The First UN Millennium Development Goal: A Cause for Celebration?


The first and most prominent UN Millennium Development Goal has been widely
celebrated. Yet, four reflections should give us pause. Though retaining the idea of "halving extreme
poverty by 2015," MDG-1 in fact sets a much less ambitious target than had been agreed to at the
1996 World Food Summit in Rome: that the number of poor should be reduced by 19 (rather than
50) percent, from 1094 to 883.5 million. Tracking the $1/day poverty headcount, the World Bank
uses a method that is internally unreliable and may paint far too rosy a picture of the evolution of
extreme poverty. Shrinking the problem of extreme poverty, which now causes some 18 million
deaths annually, by 19 percent over 15 years is grotesquely underambitious in view of resources
available and the magnitude of the catastrophe. Finally, this go-slow approach is rendered even
more appalling by the contributions made to the persistence of severe poverty by the affluent
countries and the global economic order they impose. An apparently generous gesture toward the
global poor helps conceal these contributions.