Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The UN Millennium Development Goals – Reviving a more Pragmatic Approach to World Poverty

By M. Ulric Killion


[Photo Source: A boy fetches drinking water from a muddy pool in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in 2006, (AP), Elizabeth Flock, Millennium development goals: Two down, six to go, BBC news, March 6, 2012]. 

In the way of background information, in September 2000, 189 member states (or member-countries) of the United Nations (“UN”) adopted a resolution called the Millennium Development Goals (“MDGs”), whose primary objective was to reduce worldwide poverty in the next decade.

The MDGs set targets for progress in eight areas, which are poverty and hunger, primary education, women’s equality, child mortality, maternal health, disease, environment, and a global partnership for development by a target date of 2015.

As for the status of the MDGs, as recently reported by BBC news, “The United Nations has met two of its eight development goals, well ahead of the 2015 deadline. Six goals are left,” (Flock, 2012). On March 6, 2012, Elizabeth Flock (BBC news) reported,

The first goal, to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty — or on less than $1.25 a day — was announced to have been met in a World Bank report last week. The economic recession appears not to have halted that progress, despite fears that it would. For the first time since the World Bank started recording statistics in 1981, poverty fell in every region of the world.

The second millennium goal, to cut in half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, was confirmed to have been met on Tuesday, in a report issued by the U.N. children’s agency and the World Health Organization. More than 2 billion people gained access to safe drinking water between 1990 and 2010, meaning 89 percent of the world’s population now has access. The U.N.’s millennium goal was 88 percent.

During the earlier period, when the UN initially adopted its resolution, there was a general consensus by many experts that a core problem for developing countries and non-market economies in transition are historically weak institutional capacities serving as a block to economic development.

In 2002, when addressing the Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico, then former International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) Director Michel Camdessus noted that if the summit could only deliver one thing, it should be extending assistance to enhance institutional capacity in developing countries. Addressing this problem is the key to achieving the MDGs of reducing world poverty by half, by the MDG target date of 2015.

There were, however, earlier warnings about the difficulties that associate with the completion of the MDGs by the target date of 2015. This is because, in 2004, in terms of progress on the MDGs, the IMF and the World Bank issued a joint report warning that plans outlined by the UN, and one of its year 2000 MDGs of four years ago to halve 1990 global poverty levels by the year 2015, will most likely not be met if current trade and aid policies continue.

The report also observed that China and India accounted for about a third of the world’s population, and with greater liberalization and having profited from economic globalization; both of these developing countries have made progress in reducing property.

For example, in China, the number of people living in “extreme” poverty was reduced from 40 percent in 1981 to 21 percent in 2001. Since 1982, China’s GDP has risen by 500 percent. According to the IMF and World Bank, the 600 million Chinese living in “extreme” poverty in 1981 dropped to 200 million.

In contrast, by 2004, some African countries, some Latin America countries and Russia (Russian Federation) had only slightly improved, and worsened in some cases. Countless development efforts have failed because developing countries generally lack institutions with the ability to sustain their economic policies (Graham, 2002; Bransten, 2004).

Weak institutional capacities of developing economies are one of the major obstacles to economic development. One of the benefits of the economic liberalism and international economic institutions, including the Bretton Woods Institutions (“BWIs”), in terms of assisting rather than hindering economic development is recognition of the need for efficient and effective infrastructure investments that will strengthen institutional capacities in developing economies.

However, Paul Wolfowitz, then president of the World Bank, did direct the World Bank toward a more pragmatic rather than theoretical approach to achieving the MDGs. It is a pragmatic approach directly benefiting developing economies, in their quest for the benefits of economic liberalism and economic globalization.

A lack of progress on the MDGs in 2012 also serves as reminder of previous successes, because, according to the World Bank 2006 Global Development Finance Report, the year of 2005 was a landmark year in global development finance. The report observed that net private capital flows to developing countries reached a record high of $491 billion in 2005.

In May 2006, as further evidence of the benefits directly flowing, and continuing to flow, is the case of China, when the World Bank announced a New Country Partnership Strategy (“CPS”) for China. The new CPS for China would cover the period from 2006 to 2010, and the World Bank Board, “endorsed its overall goals of helping to integrate China into the world economy, address poverty and inequality, manage resource scarcities and environmental challenges, strengthen the financial sector, and improve public and market institutions.”

According to former World Bank president Wolfowitz, “The new Country Partnership Strategy recognizes clearly that helping China to strengthen its economy, manage its resources and environment, and improve governance, are important not only for the Chinese people but also for people all over the world.”

On June 1, 2006, the Annual World Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) concluded with a call for new analytical and evaluation tools to help decision-makers make infrastructure choices that deliver vital services such as energy, transportation and water, to facilitate growth and achieve the MDGs, while also remaining cost-effective and friendly to the environment.

In observance of failed infrastructure investments in the past, former World Bank president Wolfowitz earlier announced the following new direction for infrastructure investments, “It must also focus on ‘smart’ growth, that is, growth that is economically sound, environmentally friendly, socially acceptable, locally desirable, and most important, growth that makes a difference in people’s lives” (World Bank, May 2006; World Bank, June 2006).

In other words, international economic institutions, including the BWIs, such as the World Bank group, by exhibiting a more practical rather than theoretical approach to achieving the MDGs are assisting developing countries and least-developed countries (“LDCs”) in a variety of ways, ranging from assistance in poverty reduction to sustainable development.

As for the other MDGs, which remain pending, the BBC news article was pessimistic about achieving the goals by the target date of 2015, because the goals were either unlikely to be met or it was unclear if a goal could be met. The only exceptions were their opinions about the possibility of achieving the goal addressing disease (i.e., HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases), while also finding that the goal of a global partnership for development was actually somewhat achieved.

The later pessimism, however, only dictates a more positive and forward-looking approach, if not a more pragmatic approach, toward achieving the MDGs. This is because the MDGs remain a global imperative in the new century. In other words, all responsible international bodies and organizations must some how manage to revive past successes of advancing the MDGs toward completion on a date still approximating the original target date, if not soon thereafter.


United Nations Millennium Declaration: United Nations A/RES/55/2, General Assembly Distr.: General, 18 September 2000, Fifty-fifth session, Agenda item 60 (b), 00 55951, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, [without reference to a Main Committee (A/55/L.2)], 55/2.

Elizabeth Flock, Millennium development goals: Two down, six to go, BBC news, March 6, 2012.

Carol Graham, Strengthening Institutional Capacity in Poor Countries: Shoring up Institutions, Policy Briefs, Brookings Institution, April 2002.

Jeremy Bransten, World: IMF, World Bank Say UN Poverty Reduction Plan At Risk, Radio Free Europe, April 16, 2004.

World Bank News, Changing the Face of Development Finance?, May 30, 2006.

World Bank’s New Partnership Strategy for China Focuses on Economic Integration, Poverty, and Sustainable Development, World Bank Press Release No: 2006/416/EAP, May 23, 2006.

World Bank News, Making the Best Choices for Infrastructure, June 1, 2006.

Copyright protected: All Rights Reserved by M. Ulric Killion, 2012.

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