Reaching the Millennium Development Goals in South Asia

Bajpai, Nirupam; Sachs, Jeffrey D.; Volavka, Nicole H.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set the stage for developing countries to reduce extreme poverty and the problems that accompany it, such as hunger, high rates of infant, child and maternal mortality, insufficient disease control, lack of education, illiteracy, gender disparity and environmental degradation. Each goal has a specific target level for progress, such as halving poverty or reducing infant mortality rates by two thirds. All goals are to be reached by 2015, using 1990 as the benchmark year. By setting a time frame and specific levels of reductions for a variety of indicators, progress towards the goals is measurable, if data on indicators is available. Tracking progress is an essential step towards meeting the goals, as problem areas can be identified only through monitoring and evaluation, and interventions and strategies can then be developed to target them. South Asia as a whole seems likely to halve poverty levels by 2015, due in large part to India's progress on this MDG indicator. However, the situation is not as promising in other areas, such as reduction of high rates of infant, under-five and maternal mortality. There are wide inter-country, inter-state and intra-state differences in levels of progress towards the goals throughout South Asia. In a country as large and as populous as India, tackling problems such as high maternal mortality rates at the state and even at the district levels could determine whether India as a whole achieves the MDGs. Over one billion of the roughly 1.37 billion residents of South Asia reside in India, which means that India's achievement of any of the goals brings South Asia as a whole a step closer towards regional goal attainment. For South Asia as whole and for India in particular, public spending must be increased in the areas of health, education, rural infrastructure and agricultural research and development. The Indian government under-invests in all of these areas. Not only must public spending be increased, but spending must be accompanied by reforms. Decentralization would lead to greater control and oversight, conditions necessary for accountability. There are only 11 years remaining to meet the MDGs. It is time for South Asian governments to focus on problem areas related to extreme poverty in the region, such as high rates of infant and maternal mortality, low primary school enrollment and completion rates, poor rural infrastructure and low rates of access to safe drinking water and sanitation, especially in rural areas.

Geographic Areas


More About This Work

Academic Units
Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development
Earth Institute
The Earth Institute at Columbia University
CGSD Working Paper, 17
Published Here
September 28, 2009


This paper is a revised version of the background paper prepared for discussion at the United Nations Millennium Project Task Force 1 meetings in Bangkok on June 24 and 25, 2004.