UN's Millennium Development Goals Chart Worldwide Development Progress

By O'Leary, Mick | Information Today, July/August 2016 | Go to article overview

UN's Millennium Development Goals Chart Worldwide Development Progress


O'Leary, Mick, Information Today


In 2000, the United Nations (UN) announced a far-reaching, 15-year objective for human betterment: the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Aptly named for their inception date, the MDGs were to improve humankind's socioeconomic and environmental conditions, especially in developing countries.

There were eight broad MDGs. The majority dealt with socioeconomic issues such as poverty rates, maternal health, infant mortality, educational participation, gender equality, and health. The others focused on environmental and development infrastructure matters. Each of the MDGs had one or more specific Targets; each Target had one or more Indicators. The 60 Indicators set metrics for assessing progress, such as infant mortality rates or gender ratios in school attendance.

The MDGs and their specific Indicators were ambitious, with standards that, if met, would represent significant, even startling, progress. This was even more the case because the actual development programs were not solely the work of UN agencies or developed countries, but also depended on the work of governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the developing countries themselves.

Measuring the MDGs

The outcomes of the MDGs are presented in the MDG Indicators database (mdgs.un.org). It is produced by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group (IAEG) on MDG Indicators, which is coordinated by the United Nations Statistics Division. The database reports annual progress on MDG Indicators for 237 countries and 14 regions.

One or more Indicators can be selected and correlated with one or more countries or regions. Annual data are displayed from as early as 1990 to the latest available date. Results (and the entire MDG dataset) can be downloaded in Excel, XML, and CSV formats. There is also a basic keyword search (which could be improved with the ability to limit to specific record fields). The MDG data are not of uniform quality or depth. Many series do not extend to 2015. Others are estimated or lacking, because of differing national data-gathering practices, limited resources, or difficult local conditions for accurate data collection.

The outcomes of the MDGs are also presented in Country and Regional Progress Snapshots, which condense results into a one-page summary. The MDG Indicators site includes a collection of full-text reports on annual progress. "The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015" (mdgs.un.org/unsd/ mdg/Resources/Static/Produets/ Progress2015/English2 015.pdf) contains a complete data overview and an analysis of the entire MDG project.

Developing Country Successes

The MDG database shows substantial progress overall in developing countries, representing a quality-of-life improvement for billions of people. Several objectives have been met, including reducing extreme poverty, improving water and sanitation infrastructures, and reducing the ravages of malaria and tuberculosis. Others, such as school enrollment and child and maternal mortality rates, show significant progress. But others are less encouraging, especially among environmental Indicators, for which data on extinction rates, deforestation, and greenhouse gases are troubling.

The MDG Indicators show that progress across countries or regions is not uniform. There are divides between developed and developing countries and within the great diversity of the developing countries. For example, a lot of the data from sub-Saharan Africa give seemingly mixed messages, showing great progress while still falling short of MDGs. There is a positive interpretation to this apparent contradiction: The initial metrics for these areas were so low that, even if the ambitious MDGs were not reached, the lives of many millions of people were nevertheless significantly improved.

And the Developed Countries?

The Developed Countries category includes approximately 4 dozen nations (the total varies from Indicator to Indicator because of differing data availability). …

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