Unexpected Obstacles to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals

09/20/2010 09:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This week the UN opened its summit on achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. This summit has convened at a time when the world is emerging from one of the worst financial crises since the Great Depression, facing the harsh consequences of multiple natural disasters, and grappling with how to secure sustainable development in post-conflict states. Looking to 2015 and beyond, the sustainability of progress increasingly depends on meeting unexpected obstacles such as natural disasters, environmental setbacks, climate change, and global economic crises.

Available data and estimates suggest that the goal of reducing the number of people living in absolute poverty by half will be met. However, achieving other MDGs -- related to health, education, environment and gender parity -- is not looking as promising. A good part of the progress made in the MDGs has been based mainly on the achievements of the middle-income countries in East Asia, especially China, where rapid economic growth has brought a large number of people out of poverty.

Recent natural disasters in Haiti and Pakistan have shown that the intensity and detrimental impact of these events are increasing, leaving many countries devastated. Although around fifty countries face recurrent earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and droughts, governments and external agencies do not recognize these risks and are failing to build in-disaster response and mitigation measures in their pre-disaster plans.

Developing countries are also among the most vulnerable to climate change, just by virtue of their geography. This vulnerability is further exacerbated by the growing threats to biodiversity, forests and water. In order to ensure that developing countries can adequately respond to climate change -- and have a say in the global discussion -- advanced economies should share the burden of financing the participation of the developing world.

Additionally, the global financial and economic crisis of the last two years has rolled back years of progress that now threaten the goals of poverty reduction and human development. Although it may not be possible to prevent global crises, countries can take actions to prepare for them. Countries need to have credible macroeconomic policies and effective social safety nets to protect vulnerable populations. It is also important to secure effective support to sectors susceptible to such crises using multi-sector approaches.

Vinod Thomas, Director-General and Senior Vice-President, Independent Evaluation Group

To read IEG's paper on Priorities in Meeting the MDGs: Lessons from Evaluation, please click here.