The conclusions of the United Nations summit on the world's progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) present a gloomy picture. Some goals such as universal primary education, reducing child mortality, and improving maternal health are unlikely to be reached by the 2015 deadline. The world may be on track to meet the target of halving the number of people living under $1 a day, but the numbers suffering from hunger and malnutrition have risen between 2007 and 2009; one in four children in developing countries is still underweight. Employment has declined. Gender equality is elusive. Ditto for environmental sustainability — the rate of deforestation is declining but remains alarmingly high; the 2010 target on biodiversity conservation has been missed. The target of halving the number of people without access to drinking water can be achieved, but not so the number without access to sanitation. The U.N. fears that the progress made in some areas is “fragile” and if the world drops the ball on commitment and funding, even these limited gains may be reversed. Indeed, building a global partnership on development is one of the MDGs, but as the U.N. notes, only five donor countries have allocated the targeted 0.7 per cent of their gross national income for official aid.
Part of the U.N. Millennium Development Declaration in 2000, the eight MDGs were accepted by member-states and 23 international organisations who pledged to improve the lives of the world's most impoverished people. Yet, as the U.N. has noted, inadequate resources, lack of focus and accountability, and insufficient dedication to sustainable development are the main culprits in the unsatisfactory march towards meeting the 21 MDG targets. In India, the government's optimism, reflected in its country report released in June, that many of the MDG targets can be met by 2015, is hard to share. While the report estimates 27.5 per cent of Indians lived below the poverty line in 2004-05, compared to 36 per cent in 1994-95, the methodology for arriving at this figure is disputed. The U.N. differs with India's claims on reducing maternal mortality. The country is nowhere near reducing child mortality to the targeted 42 per 1,000 live births. Nearly half the under-five children are malnourished. Bringing this down to 26.8 per cent in five more years is impossible. India will also clearly miss the deadline for universal primary education. The failures are a reminder of the dismal truth — despite India's impressive economic growth over the last decade since the MDGs were accepted as policy goals, large chunks of the country have yet to benefit from it.