UN Millennium Development Goals: Definition & Function

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn about the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals established in the year 2000. What were the goals and how much progress was made achieving them?

Goals for a Better World

The UN Flag
The UN Flag

In September 2000 there was a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. It was attended by 189 member states, which was at the time the largest gathering of world leaders in world history. During the meeting, leaders discussed the role of the United Nations in creating global social changes in the new century. These leaders agreed to a partnership to improve improve quality of life for people worldwide. They developed and ratified the UN Millennium Development Goals.

The UN Millennium Development Goals are eight aims that the countries of the UN would attempt to achieve over the following 15 years. The eight goals involved the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the establishment of universal primary education, the promotion of gender equality, improvements in maternal health and reduction of child mortality rates, the eradication of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, as well as general environmental sustainability goals.

The UN Assembly Hall in New York City
Inside the UN: the hall where the Millennium Development Goals were agreed to

Each goal had various specific targets, both worldwide and on a country by country basis. Most of these targets were in comparison to 1990 levels. For example, one of the targets was to, 'Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 per day.' The hope was that by making the goals more specific, they would be easier to achieve. Moreover, progress toward the goals would be easier to measure.

The original Millennium Development Goals
The original Millennium Development Goals


Only some of the goals were achieved by 2015, but progress was made on all of them. Some criticize the progress by pointing out that there was huge success in some parts of the world and failures in others.

Successes of the Millennium Development Goals include:

  • The proportion of people who suffer from hunger was cut in half worldwide.
  • Dramatic progress on gender equality was made in certain parts of the world. For example, in 1990 in South Asia, for every 100 boys enrolled in school, there were only 75 girls. Full enrollment equality was reached.
  • The goal to decrease the number deaths from HIV and malaria was a huge success. Numbers of those suffering from HIV reached a peak in 2005 and Malaria in 2000. Both numbers dropped dramatically.
  • The number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water has halved.

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