UNITED NATIONS — On Sept. 14, over 170 heads of state will descend on UN headquarters in New York for history’s largest gathering of world leaders, a three-day World Summit. High on the agenda will be how to reach the “Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs).

The eight MDGs, adopted by 189 countries at the UN’s Millennium Conference in September 2000, aim to meet basic needs of the world’s population.

Salil Shetty, director of the UN Millennium Campaign, told the World, “[The MDGs] are the most basic needs faced by the majority of the world’s population. If you go to a village and ask people what their real needs and priorities are, you’ll get pretty much the same eight things. People want to stop struggling against disease, hunger, illiteracy.”

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said adopting the goals “constituted an unprecedented promise by world leaders to address, as a single package, peace, security, development, human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

However, he warned, “In many ways, the task this year will be much tougher than it was in 2000. Instead of setting targets, the leaders must decide how to achieve them.”

The first seven goals are specific targets:

1. Cut in half the number of people living on less than $1 a day and halve the number of the world’s hungry.

2. Allow all children access to primary education.

3. Address gender equality, specifically equality for women in education.

4. Cut by two-thirds the mortality rate of children under 5 years old.

5. Cut by three-quarters the number of women who die giving birth.

6. Halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other deadly diseases.

7. Link people’s well-being to environmental sustainability.

On these first seven goals, uneven progress has been made, observers say. The first goal, in regard to reducing the number of people living on less than a dollar per day, appears to be on track. However, Shetty says that the aggregate masks an important fact: China’s successes in pulling millions of people out of poverty, and to an extent India’s economic development, have skewed the averages.

While the world is doing “OK” on some MDGs, it is doing badly on others, Shetty said. “On the whole, there’s no way we’re going to get to them by 2015 unless we really ratchet up the pace at which we are implementing them.”

Goal 8 says all the world’s countries have to work together to bring about development for human needs and suggests that the poor countries have to put their houses in order, while the rich have to help make sure they are financially able to do so.

“It boils down to the extent to which these countries have the political will to achieve the goals,” Shetty said. “Even in the poorest parts of Africa, some have achieved these goals or are well on track.”

But according to the Millennium Campaign, “for poor countries to achieve the first seven goals, it is absolutely critical that rich countries deliver on their end of the bargain with more and more effective aid, more sustainable debt relief and fairer trade rules, well in advance of 2015.”

“The rich countries have committed for a long time that 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income will be contributed toward development,” Shetty said.

“The richest countries, oddly enough, are the poorest contributors,” he added.

Currently, the U.S. gives about 0.16 percent of its GNI. The average among industrial nations is 0.25 percent. By contrast, some Nordic states and the Dutch give around 1 percent of their GNI.

dmargolis @ pww.org