Millennium Development Goals

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See coverage of the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals 2010 held at United Nations headquarters, September 2010.


What are the Millennium Development Goals?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are 8 goals,comprising 21 targets and 60 indicators, to halve extreme poverty by 2015 and create a global partnership for development. Signed on to by all the world’s countries and the world’s leading development institutions, they represent a blueprint for ending global poverty and have galvanised unprecedented support from governments, institutions and civil society organisations.



In September 2000, world leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York adopted the Millennium Declaration which commits their nations to upholding fundamental values considered essential to international relations in the twenty-first century. These values are Freedom, Equality, Solidarity, Tolerance, Respect for Nature and Shared Responsibility. The Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, was tasked to produce a Road Map, which became the official list of MDGs in 2001, drawing on a range of existing international commitments. See Using Indicators to Encourage Development, Annex 2, by Richard Manning, for a full history of the evolution of the MDGs.


Goal by Goal

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were developed out of the eight chapters of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, signed in September 2000. The eight goals and 21 targets include:


1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day
  • Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people
  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
MDG 1 small.jpg
2. Achieve universal primary education

  • Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary education.
3. Promote gender equality and empower women

  • Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.
4. Reduce child mortality

Mdg 4 trying again.jpg
5. Improve maternal health

  • Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the Maternal death|maternal mortality ratio.
  • Achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases

  • Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it.
  • Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.
7. Ensure environmental sustainability

  • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources.
  • Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss
  • Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation
  • By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers
8. Develop a global partnership for Development

  • Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory. Includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction—nationally and internationally.
  • Address the special needs of the least developed countries. This includes tariff and quota free access for their exports; enhanced programme of debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; and cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction.
  • Address the special needs of landlocked and small island developing States.
  • Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long term.
  • In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries.
  • In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications



The MDGs are not without their critics. Some of the main criticisms include:

  • Not going far enough, for example, “halving” extreme poverty
  • Seen as “top-down” as opposed to “bottom-up”, coming from international institutions, particularly in the North
  • Lack of inclusion of goals for political and cultural rights, such as those contained in the Millennium Declaration
  • Not coming from a rights-based approach – see Human Rights
  • Difficulties associated with gathering real data to assess progress against the goals


Progress Towards the Goals

Costing the Goals

At the July 11, 2012 meeting of the “What would it take to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (#MDGs) by 2015?” DAC Development debate, at OECD, Paris, it was discussed how much it would cost to reach the MDGs by the allocated deadline in 2015 – the figure they hit upon was USD120 Billion. This was untenable by current plans for development funding and aid programs, though it is attainable if the range of resources, such as remittances, private capital investment and donations are targeted and coordinated. Different approaches apply to different countries, with middle-income countries needing to ensure the tackling of inequality with cash transfers and stimulation by tax collection, while lower income countries cannot afford to do that. To see the full report, please follow the links given below:

Issue Paper: Achieving the MDGs : Summary paper outlining the current situations, costs needed until 2015, and how to achieve the goals from here on.

Can we Achieve the MDGs? : OECD Report of what we can do to achieve MDGs in the next three years, and how viable it is.

Also, read our blog on the meeting, the impressions of the writer and more in depth summary of it.


September 2011: Centre for Global Development on MDG progress This note from the Centre for Global Development updates its index of progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and finds that the data is sometimes sparse. It explains the methodology of the MDG Progress Index and shows some emerging trends, including that low-income countries improved, on average, on four core MDG target indicators: extreme poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDs and water. Honduras, Cambodia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka are at the top of the index score, while Cote D’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo have the worst progress score.


Progress for Children: Achieving the MDGs with Equity, 2010, UNICEF, MDG Progress Report Card 9, September.

According to the UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2008, at the half-way point to 2015, some of the goals are on track to be met for the world as a whole, such as the goal for reducing absolute poverty by half. However, a lot of the gains have come from the successful economic growth of countries like India and China, whereas Sub-Saharan Africa is not on track as a region to meet this goal. Other areas which have seen improvement include increased primary school enrolments, combating malaria and other diseases, and access to safe drinking water for over 1.6 billion people since 1990. Areas which have had limited improvements include child and maternal health, access to improved sanitation, and the number of people living in slum conditions. Notably also, while Goal 8 commitments looked promising from the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005, developed countries foreign aid commitments declined for the second consecutive year in 2007 and international trade negotiations are years behind schedule and are likely to fall short of the hoped-for pro-poor outcome.


2010 update on progress toward Millennium Development Goal #5, Improving Maternal Health:


MDG Report Card: Measuring Progress Across Countries, the Overseas Development Institute, September 2010.

This report presents data on how countries are closing in on the MDG targets. It unpacks the targets and indicators to map out how the development process is playing out across countries and continents. It goes beyond standard global and country-level assessments to provide insights into how these gains are being shared across income, rural-urban and gender groups. It identifies the ‘star’ performers that have made the greatest gains, shines a light on unexpected outcomes from the pursuit of the MDG targets and sounds out warnings where progress has stalled or is heading in the wrong direction.

Presenting the Overview of Progress Towards the Goals

The UN Millennium Development Goals: 2012 Progress Chart can be complemented with Time Distance Progress Chart of monitoring the progress of MDG implementation[1]. The application of time distance methodology to monitoring is easy to understand and to communicate to stakeholders and the general public. It looks at the question how much we are ahead or behind in time comparing with the line to the 2015 MDG targets. The Gaptimer MDG Progress Chart examines the situation around 2010 for Developing Regions, 7 world regions, China, and India.

Analysis of MDG implementation needs a clear distinction between the progress made in the world in the analysed period and still considerable delays in the implementation of the MDGs. Progress has been made in all selected indicators and in all world regions (though it has been quite uneven across regions as well as across countries within the regions).


Beyond 2015

As the target date to 2015 approaches, many working in the development field are beginning to ask the question – what happens beyond 2015? Should the MDGs continue in their current form, have minor revisions or should they be replaced by something more inclusive of political and cultural rights? Or, should they be abandoned altogether once the target date of 2015 is reached? Manning (2009) puts forward 5 hypotheses:

  1. That there is a case for a further set of indicators designed to encourage the effective tackling of the problem of absolute
    poverty in all its aspects, and also to encourage international support for it
  2. That key features of the MDG paradigm need to be tested against the experience of other ways of tracking and incentivising
    progress. This comes back to the question: How do we measure progress?
  3. That within whatever methodological approach might be chosen, attention should be paid to the main critiques concerning areas that are missing from the present MDG framework
  4. That in each chosen area, much work would be needed to establish what targets or indicators (depending on the overall architecture chosen) and what degree of ‘stretch’ would be appropriate
  5. That work needs to start soon on developing a consensus on the purpose, method, areas and responsibilities (the why, how, what and who) of any post-2015 framework, so that sufficient time is left for a serious and evidence-based discussion by individual policy communities on what might be appropriate targets and/or indicators in their areas of competence.[2]


Claire Melamed of the Overseas Development Institute describes 5 main points as to what she feels are the biggest concerns that will need to be addressed regarding the MDGs after 2015, in her article titled, To MDG or not to MDG? The potential conclusions she draws are the following:

  1. Keep the MDGs with an extended timeline
  2. Keep the structure, but with some different targets and an new timeline
  3. A new structure – possibly framed around global public goods or some other principle.[3]

In another article, she calls for the variable of “inequality” to be integrated in any post-2015 development framework[4]. Rising inequality was cited by the World Economic Forum as one of its top ‘global risks’ for 2012 and the 2008 economic crisis has taken its toll on the disadvantaged/marginalized people of the world. Inequality could be reduced by:

  • Having a target for the Gini coefficient of income inequality
  • Weighting progress on all indicators using equity criteria
  • Having specific targets for progress among the poorest
  • Adding universal targets instead of national.

An international campaign has formed around post-2015 planning. The Beyond2015 association includes more than 130 organisation, including 40 organisations in Africa and 20 in the Americas. The aim of the advocacy group is to develop a post-MDG framework based on a civil society consensus with a minimum standard of legitimacy.

Beyond 2015 communiqué: September 2011 Member organisations of the “Beyond 2015” campaign released a communiqué summarising their demands for a post-MDG framework.

Rio task force

The Rio+20 task force works to define Beyond 2015’s engagement with the Rio+20 Summit taking place in Brazil in June 2012. The task forced has submitted papers to the UNCSD Rio+20 organization (available here: and has called for various conference notes, and organized some, towards the Rio+20 Conference of June 2012.

Millennium Development Goals and Human Rights

While there have been criticisms of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as not reflecting a rights-based approach to development, advocates of the MDGs argue that they protect the most important right of all – the right to preserve and protect human dignity. Each of the Millennium Development Goals corresponds to one or several human rights outlined through international human rights treaties. For example, Goal 1, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, represents the right to an adequate standard of living as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Moreover, the targets of Goal 1, such as to achieve Decent Work for All, corresponds to the Right to Work, as outlined in the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The criticism, however, is that they do not include all the rights aspects of already existing conventions on human rights, thus sometimes being referred to as the “minimum” development goals.[5]


Measurement of MDGs


  1. Sicherl, P. (2012), Gaptimer MDG Progress Chart: Visualisation of MDG implementation with Time Distance, SICENTER, Ljubljana
  2. Manning, Richard (2009) Using Indicators to Encourage Development: Lessons from the Millennium Development Goals. DIIS Report 2009:01
  3. Melamed, C. (2011, April 28). To MDG or not to MDG? Retrieved May 5, 2011, from Global Dashboard:
  4. Putting inequality in the post-2015 picture
  5. Hewett, Andrew (2006) Millennium Development Goals: Far from perfect, but absolutely crucial. Oxfam Australia

4. UN Gateway to the Millennium Development Goals

5.  UNDP – Millennium Development Goals

6.  UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2008

See also


External Links

Progress Papers and Publications