Setting the seven development goals

The goals for international development address that most compelling of human desires - a world free of poverty and free of the misery that poverty breeds. The goals have been set in quantitative terms, so part of the story is told in words and pictures, but the core of it is in numbers and charts.

The goals come from the agreements and resolutions of the world conferences organised by the United Nations in the first half of the 1990s. These conferences provided an opportunity for the international community to agree on steps needed to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development.

Each of the seven goals addresses an aspect of poverty. They should be viewed together because they are mutually reinforcing. Higher school enrolments, especially for girls, reduce poverty and mortality. Better basic health care increases enrolment and reduces poverty. Many poor people earn their living from the environment. So progress is needed on each of the seven goals.

The goals will not be easy to achieve, but progress in some countries and regions shows what can be done. China reduced its number in poverty from 360 million in 1990 to about 210 million in 1998. Mauritius cut its military budget and invested heavily in health and education. Today all Mauritians have access to sanitation, 98% to safe water, and 97% of births are attended by skilled health staff. And many Latin American countries moved much closer to gender equality in education.

The message: if some countries can make great progress towards reducing poverty in its many forms, others can as well. But conflict is reversing gains in social development in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The spread of HIV/AIDS is impoverishing individuals, families and communities on all continents. And sustained economic growth - that vital component for long-run reductions in poverty - still eludes half the world's countries. For more than 30 of them, real per capita incomes have fallen over the past 35 years. And where there is growth, it needs to be spread more equally.

So, the goals can be met. But it will take hard work. Success will require, above all, stronger voices for the poor, economic stability and growth that favours the poor, basic social services for all, open markets for trade and technology and enough resources for development, used well.

The seven goals:

Reduce by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015. As growth increased globally in the mid-1990s, poverty rates fell rapidly in Asia, but little or not at all in Africa. Income inequality is a barrier to progress in Latin America. 

Enrol all children in primary school by 2015. Although enrolment rates continue to rise, they have not risen fast enough. On current trends, more than 100 million school-age children will not be in school in 2015.

Make progress towards gender equality and empowering women by eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005. Getting more girls through school is essential but not enough. The gender gap may be narrowing, but girls' enrolments remain persistently behind those of boys.

Reduce infant and child mortality rates by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. For every country that cut infant and under-5 child mortality rates fast enough to reach the goal, 10 lagged behind—and another one moved backwards, often because of HIV/AIDS.

Reduce maternal mortality ratios by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015. Skilled care during pregnancy and delivery can do much to avoid many of the half million maternal deaths each year. But the proportion of births attended by skilled personnel rose slowly in the 1990s. 

Provide access for all who need reproductive health services by 2015. Contraceptive use is one indicator of access to reproductive health. With increasing access to reproductive health services, the rate of contraceptive use is rising in all regions.

Implement national  strategies for sustainable developemnt by 2005 so as to reverse the loss of environmental resources by 2015. Despite their commitments at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, fewer than half the world's countries have adopted strategies, and even fewer are implementing them.

The goals in action:

Since the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) published the international development goals in 1996 – in a report called Shaping the 21st Century: the Contribution of Development Co-operation – the commitment to halve world poverty has become the focus of the development policies of the majority of donor organisations. Indeed, many donors measure their performance – and some set their budgets – by the contribution that they make towards achieving this goal. This focus on poverty reduction – long central to UN programmes – is now key to future IMF and World Bank lending to low income countries, which is to be provided in support of locally-owned, participatory poverty reduction strategies, usually in connection with debt relief.

The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) has made the international development goals central to its policies and programmes. In its 1997 White Paper it pledged: “We shall work closely with other governments and organisations to eliminate poverty, and use our influence to encourage others to achieve the international development targets. We shall pursue these partnerships with poorer countries who are also committed to them. We shall measure how effective our efforts are against the internationally agreed targets.” In order to secure additional development financing for 2001 - 2004, DFID has set intermediate targets, by which its results will be judged.

These include:

• Improved education systems in the top ten recipients of DFID education support demonstrated by an average increase in primary school enrolment from a baseline established in 2000 of 75% to 81% on the basis of data available in 2004;

• Improvements in child, maternal and reproductive health in the top ten recipients of DFID health care assistance demonstrated by: a decrease in the average under-5 mortality rate from 132 per 1,000 live births in 1997 to 103 on the basis of data available in 2004; an increase in the proportion of births assisted by skilled attendants from a baseline established in 2000 of 43% to 50% on the basis of data available in 2004.

The World Bank adopted the goals in its Strategic Compact in 1997 and reports annually on progress toward the goals in the World Development Indicators. This year the Bank's annual report and the World Development Report: Attacking Poverty include a section, adapted from A Better World for All, showing an overview of progress as in this Spotlight. The poverty and social goals make up the first tier of the Bank's internal corporate scorecard. They appear in the Comprehensive Development Frameworks and Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRSs) prepared by member countries in a participatory manner. These strategies and frameworks are being produced in close collaboration with the IMF which, in 1999, published the goals on a small card called the “seven pledges of sustainable development". The PRSs are critical for ensuring that debt relief in heavily indebted poor countries is directed to poverty-reducing programmes.

To view graphs, please click here

For more data and charts, read A Better World for All

©OECD Observer No 223, October 2000

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