Published on Africa Can End Poverty

The MDGs at Eight

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Launched in 2000 in the Millennium Declaration, the Millennium Development Goals were a global compact to reduce poverty.  As world leaders meet at the United Nations this week to take stock of progress, Paul Collier’s Op-Ed in yesterday’s New York Times and a paper by a team led by François Bourguignon bring at least two aspects into sharp focus.  First, although designed to apply to the whole world, the MDGs are increasingly about Africa, the region that is most seriously off-track in reaching the 2015 goals [see graph].  It reminds me of a statement by a senior European official who was a signatory to the original Millennium Declaration:  “I thought I was signing something about African countries.”  


Secondly, both Paul’s and François’ pieces make the point that accelerating progress towards the MDGs is about a lot more than just the money that was promised (although they also emphasize that donor countries should live up to the pledges they made at Gleneagles to double aid to Africa).  The point is worth emphasizing because too much of the discussion about the MDGs has focused on the amount of foreign aid that it will take to reach them.  As a co-author of one of the earliest estimates of the costs of reaching the MDGs, I may have contributed to this distortion, a point that has not escaped Bill Easterly or Michael  Clemens, Charles Kenny and Todd Moss. But the point we made in that original paper still stands:  Estimates of the costs of reaching the MDGs should not be interpreted as “if you receive this amount of aid, you will reach the MDGs,” but rather as, “If you reach the MDGs, this is what it would have cost.”


Shanta Devarajan

Teaching Professor of the Practice Chair, International Development Concentration, Georgetown University

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