World Summit: A progress report

Posted: July 2012

Rio+20. the latest, inconclusive, Earth Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Brazil in June 2012, followed the first jamboree in Rio in 1992 and the less productive affair in Johannesburg 10 years later -- judged by the UN itself to have had only ‘mixed results’. In between came the 2008 report on the UN Millennium Development Goals, first agreed in 2000, which showed that there is still a very long way to go.

Malnourished child Africa
 
The proportion of children under five who are undernourished declined from 33 per cent in 1990 to 26 per cent in 2006. However, by 2006, the number of children in developing countries who were underweight still exceeded 140 million. And the global situation will be exacerbated by higher food prices. Photo © UNICEF/HQ05-1148/Kent

The Commission focused on three of the world's most pressing problems: water, sanitation and human settlements. The goals in these areas include halving by 2015 the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and significantly improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

Progress report

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals Report 2008 records progress on some of the targets on sustainable development which are integral to the goals.

Goal 7 is: Ensure environmental sustainability. Two of the targets under this goal are to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation, and to achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020.

Water on track

On the water target, the report says that water use has grown at more than twice the rate of the population for the past century.

  • Although there is not yet a global water shortage, about 2.8 billion people, representing more than 40 per cent of the world's population, live in river basins with some form of water scarcity.
  • More than 1.2 billion of them live under conditions of physical water scarcity, which occurs when more than 75 per cent of the river flows are withdrawn. Northern Africa and Western Asia are seriously compromised, as are some regions within large countries such as China and India. Symptoms include environmental degradation and competition for water.
  • Another 1.6 billion people live in areas of economic water scarcity, where human, institutional and financial capital limit access to water, even though water in nature is available locally to meet human demands. These conditions are prevalent in much of Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Symptoms include lack of or underdeveloped water infrastructure, high vulnerability to short- and long-term drought, and difficult access to reliable water supplies, especially for rural people.
Children playing in dirty water © TVE
Children playing in dirty water © TVE
6000 Children die every day from waterborne diseases © TVE
  • Since 1990, 1.6 billion people have gained access to safe water. At this rate, the world is expected to meet the drinking water target, which would require that 89 per cent of the population of developing regions use improved sources of drinking water by 2015. Still, nearly one billion people today lack safe sources of drinking water.
  • Progress has been most pronounced in Eastern Asia, where over 400 million people have gained access to improved drinking water sources and coverage has grown by 20 per cent since 1990.
  • Less progress has taken place in sub-Saharan Africa, which now accounts for more than a third of those without improved drinking water supplies and requires a jumpstart to meet the target.
  • In 2006, an improved drinking water source was available to 96 per cent of the urban population in developing regions, but only 78 per cent of rural inhabitants.
  • Some 742 million rural people lived without access to improved drinking water, compared to 137 million urban residents. The same disparity applies to piped drinking water, with only 30 per cent of piped drinking water connections in rural households. Women shoulder the largest burden in collecting water.

Sanitation - redoubling of effort needed

On sanitation the MDG report says more people are using improved sanitation facilities, but meeting the target will require a redoubling of efforts.

  • Almost a quarter of the developing world's population live without any form of sanitation.
  • An additional 15 per cent use sanitation facilities that do not ensure hygienic separation of human waste from human contact.
  • Open defecation jeopardizes an entire community, not just those who practise it, because of an increased risk of diarrhoeal diseases, cholera, worm infestations, hepatitis and related diseases. While open defecation is declining in all regions, it continues to be practised by almost half the population in Southern Asia and more than a quarter of those living in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 1.2 billion people worldwide who practise open defecation, more than one billion live in rural areas.
  • Since 1990, the number of people in developing regions using improved sanitation facilities has increased by 1.1 billion, with significant improvements in South-Eastern and Eastern Asia.
  • Nevertheless, in order to meet the target, the number of people using improved sanitation facilities must increase by about 1.6 billion in the next seven years, substantially more than the growth achieved since 1990.
  • Some 2.5 billion people remain without improved sanitation - more than one billion in Asia and another half billion in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In 2006, there were 54 countries where less than half the population used an improved sanitation facility; three quarters of those countries were in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Roughly half the world's population now live in rural areas. Nevertheless, rural dwellers represent more than 70 per cent of the people without improved sanitation. In urban areas, improvements in sanitation have failed to keep pace with population growth.
  • In 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, only 16 per cent of the poorest quintile of the population have access to improved sanitation, compared to 79 per cent of the population in the richest quintile.
Cellphone usage in Africa is rapidly growing
Cellphone usage in Africa is rapidly growing
Cellphone usage in Africa is rapidly growing. Mobile networks require less infrastructure than land lines.

Improving the lives of slum dwellers

The MDG report says that lack of improved sanitation and water facilities are two of the four defining characteristics of urban slums. The others are durable housing and sufficient living area.

  • In 2005, slightly more than one third of the urban population in developing regions lived in slum conditions; in sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion was over 60 per cent.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, half of the slum households suffered from two or more shelter deprivations, lacking a combination of access to improved water, improved sanitation, durable housing or sufficient living area. In this region, improvement in the lives of slum dwellers will require large investments.
  • In many countries in Northern Africa, Asia and Latin America, the vast majority of slum households suffer from only one shelter deprivation. Northern Africa not only has the lowest slum concentration, but nine out of 10 slum households lack only improved sanitation or sufficient living area.
  • The homes of nearly three quarters of slum households in Asia also have only one slum characteristic, usually either insufficient living area or nondurable housing. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, there are slum households that lack just one service, often improved sanitation.
  • Simple, low-cost interventions to correct these specific deficiencies would go a long way towards improving the lives of many slums dwellers.

Partnership

MDG 8 is: "Develop a global partnership for development". The report says: Development aid falls for the second year, jeopardizing commitments for 2010.

  • At current exchange rates, official development assistance (ODA) continued to drop from an all time high of $107.1 billion in 2005, to $104.4 billion in 2006 and $103.7 billion in 2007. This is mainly the result of a decline in debt relief grants. Adjusting for changes in prices and exchange rates, aid disbursements fell by 8.4 per cent in 2007 compared to 2006. Excluding debt relief grants, net aid rose by 2.4 per cent in constant dollars.
  • At the 2005 United Nations World Summit and related meetings, developed countries pledged to increase aid from $80 billion in 2004 to $130 billion in 2010 at 2004 prices. While the majority of these commitments remain in force, a few countries have announced new targets - some involving increased aid flows and others suggesting reductions.
  • With debt relief grants unlikely to return to 2005 or 2006 levels, bilateral aid and contributions to multilateral development institutions will need to increase rapidly over the next three years if developed countries are to meet their commitments for 2010. Even a sudden escalation of aid flows will not compensate for the failure to provide the continuous and predictable build-up in official development assistance that was implicit in their 2005 commitments.
  • Non-governmental organizations, the private sector and a number of developing countries are becoming increasingly significant sources of development assistance. Special purpose funds - such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria - have become important channels for some of these resources.
  • One of the targets under this goal is: Address the special needs of landlocked developing countries and small island developing States. The report says: The least developed countries (LDCs) receive about a third of all aid. Since 2000, official development assistance to these countries has grown faster than developed countries' gross national income, but still misses the target of 0.15-0.20 per cent of GNI by 2010 included in the Brussels Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries.