Essay: Goals Be Obtained? The Millennium

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¶ … Goals be Obtained?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted by the United Nations (UN) ancillary to the Millennium Declaration in 2000. The overarching goal of the MGDs is to eliminate extreme poverty by 2015. These goals are also focused somewhat on human rights, particularly the intersection between human rights and poverty. However, "The MGDs are a careful restatement of poverty-related development challenges, in language that avoids references to rights" (Nelson 2007). The MGDs focused on five areas linked to relative wealth: health, education, nutrition, access to potable water, sanitation, and gender equality. The goals are: 1) eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; 2) achieve universal primary education; 3) promote gender equality and empower women; 4) reduce child mortality; 5) improve maternal health; 6) combat HIV / AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; 7) ensure environmental sustainability; and 8) global partnership for development (United Nations 2013a). Obviously these are large goals, and determining whether or not they have been accomplished can be complex. As a result, each goal is broken down into targets and indicators, which can be used to help measure whether or not each goal has been achieved. However, the MGDs may not be the best way of evaluating progress, because they do avoid rights-based language. Nelson refers to them as "a donor country interpretation of the key issues, for a donor-country audience" (2007), and this characterization, if correct, could help explain why not all of the MGDs will be obtained by the 2015 target date. However, it is promising to see that the MGD of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger seems attainable.

Many people believe that achieving the MGDs is impossible, not because the overarching goals are impossible, but because the MGDs require development that surpasses most historical precedent (Clemens et al. 2007). Furthermore, it can also be difficult to effectuate these goals through outside intervention, but existing social norms and policies in place in various countries can mean that internal development with the goal of reaching the MGDs often faces significant opposition. The result is that many people believe that the MGDs establish unrealistic expectations (Clemens et al. 2007). As a result, rather than encouraging progress, the unrealistic expectations may actually discourage countries that are making tremendous progress, but will not meet the goals. Perhaps more critically, it may discourage other countries from giving aid to countries that are making progress, but will not meet these goals. Therefore, it becomes critical to examine positive results in the MGDs and how they demonstrate that, while lofty, these goals are attainable.

Goal 1 is eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. The three targets for that goal are: 1) halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day; 2) achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people; and 3) halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger (United Nations 2013b). There has been tremendous success in some of these areas. Most notably, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty (which was defined as an income of less than $1 a day, but has been adjusted for inflation) has declined by half. Malnourishment and hunger has also decreased, though hunger remains a significant problem. However, looking at these overall gains begs the question, "Should the MDGs be monitored purely at the global level or is the main focus on the country level?" (Hulme 2010). They are written in such a way that they can be examined on the global level, but when one considers pre-existing disparities in all of the categories, particularly poverty; it becomes clear that simply examining global numbers will not reveal whether or not developing nations are making progress towards achieving those goals.

When examining changes in country-level poverty and the individual experience of poverty, the MDGs may not be sufficient. There continues to be a donor-centric approach when formulating ideas about how to effectuate change. Donor-centric approaches tend to focus on providing conditional aid and the promise that expanding trade and free market policies into impacted areas will lead to a decrease in extreme poverty. It may or may not be true that economic growth leads to a reduction in extreme poverty. On the one hand, increasing a country's gross domestic product is linked to a reduction in poverty, though the reduction in poverty may not be as great as the percent increase in GDP. In other words, the financial investment in trade may not be the most efficient means of reducing poverty. Despite this fact, the public policy focus has been on increasing trade, which is not necessarily the most effective means of poverty reduction.

Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that the economic recession, which has had a global impact, not only worked to prevent some people from escaping from poverty, but also pushed some people that were on the fringes of economic safety into poverty. Young people, particularly young adults with young children, are in vulnerable circumstances and numbers of people have grown unemployed. This has had an impact on developed nations, where many of the risks associated with both poverty and hunger were considered minimal until the recession. What this means is that the extreme poverty figures may no longer provide sufficient insight into the global poverty problem. "Though the number of workers living with their families in extreme poverty -- on less than $1.25 a day -- has declined dramatically over the past decade, by 294 million, new estimates show that 60.9 per cent of workers in the developing world still live on less than $4 a day" (United Nations 2013b). This increase seems to suggest a push from both sides, both a decrease from the at-risk "middle class" population and an increase from the extreme poverty rates. However, it bears consideration if this increase from extreme poverty to poverty is substantial enough to make a difference, not only in poverty, but in the other MDG indicators, as well.

Despite that caution, it becomes clear that UN programs are helping some at-risk populations. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a program to provide career counseling to unemployed youth is helping at-risk youth populations. "In the first 14 months of operation, the centres provided skills training to more than 6,800 young people, of whom almost 1,800 gained their first work experience" (United Nations 2013b). This may not have raised their family income rates out of extreme poverty, but it targets another economic goal, which is to increase employment rates, particularly in at-risk categories such as youth.

A program in Cambodia has targeted those living in extreme poverty. The Food and Agriculture Organization's training project targeted farmers in 15 villages in the Krakor district, and provided them with a multi-faceted training program. This program was aimed at promoting literacy, discussing gender awareness, increasing health and nutrition, and teaching about conservation and natural resource management. In other words, the training project was not specifically focused on poverty reduction. However, it had a dramatic impact on extreme poverty. Farmer's income rose from $.47 a day to $1.40 a day. Though the total income was still alarmingly low, the income did increase above MDG target levels, and represented a three-fold increase over income prior to the intervention (United Nations 2013b).

One of the most startling successes has been in India, and the reason it is startling is because the success has been internally-driven, which suggests a change in the culture of the developing country. In 2005, India passed a law guaranteeing landless laborers and marginal farmers the right to a minimum of 100 days of paid work each year (United Nations 2013b). This law has the potential to dramatically impact poverty in India, where many people are literally without a means to earn a living. The law's 100 day guarantee has not yet been met, but close to 50 million households have benefitted from a UNDP / Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Program that has managed to help them find 50 days of paid labor a year (United Nations 2013b).

While it may be clear that ending extreme poverty and hunger is not enough to promote the human rights associated with the MDGs, it is equally clear that these other MGDs will be virtually impossible without eradicating extreme poverty and hunger because of the deleterious impact both have on other qualities of life. Furthermore, it is important to realize that programs aimed at ending hunger or poverty can also promote other goals. For example, in Yemen, where girls are at risk of not attending primary school, the World Food Programme's Food for Girls' Education Programme has linked female education to hunger eradication. Under its program, "families who sent their girls to school are eligible to receive an annual ration of wheat and fortified vegetable oil" (United Nations 2013b). Therefore, this program simultaneously combats hunger and encourages education access for girls.

Pessimists may examine the above information and find it insignificant, because it only shows progress on… [END OF PREVIEW]

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