Seattle U.N. association looks at development goals, obstacles

The United Nations Association of Greater Seattle will discuss progress on the Millennium Development Goals as it honors Bill Gates Sr. on Sunday (Oct. 24).

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Bill Gates, Sr.

The United Nations Association of Greater Seattle will discuss progress on the Millennium Development Goals as it honors Bill Gates Sr. on Sunday (Oct. 24).

A decade ago in September 2000, 189 world leaders met at the United Nations and endorsed the Millennium Development Goals, an ambitious roadmap aimed at reducing poverty, advancing global health and environmental sustainability.

The realities they faced were stark: 1.2 billion people in the world are hungry, 70 percent of whom are women and girls; two-thirds of those living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa; and 1.2 billion people, the vast majority of them in rural areas, lack access to basic sanitation.

Other statistics were equally dire.  Every year, 536,000 women and girls die as a result of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Ninety-nine percent of them occur in developing countries. Millions of children start school but eventually drop out without having acquired the most basic literacy skills.

The 2000 Millennium Declaration outlined eight goals to be achieved by 2015: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV and AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.

Ten years later, a 2010 report by the United Nations Development Program notes that while substantial progress has been made reducing poverty, many more challenges remain.

 The UNDP report’s conclusions are sobering.  Poverty in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa is on the rise.  Countries that made significant reduction in income poverty are not making equivalent progress in gender equality and environmental sustainability.  Maternal and child mortality continues to be a daunting challenge because progress on HIV reduction remains stalled.  Still, experts see hopeful signs.

Frank Jones, president of the United Nations Association of Greater Seattle, said “Despite the 2008-2009 economic downturn, the developing world remains on track to achieve the poverty reduction target with the expectation that approximately 920 million people will still be in poverty, one half the number in 1990."

Jones noted, “The UNDP report does cite evidence on progress on reaching the eight goals.”  Recent examples include: major advances in the poorest countries such as sub-Saharan Africa; improvements in malaria and HIV control; increased numbers of people receiving anti-retroviral therapy; and increased funding to control malaria.

Even this rosy picture cannot obscure the inevitable roadblocks ahead, however.  “There are old and new challenges to the world that threaten any progress,” Jones said.  “Included in the mix are the impacts of climate change, natural disasters that cause the most damage to the poorest countries.  These conditions are exacerbated by armed conflicts.”

 “In 2005, 1.4 billion people lived in poverty, and with the effects of the economic crisis hitting world economies, there is the likely persistence that poverty rates will remain high all the way to 2020,” he said. "Despite progress in places like Bangladesh, Nepal and The Gambia, gender equality and empowerment remains sluggish worldwide."

The UNDP report notes that progress on achieving the Millennium Development Goals has been threatened by high food prices combined with the international financial crisis.  Sustained poverty and hunger reduction are undermined by global climate change, which directly affects agricultural production. "And rapid urbanization is putting pressure on social services," the report continues.

In terms of maternal health, the gap between rich and poor countries is most conspicuous, Jones said.  "Almost all births in developed countries have skilled health personnel while in developing countress less than half of the women have such care.  The lack of education is a major obstacle to accessing the tools to improve lives."

The UN Association of Greater Seattle will provide a fresh assessment of progress made on the Millennium Development Goals at an event marking the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations on on Sunday (Oct. 24).

 The keynote speakers at the United Nations Day event, “The United Nations Millennium Development Goals: Engaging America” are Dr. Stephen Gloyd, University of Washington Professor of Global Health and executive director of the Seattle-based Health Alliance International; and Tim Hanstad, president and CEO of the Rural Development Institute.

 The UN Association also will confer its 2010 Humanitarian Award on William H. Gates, Sr.  The program will be held at Bloedel Hall, St. Mark’s Cathedral and begin at 5:30 pm.  Tickets can be purchased online at:, or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

This article originally appeared on the Seattle PostGlobe web site and is reprinted with permission. Disclosure: Crosscut receives funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Collin Tong

Collin Tong

Collin Tong is a correspondent for Crosscut and University Outlook magazine. He served as guest lecturer at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. His new book, "Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s," will be published in January 2014.