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Global health declaration - ten years on

Fergus Walsh | 00:00 UK time, Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Ten years ago today, at the largest gathering of world leaders in history, an historic document was signed.

The Millennium Declaration was ambitious, aiming to "free all men, women, and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty." From this emerged a series of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which set targets to be achieved by 2015.

The MDGs represented a defining moment for global cooperation. Forged amidst the enthusiasm and optimism of a new millennium, they were the first ever set of shared development goals at international level. They confront many fundamental issues: the battle against extreme poverty and hunger, tackling preventable disease, achieving gender equality and sustainable development. Progress towards the MDGs has been mixed, but many of the targets look like being missed. There is huge regional variation, with sub-Saharan Africa performing badly on nearly every measure.

These are the 8 goals:

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

World leaders will meet again in New York later this month for a summit on the Millennium Development Goals. A decade on, the global financial crisis means these are difficult and demanding times for aid agencies and budgets. But the UN says the summit is the last chance - with five years to go - to agree a concrete action plan to accelerate progress.

With two weeks to go before the summit, several aid charities are setting out their stalls. Save the Children produced a report, "A Fair Chance of Life", which said an extra four million of the world's poorest children have died over the past 10 years because governments are "turning a blind eye" to those most in need. The number of deaths of young children has fallen, but the MDG of cutting child mortality by two thirds looks set to fail.

Jasmine Whitbread, Save the Children International's chief executive, said:

"Nearly nine million children under the age of five die every year - many of them from easily preventable or treatable illnesses - just because they can't get to a doctor or because their parents can't afford food that is nutritious enough to keep them alive."

The United Nations children's agency unicef has also published "Progress for Children", which sets out progress towards the MDGs. It makes clear that although there have been some "impressive gains" in child survival in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, there was a widening gap in mortality rates between this region and elsewhere. For example:

"In 1990, a child born in sub-Saharan Africa faced a probability of dying before his or her fifth birthday that was 1.5 times higher than in South Asia, 3.5 times higher than in Latin America and the Caribbean and 18.4 times higher than in the industrialized countries. By 2008, these gaps had widened markedly, owing to faster progress elsewhere. Now, a child born in sub-Saharan Africa faces an under-five mortality rate that is 1.9 times higher than in South Asia, 6.3 times higher than in Latin America and the Caribbean and 24 times higher than in the industrialized nations." page 9, "Progress for Children"

Anthony Lake, executive director of unicef said:

"In the global push to achieve the MDGs, we are leaving behind millions of the world's most disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalized children: the children who are facing the longest odds."

Another charity, WaterAid launches a report today which argues that the world has neglected sanitation. It says the hope embodied in the MDGs is "mired in excrement". Wateraid says diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor sanitation and unsafe water kill around 1.4 million children a year, more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. The MDG target was to halve the proportion of people living without basic sanitation. WaterAid says 2.6 billion people live without access to safe, hygienic toilets, and at the current rate of progress the 2015 target will not be met until 2049, and in sub-Saharan Africa, not until the 23rd century.

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will be at the UN meeting, "pushing hard" according to ministerial colleagues, for greater collective action on the MDGs. There will be much lobbying of Mr Clegg - look at the Spinometer on the unicef website - in advance of the UN summit. Aid agencies will want to ensure that the coalition government sticks to its pledge to protect the overseas aid budget.

Some detail was set out in the programme for government in May (opens pdf) which said:

"We will honour our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid from 2013, and to enshrine this commitment in law. We will encourage other countries to fulfil their aid commitments. We will support actions to achieve the Millennium Development Goals."

GNI is Gross National Income. For more detail on the background to this pledge, a detailed Commons guide was last update in April (opens pdf).

Helping the world's poorest and most disadvantaged communities is clearly something that every developed nation should sign up to. But once the full scope of domestic spending cuts have been outlined, there maybe considerable debate about just how much the UK spends on overseas aid.


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  • 1. At 12:28pm on 08 Sep 2010, John_from_Hendon wrote:

    The main problem with these lofty aims is that those who proclaim them have ignored the main reason that they will not be achieved - too many people on the planet. And don't we have to put this problem at the door of organised religion!

    So long as the competing religions deploy a growth strategy of out-breeding their competitors none of these problems will be solved. Religions need to adopt a far more egalitarian gender stance and work together to limit the planets populations. One of the main successes of the Chinese Communist 'religion' has been the one child policy. Religions and countries must adopt similar policies or none of the Goals will be achieved - ever!

    We also need more egalitarian and more gender equal religions rather than the patriarchal ones that we still have. The world's religions need to directly answer the questions: Why does their God seek to impoverish people by creating more people that the planet's resources can sustain? And further, why does their God not look to fairness in the distribution of the planet's resources if their followers are all equal before their God?

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  • 2. At 01:22am on 09 Sep 2010, GeoffWard wrote:

    Much of the third world and large parts of India and China survive at the margin, only with the help of food-'aid' from the USA and from BRIC: Brazil, & Russia's grain federation/cartel. Increased climatic turmoil and unpredictable weather is reducing 'supplier's' capacity to provide regular food 'aid'.
    There is a loose relationship between local food availability and population size:
    Periodic starvation causing, in particular, child mortality, and human disease-induced mortality are, arguably, the 'control-valves' that brings population levels back in line with food resources.
    Human health in the third world is desirable if, and only if, population size does not increase as a result and outstrip food supplies causing starvations.
    So tight population control is a necessary part of the UN Millenium Development Goals, of which there are eight.
    Look down the list of the eight Goals (blog text) and see what the UN has to say about population control ................
    Have another look - you might have missed it.

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  • 3. At 10:13am on 09 Sep 2010, Megan wrote:

    The need appears to be for very focussed assistance supplied 'in kind' - actual materials and in skilled individuals - as sadly, most third world governments are not prepared to meet their obligations to their citizens even if funded by wealthier nations. Such governments - be they incompetent, corrupt, or preferring to spend what they have on other priorities - need to be bypassed, and aid provided directly to the benefit of the citizens who need it.

    This becomes even more vital not only to meet expectations agreed by the Goals but to maximise the 'return' in a time when even the wealthier nations are feeling the pinch!

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  • 4. At 10:47am on 11 Sep 2010, AnnieSol wrote:

    Dear John_from_Hendon,

    I'm not sure about your claim of religions deploying a growth strategy to out-breed each other... If you look at the CIA statistics, the 10 highest birth rates in the world are in Niger, Uganda, Mali, Burkina Faso, Somalia, Angola, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Burundi - all in the continent of Africa. The lowest birth rates are in 'rich' countries such as Hong Kong, Japan, Italy and Germany.

    Would it not be reasonable to suspect that the reason those countries have the highest birth rate may be due to their countries being of low income, perhaps unstable governments, where the lack of family planning and birth control plus the idea that having more children equates to more of them surviving childhood and thus a chance to carry on the family and work - would that not compound to a higher birth rate? Rather than the conceited idea that religions are trying to "outgrow" each other? Maybe? There is lots of space in this world, there are many resources - there is more to 'fixing' the world than blaming religion - that is rather ignorant.

    And why do the world's religions have to answer those questions? Their God does not "seek to impoverish" people... if you know anything of God you'll know that he gave people free will - the people's choice to procreate is theirs. God gave the task of distribution of natural resources to the people - because it is their world therefore they have the challenge of sharing.

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  • 5. At 1:01pm on 11 Sep 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    Most of what can be achieved will be when inventors come up with really good, affordable ideas and investors take the risk and invest in production.

    I like the idea of the activated carbon filter that can fit into the spout of a water bottle and cleans the water as it is poured out. The idea is brilliantly simple and the production cost is minimal compared with other technologies. (Info about this is on the bbc website)

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  • 6. At 1:05pm on 11 Sep 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    The other idea which I think is really good is the nano technology vaccination patch. The patch does away with needles and syringes (and by the looks of it) can be self administered.

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  • 7. At 1:09pm on 11 Sep 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    By getting ICT technology to everyone, education can be delivered online to areas where teachers are in short supply. U tube has some brilliant resources.

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  • 8. At 1:14pm on 11 Sep 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    Environmental sustainability can be improved when the idea of built-in-obsolescence becomes a dirty word.

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  • 9. At 10:34pm on 11 Sep 2010, John_from_Hendon wrote:

    #4. AnnieSol wrote:

    "If you look at the CIA statistics, the 10 highest birth rates in the world are in ... - all in the continent of Africa"

    AnnieSol, have you also not noticed the religion of these areas? The poorer peoples are the more religious the are. There is a direct connection between religiosity and poverty and that is directly linked to the religious groups attitude to women and contraception. Your point is simply wrong from my perspective and not in accordance with all of reality.

    Their God is enslaved as an agent for religious power (male) hierarchies - that is the reality and that is what is wrong with religion. I do blame religion for preventing the solving of many of the world's problems and for creating and exacerbating many more. Excess population leads directly to famine, yet particularly the Catholic church bans contraception - a wanton act that damages its members - this is why the Italians ignore their church's teachings.

    I am in absolute disagreement with almost every 'point' that you made and further I believe that a rational dispassionate assessment of the facts must support my view. Examples: The (Catholic) God's preachers say that condoms are wrong and so condemns many millions to a painful and early death from AIDS - how on earth or in heaven can you possible defend that position? The (Catholic) God's preachers say that women are lesser people than men and cannot deliver the sacrament - what absolute tosh. The (Islamic) God's preachers enshrine in law that the evidence of two women is equivalent to a single man - this is just as absolutely unacceptable. In the name of Islam in Afghanistan it is acceptable to kill girls who want an education. I'll not go on, but the organisations that interpret God will have a great deal to answer for if they ever meet their maker. etc... So I stick to my reasonable assertion that the interpreters of God do "seeks to impoverish" people to maintain their own earthly power and riches.

    And in response to your jibe at me: if you knew anything about God you would have realised that religions are earthly power structures for the purpose of their own self preservation and the maintenance of their own power and they do this by enslaving people.

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  • 10. At 12:26pm on 12 Sep 2010, Megan wrote:

    John from Hendon, I understand what you are saying, but like so many who blame religion for all the world's ills, you cherry-pick points of doctrine which suit your argument.

    As example, claiming that the Roman Catholic church's teaching against the use of a condom puts people at the risk of contracting AIDS and other STDs... er, yes it could if people picked just that rule to obey, but if individuals followed ALL of the Church's teaching they would not be at risk because they would not behave promisciously but be faithful to their partner if any, and otherwise would be celibate.

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