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International Politics, Opinion, United Nations

Millennium Development Goals, Keeping the Promise

The UN General Assembly met on 12th February 2010 to discuss progress made toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in light of a 2015 target date. As was outlined by the original resolution, Secretary Ban Ki-moon has the duty of providing a report to the GA on current progress made. The 2010 report is broken down into four sections: 1) how the Millennium Declaration drives UN development agenda, 2) review of progress made, 3) lessons learned and success factors, and 4) specific recommendations for action. This document’s purpose is to summarize, analyze, and then critique the strong and weak content of the Secretary General’s report. Thus, it will be organized in a similar manner starting off with a brief history of the Millennium Declaration, then a summary of the 2010 report’s primary content, and ending with an analysis and critique of weak and strong points.


On September 18th, 2000, during the 55th session of the UN General Assembly, 189 world leaders adopted Resolution 55/2. Titled United Nations Millennium Declaration, the nine-page resolution outlined steps necessary to “realize our universal aspirations for peace, cooperation and development” (UNGA, 55/2, pg. 9). It was a complex resolution that, relying on established values and principles, listed seven key objectives that could “create a shared future, based upon our common humanity” that would allow for sustainability, development, and equitability (55/2, pg. 2). The resolution provided a foundation for global progress toward “a just and lasting peace” (UNGA, 55/2, pg. 1).

The 2010 report is titled Keeping the promise: a forward-looking review to promote an agreed action agenda to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The report calls for a “new pact to accelerate progress in achieving the Goals in the coming years among all stakeholders” (UNGA, 64/665, pg. 1). The report establishes that  “The Millennium Development Goals are the highest profile articulation of the internationally agreed development goals associated with the United Nations development agenda…” (UNGA, 64/665, pg. 2). Numerous positive developments among nations, non-profits, businesses, and NGOs took place because of the original NMD’s call for cooperation and commitment. The Secretary General (SG) suggests that achieving all the NMG encompasses is still “feasible with adequate commitment” (64/665, pg. 2). Ultimately the charge falls on stakeholders, the term applied to all those governments, business communities, civil societies: “…to work in cohort to ensure that the Millennium Development Goals are met by 2015” (64/665, pg. 3).


The report points out several major accomplishments including “combating extreme poverty and hunger, improving school enrollment and child health, expanding access to clean water and HIV treatment and controlling malaria…” (UNGA, 64/665, pg. 3). Specifically, the report compares statistics in measles deaths, as the number of deaths in sub-Saharan Africa has decreased dramatically. But the report brings bad news with the good, suggesting that progress has been uneven when comparing certain world regions (UNGA, 64/665, pg. 3). In addition to unevenness, the progress has been slow. Five major objectives are still largely unmet: poverty, global hunger, employment, access to education, and gender equality. Within each of these some progress has been made, but the full goal has not been realized. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, enrollment in primary education went from 58% in 2000 to 74% in 2007. But the dropout rate from primary school remained high regardless.

The report goes into detail on significant health-related Millennium Development Goals that have been achieved. HIV infections fell 30%, deaths among children 5 and younger have decreased as well, and statistics show measles are less deadly than they used to be. There have also been some areas with little progress, like neonatal infant death rates, which account for 36% of deaths for children 5 and under. Maternal mortality lacks positive progression, as maternal death rates today are the same as in 1990. The report highlights some emerging issues that have arisen since the start of the MDG: climate change, financial markets, food security, conflict refugees; these are some challenges that, according to the report, have had little or no development towards the 2015 goal.


Within this section the report contains 11 lessons learned, ranging from national ownership, to financial support, to inequality (UNGA, 64/665, pg. 13). Each section includes a brief run down on the concepts and how they would be able to further the MDG. National ownership, for example, is “vital to ensure national commitment to developmental goals” (UNGA, 64/665, pg. 13). And “interventions” push the idea of public and private investments in intervention programs. The section on intervention suggests different methods on providing essential needs and services to the global human, and how to make it most effective. While this section of the document is interesting, it is concept heavy and lacks real world application. The only “lesson learned” that has enough actionable substance is the “monitoring” section. “Better monitoring and data are vital for better design of and timely intervention in programmes and policies” (UNGA, 64/665, pg. 16).

The report then goes through each of the original 7 MDG objectives and proposes “specific acceleration plans” (64/665, page 3). This section makes point of the interconnectedness of all 7 objectives, frequently referring to them in groupings. Short-term action with one MD objective may lift up a few others with it as well. The report transitions from acceleration plans to analyzing the unique global characteristics of the goals. “The very fact that the challenges of poverty, food, energy, global recession, and climate change are all interrelated has presented the global community with a unique opportunity to tackle them together” (UNGA, 64/665, pg. 18). The report makes the important distinction that short-term goals and long-term goals are different, and can be variations of the same thing. Short-term fixes are good, but a long-term sustainable fix is ideal. A combination of both acceleration and sustainability is the prime combination for the character of goals.


“The Millennium Development Goals work by engaging national and global society as a whole” (64/665, pg. 28). There are five guiding principles for an action agenda: national ownership, interdependence of human rights, gender equality, international human rights, and poverty. The MDG has mobilized the largest cooperative effort ever seen in history, but it is not without problems. The shortfalls (according to the report) are not “because they [investors] are unreachable or because the time is too short” (64/665, pg. 31). It is the lack of focus and accountability that causes countries (and therefore all of us globally) to fail on meeting commitments. The report concludes with a sort of last charge to the global world: “[It] represents a pact, not just among governments, but also among all development stakeholders” (UNGA, 64/665, pg. 32).


The document seems to struggle to find statistics that back up and support every goal.

The statistics used in the report seem to give info on too detailed a group. When dealing with third world country policy making, especially in Africa, reliable data to form statistics are very hard to come by. However, they are vital so as to chart success/failure with the MDG and it’s global policies. Without numbers, the proposed efforts discussed in the report would be un-testable after implementation. That’s why I think a major strength for this report is the call for better data gathering in poor/developing countries. “Better monitoring and data are vital for better design of and timely intervention in programs and policies” (UNGA,64/665, pg. 16). The report even goes so far as to request that “development partners…increase pubic expenditure for national statistical systems” (64/665, pg. 16). When it comes to long-term, global development, the world needs a tool to measure how successful its efforts are (and how to change if unsuccessful).

I thought another strength of the report was the new emphasis on technology, especially mobile telephones.

The report was sure to include new technology options where it could, which I though helped make the report current and innovative. “New technology-based solutions that did not exist when the Goals were endorsed, can and should be leveraged…” (64/665, pg. 18). I think grasping technology helps create a healthy long-term mindset, one that is willing to embrace innovativeness, creativity, and changing times. I also think it was smart to emphasize that “interventions need to be framed in the context of national development strategies that define actions to ensure sustainability…” (64/665, pg. 18). Technology, although always changing, has to find a place in long-term sustainability. A quick technological fix is not the same as a long-term innovative solution.


The report speaks of multiple parties needing to have accountability.

The Millennium Development Goal framework has identified stakeholders and duty bearers with well-defined responsibilities, establishing accountability for development outcomes” (UNGA, 64/665, pg. 32). The word accountability is used 14 times in the report, while the word accountable is not used at all. The word accountability is a noun, and refers to something general, and can remain vague. The word accountable is an adjective, and would be used to describe a relationship. This never happens however, so we are left without a defined relationship for a system of accountability. Millennium Development has been very unequal in certain regions, with countries like China making huge headway, while other countries like sub-Saharan countries have made no progress. Who are they accountable to then? Should they be accountable to anyone other than themselves? Are there repercussions for not progressing? What about non-government groups or businesses? Who exactly would keep them accountable? Each other? I think using the word accountability, without defining a system that makes these groups/nations accountable is a big weakness for this document.

The report suggests in several sections that a nation grasps ownership, domestically, of concepts that are inherently global.

The Millennium Development Goals “work by engaging national and global society as a whole” (64/665, pg. 28). This seems contradictory for the nation-state. A state must look inward toward its own citizens. A developed nation may be capable of engaging bilaterally, but should they? Or should they always let their citizens define their international policy regarding development? I think a state shouldn’t accept a shared global definition of anything. If you want someone to make cookies, don’t give them cookie dough and have them bake it. Ownership will not truly belong to the country unless the policy originates outward, not inward. In multiple places the report suggests adopting a domestic version of development policy handed down by the UN. Instead, a nation should be bringing the type of development it wants to the UN. The UN shouldn’t be passing out the ideas and orders, even if the nations make them semi-theirs. That will not help the Millennium Development Goals, as it creates a half-effort and obligation towards progression.


From my observations, the intellectual and political shift is still moving towards globalization of human values and globalization of governance. The idea that a global mindset can be adopted at the state level is proof that globalization is still very much prevalent within UN thinking. Globalization that leads to cooperation, commitment, is fairly innocent and well meaning. But the globalization of political and social values, not even among governments but among civil society, international business, and non-profits creates a strange sense of half-obligation. True obligation and effort is born within and taken to the UN, not handed down.


Ki-moon, Ban. “Keeping the promise: a forward-looking review to promote  an agreed action agenda to achieve the Millennium  Development Goals by 2015  .” United Nations General Assembly 64.665 (2010): 1-33. United Nations. Web. 25 Nov. 2010.

United Nations Millennium Declaration. New York, NY: United Nations, 2000. Print.


About Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is a 25 year old remote disaster and humanitarian photographer and media liaison working for an international non-profit. Ryan has a B.S. in Radio/TV/Film and Religion and an M.A. in International Politics.


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