IT IS easy to lose track of the improvements that have occurred over time in the lives of poor people in many developing countries. It is just as easy to overlook the lack of progress in many countries where millions of people remain impoverished, uneducated, and in ill health; gender inequalities persist; and basic human rights are denied. The difficulty of measuring and achieving further progress has given rise to frustration and despair in developing countries and contributed to cynicism and “aid fatigue” in rich countries. And, without a clear track record, it is hard to see which antipoverty efforts have worked best and to learn from our mistakes.
In 1996, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report, Shaping the 21st Century: The Contribution of Development Cooperation, in which it selected seven goals for development drawn from agreements and resolutions of the conferences organized by the United Nations in the first half of the 1990s (see box). In his speech at the 1999 World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings, Michel Camdessus, then IMF Managing Director, proclaimed them “seven pledges for sustainable development.” In their introduction to A Better World for All: Progress towards the international development goals, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, OECD Secretary-General Donald Johnston, IMF Managing Director Horst Köhler, and World Bank Group President James Wolfensohn said, “Our institutions are actively using these development goals as a common framework to guide our policies and programs and to assess our effectiveness.” The goals are included in the recent United Nations Millennium Declaration by Heads of Government.
They have thus gained acceptance as measures of the success or failure of development programs. But how likely are we to achieve them? It is not possible to answer with absolute certainty, but certain trends are beginning to emerge.