In 2000, a group of representatives from the United Nations met to discuss the progress of worldwide development over the previous decade and sign into agreement the Millennium Development Goals. Their objective was to “galvanize unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest.” The eight goals they set were eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality; reducing childhood mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability and creating a global partnership for development. This plan, though ambitious, has pretty much worked — and it is vital that everyone support the Millennium Development Goals as they enter their next phase.
Since 1990, more than half of the population of people who had once subsisted on less than $1.25 a day have been lifted out of extreme poverty — some one billion people. The maternal mortality rate has been cut in half. The early childhood death rate has been cut in half. Ninety-one percent of children in developing countries now receive a primary education, compared to 83 percent in 2000. The gender gap in primary education enrollment has also narrowed. In fact, in South Asia in 1990, there were 75 girls for every 100 boys in the classroom. Today, there are 103 girls for every 100 boys. The only category without significant improvement is climate change. While the rate of deforestation has decreased slightly, global CO2 emissions have increased by over 50 percent in the last 25 years and continue to rise.
Nevertheless, significant gains have been made in global health and stability. To truly appreciate what the Millennium Development Goals have achieved, one must first understand the scale of these numbers. If we were to count to one million, it would take us nearly 12 days to do so. The number of people who have been lifted out of extreme poverty is not one million, but one billion — roughly 31 years. The magnitude of this accomplishment is astounding.
Yet there is still more work to be done. This past month, members of the U.N. reconvened to pass a new set of goals — the Global Goals for 2030. The first goal on the list is “to end poverty in all its forms everywhere.” Other goals include zero hunger, providing lifelong learning opportunities for all and advancements in sustainable energy. According to the Global Goals website, they need assistance in sharing the goals through conversation, e-mail and debate.
Sharing the goals is of the utmost importance. Social networks are incredibly powerful tools for disseminating information. Often, the content passed along through online channels of communication falls into one of two categories — posts that are provocative and shocking or those that are cute and entertaining. Think, “Thousands Die in Massive Earthquake” or “Outrageously Adorable Kitten Befriends Puppy.”
This column is neither of those two things, and I do not intend to sugarcoat the world. Every day, 16,000 children under the age of five die — the majority from preventable causes. No mother should have to bury her child. Likewise, no child should starve while fast food executives dream up the next Baconator. Of course, this is not to diminish the massive advancements made in agriculture and medicine over the past century, which as scientist Carl Sagan asserted “have saved vastly more lives” than all of those lost to war in human history.
The world can be a good place. We have already made it better for an astonishingly vast amount of people, but we cannot be complacent in the wake of good news, nor should we be discouraged by the tragedies emblazoned in headlines. Instead, we need to continue to make progress and fix the key problems facing humanity.
Someday, I hope that when my children come home from school and ask me, “Dad, what does it mean to live in poverty?” it will no longer be because they inhabit a niche of privilege in an otherwise destitute world. Rather, it will be because they will live in a world where extreme poverty no longer exists. The only way we will get to that point is if we start spreading awareness and making the Global Goals for 2030 a priority.