Open trade and growing aid help poor countries to record major MDG progress

A child receives treatment: The largest number of reductions in deaths of children under five occurred in regions that had the highest levels of deaths. Photo/AFP
A child receives treatment: The largest number of reductions in deaths of children under five occurred in regions that had the highest levels of deaths. Photo/AFP 

When African leaders meet in Kampala, Uganda, mid next month for the 15th AU Summit, one item is likely to raise its ugly head yet again — the progress on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The status of the MDGs was on the agenda for the G8 and G20 summits at the weekend in Canada, a signal that problems facing poor countries continue to haunt both developing and rich Nations.

Kenyan officials said the achievement of the MDGs, whose deadline is 2015, is a while away, thanks to challenges such as the effects of the global financial crisis, budgetary constraints and cultural hurdles.

The concerns run across the AU membership.

But perhaps a progress report on the MDGs released last week could be good news to the African leaders.


The report by Overseas Development Institute and UN Millennium Campaign reveals that many of the poorest countries, mainly in Africa are making most progress on the MDGs.

“In absolute terms, many of the world’s poorest countries are making the most overall progress towards achieving goals,” says the report.

Experts said open trade and effective and timely aid in driving this success.

For poor countries, political leadership, accountability and adequate budgetary allocations for the Goals are cited as key criteria to drive sustained progress.

Absolute progress measures overall progress countries have made and relative progress measures how close they have come to specific MDG targets. 

Eleven of the 20 countries making the most absolute progress on the MDGs are amongst the poorest countries in Africa; half of African countries are on track to meet the target of halving poverty by 2015.

The analysis also finds that most low and middle income countries are making progress on most of the key MDG indicators.

“This study decisively establishes with hard evidence that much of the negative reporting on progress on the MDGs is misleading,” said Salil Shetty, director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign in a statement.

“Instead of lamenting that Africa might miss the MDG targets, we should be celebrating the real changes that have happened in the lives of millions of poor people, not least because of the unified effort between governments and citizens, supported by donors. The leaders and tax-payers of G-8 countries must now keep their aid commitments, with the confidence that their investment is making a tangible and large scale difference.”

The top 20 countries include Benin, Bangladesh, Mali, Honduras, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Gambia, Ghana, Malawi, China, VietNam, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Rwanda, Nepal, Nicaragua, India, Guatemala, Cambodia and Togo.

Increasing scrutiny

Overseas Development Institute director Alison Evans said: “This study seeks to broaden the debate about MDG progress. The first findings show that progress is taking place, sometimes in unexpected places,” said. “In a world where support for development is under increasing scrutiny, we hope that this work will contribute to a broader appreciation of how we assess progress to date.”

The new analysis contrasts national-level progress in absolute terms, as distinct from progress relative to global MDG targets. 

Progress in absolute terms at the national level gives a fuller picture of the reality on the ground because performance against MDG targets hides significant differences between countries at the starting point (baseline year 1990), as well as differences in performance between countries since the MDGs were adopted in 2000.

Both measures are needed to tell the full story of progress, particularly in low income countries.

The analysis focused on progress on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; reducing child mortality; and improving maternal health.

“The largest number of reductions of deaths of children under the age of five occurred in regions with the highest initial levels of such deaths, such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, ” says the report.

“Even though the Goal of reducing maternal mortality has seen the least progress, access to maternal health services has improved in 80 percent of countries”.

According to the report, countries making the most relative progress tend to be middle income countries, such as Ecuador, China, Thailand, Brazil and Egypt.

The report says progress depends on poor countries having committed leadership over an extended period of time to reducing poverty.

They must make the public sector accountable to citizens and empower local governments and communities.

Furthermore, they must make as a priority investment in human development and budgets for health and education.

The research was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UN Millennium Campaign.

The analysis is based on the MDG database, with the exception of income poverty data for Africa, which are based on the ReSAKSS database.