The World’s Biggest Problems

In 2016, this was the summary of the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. It’s a snapshot in time. The objective here is just to provide a summary of the what humanity, at this point in its evolution, thinks is most important.

Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (3.1) were developed in an attempt to address some of the world’s biggest problems. You decide to maximize your impact in your own community but some you want to know what is going on the big picture and may want to join the effort to work on it. This is a two page summary of the state of many of the world’s biggest problems so it is nothing more than a very brief introduction.

The MDGs consist of eight international development goals that were established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000 and followed the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Declaration. All 189 United Nations member states at the time and at least 23 international organizations committed to help achieve the following Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The goals were:

In order accelerate progress the G8 (world’s eight largest economies) agreed in June 2005 to provide sufficient funds to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) to cancel between $40 and $55 billion in debt owed by members (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) to allow them to redirect resources to programs for improving health and education and for alleviating poverty.


According to the Millennium Development Goals Program, there has been progress across all goals. In fact, some targets have already been met (as at 2014), ahead of the 2015 deadline. They include: 

  • The world has reduced extreme poverty by half. In 1990, almost half of the population in developing regions lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate dropped to 22 per cent by 2010, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty by 700 million.
  • Efforts to fight malaria and tuberculosis showed positive results. Between 2000 and 2012, an estimated 3.3 million deaths from malaria were averted due to the substantial expansion of malaria interventions. About 90 per cent of those averted deaths (3 million) were children under the age of five living in sub-Saharan Africa. Efforts to fight tuberculosis have saved an estimated 22 million lives worldwide since 1995. If the trends continue, the world will reach the MDG targets on malaria and tuberculosis.
  • Access to an improved drinking water source became a reality for 2.3 billion people. The target of halving the proportion of people without access to an improved drinking water source was achieved in 2010, five years ahead of schedule. In 2012, 89 per cent of the world’s population had access to an improved source, up from 76 per cent in 1990. Over 2.3 billion people gained access to an improved source of drinking water between 1990 and 2012.
  • Disparities in primary school enrolment between boys and girls are being eliminated in all developing regions. By 2012, all developing regions had achieved, or were close to achieving, gender parity in primary education.
  • The political participation of women has continued to increase. In January 2014, 46 countries had more than 30 per cent female members of parliament in at least one chamber. More women are now holding some of the so-called “hard” ministerial portfolios—such as Defence, Foreign Affairs and the Environment.
  • Hunger continues to decline but the MDG target may not be reached. The proportion of undernourished people in developing regions has decreased from 24 per cent in 1990–1992 to 14 per cent in 2011–2013. Chronic undernutrition among young children declined, but one in four children is still affected. In 2012, a quarter of all children under the age of five years were estimated to be stunted—having inadequate height for their age. This represents a significant decline since 1990 when 40 per cent of young children were stunted. However, 162 million young children are still suffering from chronic undernutrition.
  • Child mortality has been almost halved. Worldwide, the mortality rate for children under age five dropped almost 50 per cent, from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 48 in 2012. Preventable diseases are the main causes of under-five deaths. 
  • Globally, the maternal mortality ratio dropped by 45 per cent between 1990 and 2013, from 380 to 210 deaths per 100,000 live births. Worldwide, almost 300,000 women died in 2013 from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Maternal death is mostly preventable. 
  • Access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV-infected people has been increasing dramatically, with a total of 9.5 million people in developing regions receiving treatment in 2012. ART has saved 6.6 million lives since 1995. 
  • Between 1990 and 2012, almost 2 billion people gained access to an improved sanitation facility. 
  • 90 per cent of children in developing regions are attending primary school (elementary school). The school enrolment rate in primary education in developing regions increased from 83 per cent to 90 per cent between 2000 and 2012. 

The MDG report states that “The MDGs show that progress is possible, providing the platform for further action. The MDGs brought together governments, the international community, civil society and the private sector to achieve concrete goals for development and poverty eradication. Much has been accomplished through the concerted and focused efforts of all, saving and improving the lives of many people, but the agenda remains unfinished. The analysis presented in this report points to the importance of intensifying efforts to meet all MDG targets.”

Next article in this series: “The Future Of Governments”

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