Five years after the Millennium Declaration, many countries have made progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but many more lag behind. Faster progress is needed in reducing maternal and child deaths, boosting primary school enrolments, and removing obstacles to greater numbers of girls going to school, according to the World Bank's latest World Development Indicators (WDI) 2005.
The Bank's annual compendium of economic, social, environmental, business, and technology indicators, the WDI, reports that only 33 countries are on track to reach the 2015 goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds from its 1990 level. Almost 11 million children in developing countries die before the age of five, most from causes that are readily preventable in rich countries. These include acute respiratory infection, diarrhea, measles and malaria, which together account for 48 percent of child deaths in the developing world.
The World View section of the WDI tracks progress on all the MDG indicators. It provides evidence that inequalities within countries -- between rich and poor, urban and rural, and male and female populations -- may be as much a barrier to achieving the MDGs as inequalities between countries. In India, for example, school attendance rates for the richest 20 percent of the population are twice as high as for the poorest. And in Mali, the mortality rate of children from poor, rural families is twice as high as those from rich, urban ones.
Figures gathered by the Bank suggest that four regions-East Asia and the Pacific, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and North Africa-have made substantial progress toward the target of reducing child mortality by two-thirds. The most difficult challenge is faced by Sub-Saharan Africa, where child mortality has fallen only marginally, from 187 deaths per thousand in 1990 to 171 deaths in 2003, the last year for which figures are available. The MDG target for Sub-Saharan Africa is to reduce the under-five mortality rate to 62 deaths per thousand by 2015.
On primary education, 51 countries have already achieved the goal of complete enrolment of eligible children and seven more, mostly in Latin America, are on track, but progress has been slow in parts of Africa and Asia. Worldwide, over 100 million primary-school-age children remain out of school, almost 60 percent of them girls. This situation endures despite overwhelming evidence that teaching children how to read, write, and count, can boost economic growth, arrest the spread of AIDS, and break the cycle of poverty.
South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa lag far behind the "Education for All" goal and, at the present pace, will not reach it by 2015, while the developing countries of Europe and Central Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, will also have to pick up their pace of enrolments to achieve it. Meanwhile, East Asia and the Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean, are expected to reach the target well before 2015.
"Wealthy donor countries need to help developing countries, which are serious about giving all their boys and girls a quality primary school education, with the additional finance and support they will need to boost enrolments, start training extra teachers, build more classrooms, and improve the quality of education," said Jean-Louis Sarbib, the Bank's Senior Vice President for Human Development. "In a world tragically short of magic solutions, primary education remains one of the most dramatic development solutions available. Progress on education-as with many other development challenges-becomes possible when political will and resources come together."
Despite a promise by world leaders to remove the gender barriers preventing more girls going to primary and secondary school by 2005, the WDI's most recent available figures show that, although significant progress has been made, many countries in 2002-2003 were still considerably off-track to reach this target. Evidence shows that higher levels of education for girls and women are consistently associated with higher economic productivity, lower rates of maternal and infant mortality, and lower fertility rates.
Deprivation of extremely poor "an urgent call to action"
Turning to income poverty, the WDI presents data made public last year showing the worldwide drop in the number and proportion of people living in extreme poverty, that is, on less than US$1 a day. Four hundred million people climbed out of extreme poverty between 1981 and 2001, reducing the world's poorest to 1.1 billion people, or 21 percent of the developing world's population, in 2001.
Going beyond the US$1-a-day figures, the WDI reveals that the average daily income of those living on less than a dollar a day rose in those same years from 72 cents to 83 cents. But in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of extremely poor almost doubled from 164 million in 1981 to 313 million in 2001, the average income of those living under US$1 a day also fell, from 64 to 60 cents.
"This level of deprivation should serve as an urgent call to action in this year of Africa," said Francois Bourguignon, the Bank's Senior Vice President for Development Economics and Chief Economist. "Reversing this trend will require higher rates of economic growth, with the benefits of growth reaching the poor."
With rising poverty in Africa comes rising hunger. Undernourishment, which means consuming too little food to maintain normal levels of activity, actually increased in Sub-Saharan Africa between 1992 and 2002.
Africa's lack of progress on the MDGs is largely due to slow growth, complicated by the burdens of disease, famine and armed conflict. By the end of 2003, for example, 15 million children worldwide had lost one or both parents to AIDS, 12 million of them in Africa alone. Similarly, about 85 percent of malaria deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Economic indicators offer hope
While some of the social indicators outlined in the WDI underline the urgency of acting now to reach the MDGs, economic growth in developing countries, which reached 6.6 percent in 2004, offers hope.
Developing-country trade grew by 11.3 percent in 2003, almost double the 6.3 percent growth in global trade, which is measured as the sum of imports plus exports. China's continuing expansion into the global marketplace drove trade in East Asia and the Pacific from 45 percent of GDP in 1990 to 77 percent in 2003. In 2003, China alone made up five percent of world trade and 20 percent of developing country trade. Trade also makes up a significantly larger part of Latin America and the Caribbean's trade, which increased from 23 percent of GDP in 1990 to 42 percent in 2003.
With about 70 percent of the developing world's poor living in rural areas, reducing agricultural protection in the rich countries would help reduce poverty by enabling farmers in developing countries to make income gains from trade. The WDI shows that average tariffs on imports from developing countries declined between 1993 and 2003, yet tariffs on food exported from low-income countries to high-income OECD countries increased. The continued expansion of global trade-which is critical to growth prospects in developing countries-depends, in large part, on further trade liberalization under the WTO's Doha Development Round, in particular through rich countries opening their markets to poor countries' exports.
East Asia's economic indicators combine to sketch a virtuous circle of increasing trade, consumption, savings and investment. There, and in other regions, governments increasingly have adopted policies leading to greater fiscal stability, which has tended to reduce inflation and interest rates. In 2003, for example, 32 countries worldwide had double-digit inflation, down from nearly 50 in 2000.
Statistical capacity-building essential to development
Tracking progress on the MDGs is complicated by the fact that many developing countries-often those facing the biggest MDG challenges-do not have the statistics-gathering capacity to gain an accurate assessment of their economic, social and human development situation. Only one-half of the world's developing countries have adequate data to monitor trends and thereby determine whether or not they are on track to achieve the MDGs.
The World Bank's Data Group is addressing this situation with the Statistical Capacity Building Program (STATCAP), which provides financing to help member countries upgrade their statistical systems. Direct support to countries includes statistical advisory services and resources to upgrade specific statistical activities. The work is undertaken in partnership with the international statistical community including UN agencies, OECD, IMF, the regional development banks, and other donors.
"Building systems to gather and analyze statistics is an essential first step in staying on-track to achieve the MDGs," said Shaida Badiee, Director of the World Bank Data Group. "They provide the road map without which the journey cannot begin, much less end with the success we all want."
(China.org.cn April 18, 2005)