Millennium Development Goals' performance indicators paint a distorted picture of progress

21 September 2010
Luxury hotels and offices rise behind slum housing in centre of Malaysia. Mark Henley/Panos

21 September 2010

A new report launched in New York by IDS and the MDG Achievement Fund on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) argues that despite gains made by world leaders in delivering their promises to tackle global poverty, the measurements used to calculate countries' performances are disguising evidence of uneven achievement.

The report also says that without promoting equity and tackling the root causes of social exclusion, the goals betray the promise of social justice contained in the Millennium Declaration.

The report's author Professor Naila Kabeer said: "One of the problems of the Millennium Development Goals is that they don't contain any hint of the social justice agenda. They talk about extreme poverty and trying to address the 20 per cent of the poorest people, but there's no other sense in which the eight goals hold countries to account for addressing inequalities amongst their own.

"World leaders need to embed the goal's delivery system within a much more democratic and inclusive process. We need to move away from the idea that the goals are a technical fix and go back to the idea that they are about bringing about processes of change in people's wellbeing and their ability to control their lives."

In every country in every region, people are being excluded from the opportunity to play an active role in social and economic development on the mere basis of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender and, often, location. Despite the evidence that many countries have made good progress on the goals, the report's review of the data reveals huge disparities between different social groups. For example:

  • In Latin America the poorest earn only 3 per cent of the total regional income. A poor indigenous woman aged 17-22 in Guatemala has 1.2 years of education compared with a national average of almost six years. In Colombia it is 3.9 as opposed to 8.1 for the national average.
  • Despite Asia appearing to be on track at an aggregate level, disparities are in fact widening. In Nepal, the overall decline in poverty between 1995 and 2003 varied from 46 per cent for the upper caste Brahman/Chhetri groups, to 10 per cent for Janajatis living in the hills and 6 per cent for Muslims. In Vietnam, about 45 per cent of ethnic minorities have not completed any education as compared with 22 per cent for Kinh/Chinese.
  • In Africa, the stories of inequality continue. In antenatal care in Nigeria, only 4 per cent of women in the north east received care from a doctor compared with 52 per cent of women in the south west, while only 8.4 per cent of mothers in the north west delivered in a health facility compared with 73.9 per cent in the south east. In South Africa, infant mortality risk is four times higher among black African children than white children.