Addressing hunger, malnutrition and climate change with our eyes open: the future of the Millennium Development Goals

dublin-conference-logo-140x85“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of history’s cliff”. This was a sentence uttered by former vice-president of the US, Al Gore at the recent Hunger Nutrition Climate Justice conference in Dublin in reference to the impact of climate change on global food security, poverty, inequality and resource scarcity. Thinking about this statement, one might think it means we are blindly stumbling towards our inevitable demise but it is not because we are blind to the challenges we face nor to the solutions rather it is our unresponsiveness in addressing them which Al Gore was referring to.

While the former vice-president often delivers a rousing speech around the dangers of climate change, his speech this time was targeted to a broader development agenda. We are not only witnessing extreme levels of hunger, malnutrition and widespread poverty but any progress we have made towards eradicating these injustices will be lost if we ignore climate change. Climate change is expected to lower grain yields and raise crop prices across the developing world, leading to a 20-percent rise in child malnutrition. Already undernutrition contributes to the deaths of 2.6 million children under five each year.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), established as a result of the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, are 8 goals which aim to address a wide range of development issues from hunger and poverty to HIV/AIDS, health and education. The eight goals are around:

  • Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger,
  • Achieving universal primary education,
  • Promoting gender equality and empowering women,
  • Reducing child mortality rates,
  • Improving maternal health,
  • Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases,
  • Ensuring environmental sustainability, and
  • Developing a global partnership for development.

Each goal is divided into specific targets. For example the first goal has three targets:

  • Target 1A: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day
  • Target 1B: Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people
  • Target 1C: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

As we approach the 2015 deadline set for these goals, experts, policymakers and global leaders are looking back to individual county’s success in reaching these goals as well as forward to what a new set of development goals might look like. Progress, in general, has been mixed, with some countries such as Brazil already achieving a number of the goals while others, such as Benin, not on track to meet any. China and India have been particularly successful, the former reducing poverty from 452 million people to 278 million. Over the same period, however, sub-Saharan Africa has reduced poverty by only 1%. Characterising the region as a whole though masks differences between individual countries. Ghana may be the only country who looks likely to reach the goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015 but 14 African countries look likely to reach target 1A and 12 to reach target 1C. This progress, however, is, as Al gore said, at risk if we fail to address wider environmental crises such as climate change. [Read more…]