THE BLOG
01/21/2015 10:36 am ET Updated Mar 23, 2015

Let's Build on Our Success

You can't turn on the news these days without being bombarded by scenes of unimaginable horror and as the images on our screens focus on only the worst parts of humanity, it's difficult to find anything to feel hopeful about. But there is something we can celebrate this year, and it's big.

When the international community came together in 2000, to develop the Millennium Development Goals, we made the biggest promise to its poorest people that we would tackle absolute poverty, child mortality, hunger -- and that promise has now been partially, but substantially, fulfilled. Together, we've succeeded in lifting 600 million people out of poverty, helped 56 million more children go to school, and substantially reduced the gap in primary enrollment between boys and girls. Thanks to the commitments made, the numbers of children under five dying of preventable causes has dropped by nearly half from 12 million in 1990 to 6.3 million today.

So what do those statistics mean in developing economies? In a country like Ethiopia--once the face of Africa's famine in the 1980s, it means that instead of dying from malaria and malnutrition, children are now getting a fair chance at life; they're thriving in their schools and learning to become valuable contributors to their growing economies as doctors, teachers, and entrepreneurs. Ethiopia has successfully leap-frogged over most of its African neighbors to achieve the MDG4 target of reducing child mortality rates by a two-thirds percentage -- a huge achievement. And it's not alone. Bangladesh, Nepal, Malawi have all crossed the goal post and achieved MDG 4 ahead of the 2015 deadline. Peru and Brazil both cut child mortality rates by almost half in 1990s and cut additional 55% of child death rates since 2000. Even in Afghanistan, where war has devastated much of the country's infrastructure, there has been remarkable progress on reducing maternal, neonatal and child health mortalities during last ten years. According to a recent survey, the main concern for Afghanistan's children aged 0-5 years is chronic malnutrition which still stands at a high 40.9%, but which was around 50% few years ago.

While the MDGs are largely a story of success, progress in reducing hunger, for example, has stalled in many regions. 2015 is a very different time from 2000. Aid is less central to development and trade and investment between developing countries has grown. Also, the nature of conflict has changed. As we've seen with the war in Syria and the Ebola crisis, the impact that conflict and natural disasters have on fragile health systems is immense, and is a major block to achieving our shared goal of achieving MDG 4. In Sierra Leone, the chance of a child making it to their fifth birthday was 1 in 6 -- and that was before Ebola.

In fact, the majority of maternal and child deaths are increasingly concentrated in emergency-affected and fragile states but many of these deaths are avoidable. Meeting the health and nutritional needs of mothers, newborns and children is central to finishing the urgent task of achieving MDG4.

What does this stall in progress mean economically? Faster growing countries are more likely to be in track -- on MDGs but the good news about growth can conceal inequalities. Often the poorest of the population doesn't benefit from growth as much as the population as a whole. Children mostly don't directly benefit from increased incomes. Our report Ending Poverty in our Generation found that of 32 developing countries, a child in the richest 10% of households has as much as 35 times the effective available income of a child in the poorest 10% of households.

Take Nigeria, one of the world's fastest growing economies. In 2006 the World Bank estimated that malnutrition could result in a loss of as much as 2-3% of national GDP. Across Africa, a recent report shows that malnutrition can cost as much as 16% of national income, threatening the impressive growth we are seeing on the continent. Currently, the direct cost of child malnutrition is estimated to be between $20 billion and $30 billion a year. If leaders scaled up nutritional interventions by investing just over $9 billion per year this alone would save the lives of 1 million children. With the co-operation of national governments and international partners this is not only possible, but practically achievable.

The MDGs stand out as one of the resonant and unifying political agreements ever achieved. There are 90 million people living today whose lives would have otherwise been cut short. We've proven we can do it -- even in the face of great obstacles and with less than 400 days to go before the MDG deadline we need to redouble our efforts and make good on our promise.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting 2015 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 21-24). Read all the posts in the series here.