the region’s progress in reducing child mortality.

The regions closest to achieving the under-five mortality target are Latin America and the Caribbean and Europe and Central Asia, but even in these regions, over half the countries are not on track.Regional Progress 5-8

Goal 5Goal 5: Improve maternal health. Little progress has been made in saving mothers’ lives—maternal mortality decreased by less than 1 percent a year between 1990 and 2005, much slower than the 5.5 percent annual improvement needed to reach the target.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest maternal mortality ratio (900 per 100,000 live births), twenty times greater than the mortality rate for Europe and Central Asia (44) in 2005.

No region is on track to achieve this target at current rates.

Goal 6Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. Improvements in prevention programs are reducing the number of people newly infected with HIV—2.7 million in 2007 compared with 3 million in 2001—and the expansion of antiretroviral treatment is reducing the number of people who die from AIDS (2 million in 2007).

With newly infected people surviving longer, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS has risen from 29.5 million in 2001 to 33 million in 2007—most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The HIV prevalence rate among 15 to 49 year olds was highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (5.7%) in 2007 and much greater than the average for all developing countries (0.9%). The regions with the lowest prevalence rate in 2007 were East Asia and Pacific (0.2%) and Middle East and North Africa (0.1%).

Goal 7Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability. There has been progress in improving access to water: Europe and Central Asia and South Asia have achieved the target for 2015 and East Asia and the Pacific has exceeded the target as the population with access to water has risen from 69% in 1990 to 87% in 2006.

Sub-Saharan Africa is farthest from the target. Far less progress has been made in increasing access to improved sanitation facilities—for example, the percentage of the population with access in Sub-Saharan Africa only rose from 26% in 1990 to 31% in 2006.

Goal 8Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development. Net official development assistance (ODA) disbursements from the DAC fell from $107.1 billion in 2005 to $103.7 billion in 2007.

The decline reflects debt relief grants reverting back to more normal levels following the exceptionally large debt relief operations for Iraq and Nigeria.Donors’ net ODA relative to gross national income was 0.28% in 2007, well below the U.N. target of 0.7%.


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