The United Nations released its annual progress report on the Millennium Development Goals yesterday. The goals are targets set by a U.N. resolution in 2000 for improving global health and welfare by 2015. In the foreword to this year’s report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote that the results so far “represent a tremendous reduction in human suffering.”

They also represent continuing frustration on the hunger front. The number of hungry people – about 850 million – is roughly the same as it was in 1990. That’s down from 1 in 5 human beings to 1 in 7, but as the report admits, “progress in relieving food deprivation has slowed or stalled in many regions.” It looks highly unlikely that the world will reach the target of halving the proportion of undernourished people in the next three years.

Here’s the good news:

  • The poverty reduction target already has been met – the goal was to cut the 1990 rate in half.
  • The target of halving the proportion of people without access to clean water also has been met.
  • Extreme poverty is falling in every region.
  • Girls are now as likely to be enrolled in primary school as boys.
  • The proportion of the world’s city dwellers living in slums has dropped (but the overall number of slum dwellers has risen).
  • People with HIV or AIDS have significantly improved access to treatment.
  • The rates of tuberculosis and malaria have dropped.

The not-so-good news is in employment, maternal mortality, more access to clean drinking water and, of course, progress on hunger.

The report notes that hunger hasn’t fallen nearly as fast as poverty rates, a fact that “calls for improved understanding of the dimensions and causes of hunger.” It seems high food and fuel prices, a lack of access to healthy food, and other factors are as important as a simple lack of money.  

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Jonathan Miller is executive director of Homelands Productions, a journalism cooperative specializing in public radio features and documentaries. As a freelance journalist, he has reported from Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and the U.S. for NPR, BBC, CBC, American Public Media's Marketplace, Monitor Radio, VOA, Radio Netherlands and Radio Deutsche Welle. He also has written for The New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler, Parents, American Way, The Christian Science Monitor and many other publications. For 13 years, he lived and worked in the Philippines and Peru. 

Jon is currently serving as executive producer of "Food for 9 Billion," a collaborative project of Homelands Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting, American Public Media's Marketplace, PRI's The World, and PBS NewsHour. He was executive producer of Homelands' award-winning "WORKING" project profiling workers in the global economy (2007-09) and the "Worlds of Difference" series about the responses of traditional societies to rapid cultural change (2002-05).