My World in 2015 – the end of the MDGs as a chance for future-development?

By Jana Echterhoff

Whether it is the eradication of extreme hunger and poverty, the promotion of universal primary education or the development of global partnership for development – the topics which the Millennium Development Goals from 2000 sought to address seem incredibly striking. Eight of them were conducted in that year in order to improve living standards in developing countries. The final year for the implementation of the set goals? The current one – 2015. The success-rates for fulfilling those goals? Rather limited, as last it was pointed out in last week’s lecture on the MDGs by Martina Kühner.

How is that possible though? Once they were set up, the emphasis was put on “only” eight goals in particular, because it seemed so difficult for the UN to establish more actually achievable goals. The emphasis was, thus, put on the following agenda as this picture shows.


There are several striking factors about these eight goals, as it was pointed out in last week’s lecture. The first one is, as the audience agreed upon, that there are quite a lot of goals missing. The argument that a higher number and more ambitious aims could not be fulfilled seemed convincing, however. The expectations on in how far the world-community managed to step towards a complete achievement were comparably high. If there are not that many subjects to deal with, those subjects deserve a sufficient and thorough implementation!

When the UN decided upon the 2000 MDGs, they set some benchmarks – limits and numbers that were supposed to be reached. Some are self-speaking such as universal primary education or global partnership on development. Others deserve some explanation. For the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the goal was, for instance, to halve the population of people living of an average below $1 per day. Moreover, child mortality was supposed to be reduced by two thirds.

Last Tuesday, Martina Kühner analysed which of these goals were actually achieved. Officially, it looks a bit like a semi-success-story. With 90%, almost every child enjoys primary education nowadays. Moreover, halving the amount of people living of an average below $1 per day was achieved as well as global partnership. What looks amazing in the first place requires a closer look. As the lecturer pointed out, an analysis of how it works behind the scenes is essential here. Yes, the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger was officially reached.

The question is, how this took place. First of all, the UN changed the initial indicators of the year 2000 in between, since they already figured out that they could not achieve it within the old framework. That is pretty disillusioning already, since they simply made it easier for themselves. Moreover, this eradication was implemented with setting up huge plantations, centrally established. The Millennium Development Goals are, however, actually meant to work in the long-run. Sustainability was part of the eight goals for a reason. How can plantations that ruin local business be sustainable though? Concerning universal primary education, a number of 90% is impressive. Still – the question of access does not automatically respond to the question of quality. And even if that is something for future-development, the other side of the coin is the high drop-out rate after finishing primary education. Doubts, thus, inevitably come up when it comes to the analysis how successful the achievement of the MDGs is.


That it would be difficult to achieve a set of highly intertwined and deeply rooted problems was apparent from the beginning on. Martina Kühner then asked the audience to bring up the main problems that contributed to this “almost failure” of the MDGs, which it, according to quite a broad consensus of the people, certainly is. Without any prioritisation regarding the importance, hence a list of some ideas from the audience is presented.

  1.  First, those agreements were not binding and no measurements on how to implement them were introduced.  This is problematic, since most of the countries concerned do not have a government that could sufficiently address these issues on their own.
  2. Second, there was the financial crisis in 2008 that led to a focus-shift. The developed, industrial countries that were supposed to help the developing ones did not do so – simply because they were busy with their own problems. Still – that a country like Germany did not give the required amount of 0.8% of their national income to the fund concerned with the MDG-implementation but 0.38% instead seems like there is no real excuse for it.
  3. Third, the set of goals themselves was too broad and already pretty ambitious. From this perspective, the things that were achieved are a success already. Nonetheless, questions as of why they would set up goals that are not focussed enough and way too ambitious does not seem reasonable.
  4. Fourth, the problems behind the MDGs were tackled from a top-down rather than a bottom-up approach. The heads of state and government sat down and decided upon the MDGs. The heads of state and government/NGOs decided to build plantations to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty. The heads of state and government decided to build more schools. What about the population, however? What about deeply rooted problems such as crusted, traditional ways of thinking according to which girls are simply not supposed to go to school? Even if the people are forced to change things from top, the general outcome won’t be successful in the long-run, since the roots of the problems are not tackled.

This very small collection of arguments as of why the MDGs failed leads towards the next, final question: how can these problems be improved in the future? At the end of this year, it is likely that new goals will be set up. What to learn from the mistakes made in the past? The Sustainable Development Goals – first brought up in 2012 during the Rio 20+ conference and then finalised in 2014 – shall serve as a basis for a new set of Development Goals this year.

They, first of all, contain 17 instead of only eight goals. They, second, also apply to developed countries so that those have an incentive to actually work on a draft that seems achievable and applicable from a wider perspective. Finally, amongst many other ideas, the UN decided to start campaigning and asking people for their opinion on what should be included. The My World 2015 survey gives everyone the opportunity to set an agenda of six main-goals that should be prioritised. The degree to which the UN will take that into account is not clear. Nonetheless, the hopes that this year will see a major push towards global cooperation to achieve efficient development are certainly present. Let’s see where 2015 leads us to!


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