The UN's Millennium Development Flop
At the United Nations, America's new ambassador, Samantha Power, reported for duty on Monday. In remarks just before presenting her credentials, Power listed some of the top items on her UN to-do list, including working together "to alleviate global poverty."
Let's hope Power takes a look at a new study of UN development efforts, which the UN has declined to release -- though it was done by one of the UN's own staffers, Howard Steven Friedman, a statistician with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Friedman took a look at the results of the UN's centerpiece development scheme, the UN Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. Launched with great fanfare by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2000, the MDGs were supposed to speed the the world toward an array of specific development targets set by the UN for the year 2015, including reducing disease and hunger, and halving extreme poverty. The UN, on its MDG web site, boasts that these UN targets "have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world's poorest."
But UN-galvanized efforts do not necessarily translate into the promised results. Friedman's bombshell finding is that the Millennium Development Goals have made virtually no difference in the pace of development.
So, small wonder that the UN chose not to release his study -- claiming, among other objections, that Friedman's report does not count because he did it while on sabbatical. U.S. News & World Report has a good rundown of the saga, headlined "United Nations' Millennium Development Goals Did Not Accelerate Progress."
Fortunately, Friedman's study was published independently, and U.S. News & World Report has done us all the favor of providing a link; you can find it here, both the abstract and the full report. Unlike the UN public relations machine, Friedman took the sensible tack of looking not just at the years since the program began, but at the longer-term overall trajectory of the development indicators involved, from 1992-2008 -- starting eight years before the UN kicked off its global MDGs, through the eighth year of the program. He found that "the data show clearly that the activities following the MDG Declaration did not provide an acceleration in most of the development goals."