'We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected.'

So spake the world's leaders as the new millennium dawned, in a special United Nations Declaration in September 2000. Just fine words? Maybe. But, for once, the leaders did not just confine themselves to fine sentences and sentiments, but laid down some yardsticks by which they could be judged.

The eight Millennium Development Goals (see below) are the most ambitious attempt yet to tackle world poverty. They attack it on a wide range of fronts from hunger to ill health, from inequality to environmental degradation. And they are accompanied by 18 specific targets, broken down into 48 indicators, which give a realistic way of keeping score of how the world is doing.

The environment has a goal of its own, but it is also central to all the others. For environmental degradation helps to cause many of the world's most pressing problems including poverty, hunger, declining health, emerging diseases, unsafe drinking water, mass migration from the countryside to cities, and war and civil strife.

So far the record of achievement towards the goals is patchy. Some parts of the world are on track to meet some of them. Other nations, particularly in Africa, are going backwards. Much, much more must be done, if they are to be realized.

But the Millennium Development Goals provide an agenda for our generation, a blueprint for the kind of world we want to inherit. At last we have something clear to aim at and to press our leaders to achieve. And we can measure the progress - or lack of it - that they, and we, make. It remains a scandal, as the third millennium dawns on our beautiful and bountiful planet, that a billion people - one in every six of us - should remain in extreme poverty. We pledge ourselves to do everything we can to end it.

 
   
   
 
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