UNITED NATIONS – At the dawn of the new millennium, world leaders pledged to tackle poverty, disease, ignorance and inequality — and went beyond generalities to commit themselves to specific goals. Progress has been made over the past decade, but many countries are still struggling to meet the 2015 target.
On Monday, another summit will open in New York to review what has, and hasn't, been done.
"These Millennium Development Goals are a promise of world leaders," says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who invited leaders of the 192 U.N. member nations to the three-day summit. "They're a blueprint to help those most vulnerable and poorest people, to lift them out of poverty. This promise must be met," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
But recent reports show that the world's poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, have made little headway in eradicating poverty. Africa, Asia and Latin America have seen a lack of progress in reducing mother and child deaths, boosting access to basic sanitation, and promoting women's equality.
Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty said some goals will likely be met, but the poorest are going to be left out, partly because so many governments are not accountable to their people.
"The poorest people ... are the ones without a voice. They're the ones without water, sanitation. They're the ones that are at the receiving end of violence," he told AP, and if the issue of accountability isn't sorted out "we'll be having the same conversation in 2015."
Ban warned that the global economic crisis is making matters worse and that although aid to developing countries is at an all-time high, it is still $20 billion short on commitments for this year, of which $16 billion was reserved for Africa.
Here, from U.N. figures, is the status of progress on some specific goals:
• Overall the world is on track to halve the numbers of people in extreme poverty, though some critics say it's mainly because of tremendous improvements in China and India. The proportion living on less than $1 a day in developing countries fell from 46 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2005 and should reach the target despite the economic crisis. But even so, the U.N. said, about 920 million people will still be living on less than $1.25 a day in 2015.
• Primary school enrollment rose from 83 percent in 2000 to 89 percent in 2008, which means 70 million children worldwide are not in classrooms. That pace of progress is not sufficient to ensure the goal of universal primary education by 2015.
• Reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters and child mortality by two-thirds has lagged. The World Health Organization said there has been a 34 percent decline to 358,000 deaths in 2008, less than half the goal set in 2000. Ban said this was because so much effort has gone into eradicating poverty and disease. He promised a new initiative at the summit.
• The goal of halting and reversing the AIDS epidemic is unlikely to be met. While the number of new infections has fallen from a peak of 3.5 million in 1996 to 2.7 million in 2008, UNAIDS said five people are becoming infected for every two who start treatment. Two million AIDS-related deaths still occur every year. Despite signs that the epidemic has stabilized in most countries, the disease is spreading fast in Russia, Ukraine and some countries in Central Asia — and UNAIDS estimates that only 40 percent of people who have HIV are aware of it.
On the plus side, several "high achievers" were listed Thursday by a leading British think tank, the Overseas Development Institute.
Ghana outperformed all other countries in reducing hunger by nearly three-quarters, from 34 percent in 1990 to 9 percent in 2004. Vietnam reduced the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day from nearly 66 percent to 20 percent in just 14 years. Ten African countries, including Ethiopia, Egypt, and post-conflict Angola, have halved their absolute poverty levels, Benin ranked in the top 10 in education improvements, and Angola and Niger significantly reduced child deaths.
Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the secretary-general's special adviser on the millennium goals, said he believes many countries will achieve all or most of the goals by 2015, but others will remain "in pretty desperate situations, especially if they've been locked in conflict."
"My view is that these goals were halfway houses," Sachs told AP.
Sachs said the U.N. should adopt a bold but achievable goal to eradicate poverty — and his target is 2025.
Associated Press Writer Jason Straziuso contributed to this report from Nairobi, Kenya.