In September, the United Nations held a three-day summit to examine and support progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)--an ambitious set of promises to significantly reduce poverty, inequality and disease worldwide by 2015.
Some 140 heads of state and government attended, and they pledged to make "every effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals," despite the various economic and environmental crises that have in many countries slowed progress towards their achievement.
The Goals were established in 2000 at the Millennium Summit. In their broad outline, the eight MDGs are simple but bold. They aim by 2015 to halve global poverty and hunger; to achieve universal primary education; to eliminate gender disparity in education; to reduce child mortality by two-thirds; to reduce maternal mortality by three-fourths; to halt and then reverse the spread of HIV/AIDs, malaria, and other major diseases; to improve environmental sustainability, including halving the portion of the population without access to safe drinking water and sanitation; and to improve the world's financial and economic system to better meet the needs of poor countries.
Worldwide, progress towards the Goals has been mixed. According to a report released in March 2010 by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, while a number of countries have achieved success in combating extreme poverty and hunger, improving school enrolment and child health, expanding access to clean water, and the control of major diseases, progress worldwide has been uneven.
Mr. Ban noted, for example, there are still some 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty, as defined by the "dollar-a-day" international poverty line. Moreover, he said, global hunger has actually been rising, because of high food prices and the global financial and economic crisis.
For the other goals, the story is similar. While many countries have made progress at increasing primary school enrollment, more than 72 million children of primary school age around the world, about half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, remain out of school. As to the gender equality goal, Mr. Ban notes, the share of national parliamentary seats held by women has increased only slowly, averaging 18 percent as at January 2009. And while the child mortality rate in developing countries fell from 99 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 72 in 2008, this is nevertheless well short of the target of a two-thirds reduction to 33 deaths per...