Poverty and the Millennium Development Goals

by | Sep 7, 2007 | Articles | 0 comments

An estimated 1.2 billion people (one sixth of the world’s population) live in extreme poverty in developing countries and more than 850 million are undernourished.  Another 1 billion live on less than US$1 dollar a day.  This is an affront to humanity and must be faced head on if all of mankind is to adequately benefit from the world’s resources.

It was against this background, among other things, that in September 2000, 170 Heads of State and Government, including the leaders of the developed world adopted a comprehensive Millennium Declaration, which generated eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as a set of ‘concrete, qualitative and time bound targets to be reached by the year 2015’.    These included:


1. The eradication of extreme poverty and hunger – halve by 2015 the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day;

– halve by 2015 the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

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 schooling.

3. Promote gender equity and empower women;

– eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education; preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015.

4. Reduce child mortality;

– Reduce by two-thirds by 2015, the under five mortality rate.

5. Improve maternal health;

– reduce by three-quarters by 2015, the maternal mortality ratio.

6. Achieve universal primary education;

– ensure that by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling;

7. Promote gender equity and empower women;

– eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education; preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015.

8. Develop a global partnership for development.

– Develop further, an open, rule based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system (includes commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction – both nationally and internationally);

– Address the special needs of the least developed countries – includes: tariff and quota-free access for least developed countries’ exports; enhanced programme of debt relief for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) for countries committed to poverty reduction;

– Address the special needs of landlocked developing countries 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 developing countries, develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth;

– 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 communication.


Developments Since Then

The Millennium Summit in 2000 was followed by an International Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002. The Monterrey Conference produced a ‘new global compact that commits developing countries to improve their policies and governance and simultaneously calls on developed countries to increase support, especially by providing developing countries with more and better aid, debt relief and greater access to markets’. The attainment of the MDGs also has the support of both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which in 2003 reaffirmed their shared commitment to achieving the MDGs, particularly the goal of eradicating poverty.

The cancellation of the debt of HIPC countries is therefore not by chance.  It has come about because of the constant pressure applied by developing countries and the consensual agreement arrived at under the aegis of the United Nations in both 2000 and 2002.  A cursory glance at goals 1 and 8, five years on will show the following:



The number of people living on less than $1 a day dropped by nearly a quarter of a billion by 2001. The reduction has been greatest in East and South East Asia (especially in China and India) while the situation has gotten worse in sub-Saharan Africa. The rates of malnutrition remain very high in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the expectation is that the population living on less than $1 a day will fall from 50 million in 2001 to 46 million by 2015, if the region can maintain a per capita growth of 2.6%.

Although Jamaica has been able to reduce poverty by half between 1995 and 2005, flat economic growth and the widening of the gap between rich and poor during the same period, has given great cause for concern in the country’s effort to eradicate hunger and poverty.



As was pointed out at the 2000 Conference, ‘the UN Millennium Declaration’ embodies an agreement that developing countries will work to maintain sound economies and developed countries in turn, agreed to support poorer countries through aid, trade and debt relief’.

The developed countries have made some effort to live up to their promise –


  • Official aid has recovered from its decline in the 1990s reaching a record high of US$79 million in 2004;
  • The decision by the G8 to cancel $40b of debt.
  • The recent decision by the G8 to focus on poverty in Africa especially sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The announcement by the European Union, which now provides about US$37b in ODA – would double ODA to developing countries by 2015. This is in keeping with the agreement by donor countries in 2002 to contribute 0.7% of GNP target by 2015 to help achieve the MDGs.

Contribution Not Enough

Despite these notable developments the present financial commitments by the developed countries fall far short of the amount widely considered necessary to achieve the MDGs. Their initiative must be broadened. This could possibly include:


  • The complete cancellation of debts where not to do so will undermine the country’s ability to achieve the MDGs.
  • The establishment of clear timetables by all other donor countries to reach the 0.7% of GNP target, similar to the commitment given by the European Union.
  • The international community must devise strategies to reverse in the shortest possible time the net negative flow of resources from developing countries. These negative transfers which have persisted for the last eight years totaled US$312 billion in 2004.
  • Linking debt repayment and debt servicing by commodity dependent developing countries to adverse movements in the price of commodity exports and imports.
  • Greater coordination among international institutions and agencies dealing with development, finance, monetary and trade issues to promote coherence in policies with a view to making them more development oriented.
  • Reform of the global financial architecture, including enhancing the voice and participation of developing countries in the decision-making processes of the International Financial Institutions.


While some progress has been made internationally in working towards the implementation of the MDGs by 2015, much more will be required to be done if these targets are to be met. Of greatest importance will be the provision of the requisite funds to finance development. Important steps have been made,but developed countries will have to put out greater efforts in living up to the commitment of developing a global partnership for development. This partnership cannot be predicated on giving with one hand and taking with the other, as has happened in the case of Guyana. At the same time, developing countries must also keep their side of the bargain. They must ensure that the requisite policies are pursued which will lead to better governance and sustainable economic growth.


Senator, Minister of State
Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade


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