In 2000, nations of the world got together at the United Nations and set eight ambitious development targets called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to address poverty, gender inequality, and illiteracy through their collective action, to be achieved within 15 years.
The target year has come and it is time to see how successful the countries have been in addressing these issues.
The Millennium Development Report, the progress card of these collective actions, was published in India on Tuesday.
The number of people living in extreme poverty – the UN defines it as living on less than $1.25 a day – has fallen from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million this year. This means 15 years ago about five in 10 people (47%) in the world were poor, but today the number stands at about one in 10 (14%).
The number of children going to school has gone up and is an impressing 91% in developing countries. In South Asia, there are more girls in primary schools than boys, a great example of achieving gender parity in education.
The death of children below the age of five worldwide has come down to half, from 12.7 million (9 in 100) in 1990 to 6 million (about 4 in 100) in 2015. The death of mothers during pregnancy has declined by 45% during the same period. Only one in seven children worldwide is underweight, down from one in four in 1990.
Moreover, today 91% of the world population has access to piped drinking water, compared to 79% in 1990, a change of 1.9 billion people in numbers.
In a sign of increased cooperation, the developed countries have been assisting the poorer countries more. There has been a 66% increase in financial assistance for development, from $81 billion in 2000 to $135 billion in 2014.
"Important lesson from the whole MDG initiative is that what gets monitored and measured gets achieved," says Dr Nagesh Kumar, head of UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) South and South-West Asia.
This was about the good part of the report. There is a lot to be done to completely achieve these ambitious targets.
Though the target under the MDG was to eradicate poverty and hunger, we have not been able to do so. There are many pockets in the world where extreme poverty and hunger still prevails: about 825 million still live in extreme poverty and 800 million still stay hungry.
Though employments were generated and incomes increased all over the world, the UN report says almost half of the world's employed people work in vulnerable conditions.
Even primary education has not reached many parts of the world. There is much to be desired on child and maternal health status across the world. Given the extent of climate change, environment and sustainability are other major concerns that the world now has.
The countries are about to set new targets during a conference in September this year and they will be called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There will be 17 goals and 169 targets, much more than the eight goals and 21 targets set in 2000.
Bibek Debroy, economist and member of Niti Aayog, feels these are too many goals and targets and is not simple enough to measure, and work on.
"If this is happening I do not think the SDGs will have the virtue of MDGs," he says.