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India achievements towards the Millennium Development Goals

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Context - India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and a country of 1.2 billion people, where the problems identified in the MDGs were of critical importance for development.

How did India fare in meeting the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals?

This is a faithful summary of the leading report produced in 2015 by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP): " India and the MDGs: Towards a sustainable future for all" 

  • Source document:UNESCAP (2015)
  • Summary & Details: GreenFacts
Latest update: 12 April 2016


This report looks at the progress towards the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in India, a country of 1.2 billion people where many of the problems identified in the MDGs were of critical importance for development. The previous MDGs reached their deadline in 2015, when a new set of transformative and universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been adopted by world leaders, as a part of the Post–2015 Development Agenda at the United Nations General Assembly.

What are the Millennium Development goals?

The MDGs are a United Nations initiative that was adopted after the 2000 Millennium Summit. These represent a core people-oriented development agenda. They mapped out a plan to tackle, by 2015, many of the important issues facing the world. They are as follows:

  • Goal 1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Goal 2 Achieve universal primary education
  • Goal 3 Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Goal 4 Reduce child mortality
  • Goal 5 Improve maternal health
  • Goal 6 Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  • Goal 7 Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Goal 8 Develop a global partnership for development

How did India do in reaching the 2015 objectives of the MDGs?

India has made notable progress towards reaching the MDGs, but achievement across the goals varies and helping the weaker states emulate the good performers can improve performance. More specifically:

  • India has achieved the target for reducing poverty by half (Goal 1).
  • Gender parity has been achieved in primary school enrolment (Goal 3) and was close to being achieved in secondary and tertiary education by end 2015.
  • Hunger has been reduced by half (Goal 1);
  • Maternal mortality has been reduced by three quarters (Goal 5);
  • the spread of deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis is being controlled (Goal 6);
  • Forest cover has increased, although there was a shift towards production of timber from a more multi-product approach (Goal 7).
  • The proportion of population without access to clean drinking water has been halved, but there are still big challenges on sanitation.
  • India’s progress in controlling greenhouse gas emissions can be considered satisfactory in terms of carbon intensity of GDP, but not in terms of CO2 emissions per person.

But India is lagging behind for :

  • achieving by 2015 universal primary school enrolment and completion, and achieving universal youth literacy (Goal 2);
  • empowering women through wage employment and political participation (Goal 3);
  • reducing child and infant mortality (Goal 4);
  • improving access to adequate sanitation to eliminate the massive open defecation problem (Goal 7).

India also faces major infrastructure gaps: one third of Indian households do not have access to electricity, and close to 70% lack clean and affordable energy for cooking. However, the MDGs did not focus much on access to sustainable energy and other basic infrastructure although infrastructure is a key “driver” of the MDGs and other development outcomes. This omission has now been rectified in the so-called Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), which propose to end poverty and deprivation in all forms, while making development economically, socially and environmentally sustainable spur progress towards completing the MDGs.

What were the main drivers in India to reach the 2015 MDGs targets?

Indian States that performed better on the MDGs focused on the following “drivers”:

  • Accelerated broad-based and employment creating economic growth. This is because these are closely related to MDGs performance due to indirect impacts on governments’ expanding revenues, and direct impacts on increased incomes for poor households to invest in nutrition, health and education.
  • More spending on health and education in per capita terms, which have made their human development surpass other states;
  • Promoted good governance and effective delivery of public services;
  • Extended basic infrastructure networks (roads, transport, electricity);
  • Promoted gender equality and empowerment of women by reducing fertility, population growth, and child mortality;
  • Improved nutrition, hygiene and health of households, children’s performance in schools, allocation of household resources, and economic growth in general.

Recognizing their critical role, some of these overall “drivers” of MDGs performance, such as inclusive growth, employment creation and infrastructure, have been explicitly incorporated in the 2015 SDGs.

What are among the main challenges for India in the future?

Sixty-eight years after it gained independence, India is still engaged in a struggle for freedom from many deprivations: poverty, hunger, illiteracy, ill health, disease, and many others which the MDGs sought to overcome, but many remain unfulfilled.

India’s achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals will require a focus on the acceleration of inclusive economic growth; guaranteed access to comprehensive social services; vast investment in basic infrastructure and women’s empowerment. On top of this, the formulation and implementation of effective and responsive development policies and programs are essential to fulfil development for all.

India will face major environmental challenges due to rapid urbanization. Air pollution in Indian cities with pollutants far exceeding norms is increasing. Cities also face other environment related problems such as excessive congestion, unhygienic conditions, poor waste disposal, and lack of green spaces for recreation. The pollution of its inland rivers and waters; depleting fresh water sources through melting of Himalayan glaciers and depleting groundwater; land degradation estimated at 20% of land area, and damage to coastal and marine ecosystems with loss of 34% of mangroves between 1950 and 2000, are other India’s challenges.

However, as coal will continue to be a dominant source of energy for many years, access to advanced technologies such as carbon capture and storage would be critical. In this context, the government is putting heavy emphasis on renewable energy, and its plan to develop “100 Smart Cities” that are based on low carbon pathways is very timely and should be pursued vigorously.

Also, international partnerships with other emerging economies, such as the agreement provisions for transfer of technology (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights TRIPS), or regional cooperation with other countries in South Asia are also of great importance.

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