Global Development: A Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

Sep 16, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

In Accra, Ghana, an abundance of locally produced fruits, roots, and vegetables for sale speaks to a remarkable achievement: Ghana reduced hunger by nearly 75 percent between 1990 and 2004. This is an astonishing improvement mirrored in the reduction of the extreme poverty rate, which fell from 51 percent to 30 percent over the same period.

And while Ghana is one of the best performers when it comes to achieving the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) -- it's on track to meet MDG 1 of halving poverty and hunger by 2015 -- it is not alone in its progress. As the world reflects on the tenth anniversary of the MDGs -- eight time bound, measurable goals from halving hunger and poverty to ensuring universal primary school enrollment adopted by every member of the United Nations in 2000 -- we can see countries all over the world and across every goal that have made remarkable progress. At a headline level, a remarkable 1.3 billion people have been lifted out of poverty over the past two decades.

While much of the success has taken place in China and India, new data and analysis in two reports by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), one of Britain's leading independent development think-tanks, shows clearly how even some of the world's poorest countries are making dramatic progress across nearly every goal.

The first report offers a goal-by-goal and country-by-country assessment of progress toward the MDGs. The second profiles the achievements of six countries across multiple dimensions of development (another 18 case studies will be available in the coming months). Both pieces of research are available at (The report card was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UN Millennium Campaign; the case studies were funded by the foundation.)

Next week at the United Nations MDG Summit , we are likely to hear a lot of conflicting assessments; some bemoaning how far behind we are on the goals, and how commitments from rich countries have lagged their promises, and others celebrating the very real successes that have been achieved. As the evidence in these reports makes clear, the reality is that the MDGs have galvanized and focused the efforts of the global development community as never before. Rather than a cause for complacency, what we have is an urgent call to action. Because even as we know success is possible with the right interventions, policies and partnerships, we also know that overall the world is off-track to meeting the targets with only five years to the 2015 deadline. But the good news highlighted by these reports is that we know what we need to do to finish strong.