MDGs require relatively little change

Development Policy17 Jun 2009Stephan Klasen

The MDGs have been a powerful catalyst for action in the international arena to promote development (broadly conceived). Among the strong points are its multidimensionality, its focus on targets that can be monitored, and its strong political legitimacy through the Millennium Summit and the buy-in of the UN System and the multilateral and bilateral development organizations.

The weak points have been that for some targets there is no data so that they are effectively useless (for example, the Maternal Mortality Goal), that some indicators fully contradict each other about the extent of the problem (the two hunger indicators have very little in common and are both beset with serious measurement problems, see Klasen 2008 on this), and that particularly MDG7 and 8 are a grab-bag of different issues that are hard to focus on and monitor coherently. Also, the MDGs always run the danger of being taken too literally, in the sense of looking at the targets, then designing a vertical program to deliver the results, cost it, and motivate for its implementation. If interpreted in this way, they are a step backwards rather than a step forward. In that sense the MAMS (Maquette for MDG Simulation) is a much better approach to thinking about MDG implementation than the reports of the Task Force on the MDGs. I believe it has also been a step back to add more indicators to the MDGs post-2000. Particularly the employment indicators make little sense and are not a useful addition.

When it comes to beyond 2015, I would actually recommend to change relatively little. We will discover that quite a few countries (comprising the majority of the world’s developing country population) will have met many MDG targets and we should celebrate this success. At the same time, we will find out that the majority of countries (although not the majority of people) will have fallen short on some or most MDGs. After 2015, these countries then should become the natural primary focus of attention. Thus I would keep the MDGs as is and just establish in 2015 in which countries we will still need to work on which of the problems and make that a priority for international support.

At the same time, I would suggest to shorten the list and just include 4 MDG targets. I would retain the absolute poverty target, the primary completion target, the under five mortality reduction target, and a water/sanitation access target.

Last point: As with the Millennium Summit in 2000, it would be useful to have a similar event close to 2015 to reaffirm the national and international commitment to address these urgent development challenges in the countries that are far from meeting the MDGs.


Klasen, S. “Poverty, undernutrition, and child mortality: Some inter-regional puzzles and their implications for research and policy.” Journal of Economic Inequality (2008) 6(1):89-115 (2008).