By Sanjana Sethi
In the wake of the last millennium, the United Nations Millennium Project spearheaded a global concerted pursuit to eradicate poverty. Nations and leading global institutions congregated to commit to a series of quantified and time-bound targets that came to be known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Setting forth an ambitious framework of eight goals with the deadline of 2015, the MDGs sought to target poverty in all its dimensions—income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion—while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability.
Marking a landmark galvanization of efforts, the MDGs, owing to the programs and policies they inspired, helped to lift more than one billion people out of extreme poverty. The results are praiseworthy: in the period between 1990 and 2015 the literacy rate among youths has increased globally from 83% to 91%, the global under-five mortality rate has declined by more than half, and the maternal mortality ratio has declined by 45%. Many more girls are now in school compared to 15 years ago, and ozone-depleting substances have been virtually eliminated.
Yet for all the aforementioned remarkable gains, we are drawing to a close of 2015 and poverty remains an unassailable parasite.
The persisting gaps and uneven progress highlight an essential shortcoming of the one-size-fits-all policy adopted by the outreaching global goals. Countries all over the world stand at varying levels of development, battle disparate historical and internal problems, and confront dissimilar obstacles to development. Yet, the Millennium Project envisioned the same path and timeline for the achievement of the eight goals by all countries. The shortcomings latent in this assumption are accentuated for instance, in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the ratio of women to men in poor households increased from 108 women for every 100 men in 1997 to 117 women for every 100 men in 2012, despite declining poverty rates overall for the region. Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions show similar lags in development. Large gaps still exist between the poorest and richest households, urban and rural areas, men and women. Such regional and internal disparities prevent an all-inclusive advance towards development.
Drawing from the experiences of the MDGs, the United Nations launched a bold new action plan for the forthcoming decade in September 2015, envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals. Borrowing the MDG blueprint, the Sustainable Development Goals transform the prior goals by supplementing them with a novel perspective of environmental protection and conservation. As such, in addition to the foremost objective of eradicating poverty, the comprehensive goals include climate change, conservation of environmental resources, as well as developing a strong and inclusive global economy. Aspiring to ride on the momentum of success initiated by the previous goals, the Sustainable Development Agenda intends to make sustainable development a reality for every person on the planet. However, significant lessons must be learned from prior experience. Global goals must be accompanied by country-specific, time-bound targets, certain lagging regions ought to be given special assistance and expertise to reverse historical obstacles to development, and finally vulnerable groups should be especially integrated in the growth process.
The path towards a more prosperous, sustainable, and equitable world evokes the shared responsibility and unyielding commitment of all its shareholders. Each of us has a stake in creating a world of dignity for all. Let us blur the lines between global and personal goals, embody the change, and become global citizens.