What did your government promise in 2000?

Evidence on government pledges

The Millennium Scandal

For related news and information: 
poorscience.org  poornews.org  Twitter: @poorscience

Millennium Declaration Report

"Let us resolve...To halve, by the time this century is 15 years old, the proportion of the world’s people (currently 22 per cent) whose income is less than one dollar a day"

UN Secretary-General, Millennium Report 2000

"The world has reduced extreme poverty by half...in developing regions....to 22 per cent by 2010"

United Nations MDG Report 2014


The last person to speak at the Millennium Summit was the Co-Chairperson Sam Nujoma, President of Namibia.

He said,

"I...call upon [the new President of the General Assembly, Harri Holkeri]  to ensure the implementation of the Millennium Declaration and pay particular attention to paragraph 31." 

It reads,

"We request the General Assembly to review on a regular basis the progress made in implementing the provisions of this Declaration, and ask the Secretary-General to issue periodic reports..."

The Assembly, member states and Secretaries-General have not done this. 

First, the Declaration contains passages about, for example, human rights and good government. 

Second, the UN has reported on Millennium Development Goal targets, some of which, having 1990 baselines, are easier than the leaders' pledges. 

On 6 November 2001 civil servants proposed to UN country teams that they begin using 1990 baselines, with no authority from the Assembly.

The official MDG list, reproduced by the World Bank, the UK Government, and many other sources, falsely states that its targets are “from the Millennium Declaration”.   The Food and Agriculture Organisation's statistics pages falsely state the Declaration has a 1990 baseline.

The MDG 2015 Report mentions "Millennium Declaration" once. It gives no details of the time-bound commitments in the Declaration.  It does not report on progress towards them except in some cases where they are the same as the MDG targets. The MDG report gives no details of how to find the Declaration text.

The present series of reports aims to fill some of the gaps and explain the failure of accountability.

"I am pleased that the Declaration...has such a broad range of commitments,
and the specificity of the language and the time scales mean that

we can and will be held accountable for delivery."

Bertie Ahern, Prime Minister of Ireland

Millennium Summit,
6 September 2000

Report on a selection of commitments in the
1996 World Food Summit Declaration and

2000 Millennium Declaration,
reaffirmed by national leaders in 2005 and 2013.

What are our governments committed to?

What have they achieved?
If governments or intergovernmental organisations mislead
on the pledges, does that violate the human
rights of the poor? The rich?

Main 2015 UN hunger report makes "Millennium" targets easier again

Many sources still give a wrong impression that the Declaration baseline is 1990 or that the easier MDG targets were agreed in 2000, some after complaints:

The Lancet


New York Times

The Economist


Financial Times

Washington Post

The Guardian
Sydney Morning Herald

Scientific American



Data source:

Presentation of these data does not imply acceptance of the method or reliability.

More detail:

Main 2015 UN hunger report makes "Millennium" targets easier again


Millennium pledge: Safe and affordable water

"We resolve...by the year 2015...to halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water."

Progress rating: Unknown from official statistics.

Accountability/transparency rating: Poor. Official headline progress reports are misleading on water quality, Declaration baseline and MDG baseline. Leaders did not make a pledge with a "1990" baseline. The MDG target as agreed, according to the OECD Secretariat in 2001, does not have a "1990" baseline.

"While target 7.C explicitly refers to access to safe drinking water, the indicator does not measure quality directly, and the assumption that improved sources are more likely to provide safe water than unimproved sources is misleading."

Human Rights and MDGs in Practice:
A review of country strategies and reporting
United Nations

"The JMP [official monitors] also tempered any celebrations with a warning that the data collected only measured access to improved water sources – those that adequately protect the source from outside contamination – rather than assessed the quality, or reliability of the water supply, or whether water sources were sustainable.

Testing the quality of the water at a national level in all countries was too expensive and logistically difficult, said the report. "As a result, it is likely that the number of people using safe water supplies has been overestimated."

Millennium development goal on safe drinking water reaches target early
6 March 2012

The Millennium water pledge had already reduced the ambition:

"Progress fell far short of the goal set in 1990 to reach universal access to safe water by 2000. Not only was the goalpost moved to 2015, the new MDG target was lowered from universal coverage to halving the proportion of people without access to safe water. Thus, the new target is nearly five times less ambitious than the initial one."


The official statistics on "improved sources" are not a good indication of safety or affordability as the Millennium Declaration required.

Contrary to an impression which might be gained, the official statistics on “improved” sources are nowhere near meeting that non-existent target.

MDG water subtarget:  MDG architect stated it had baseline of 2000, not 1990

In the official list of MDG targets published in 2001, 2003 and 2008, the drinking-water subtarget does not have a baseline. 

Other targets on the proportion of people have baselines of 1990.

I am unaware of any commentator having pointed this out.

The answer seems to be that its baseline was agreed as 2000.

A September 2001 document by
the richer countries' organisation, the OECD, was prepared for its Development Assistance Committee. This is the committee which asked UN agencies in March 2001 to merge the Millennium pledges with the 1990-baseline International Development Goals.

The September 2001 document was written after the OECD took a leading role in deciding the targets.  It was produced a week after the Secretary-General had produced his Road Map containing the proposed list of goals, targets and indicators.  The OECD document states that the MDG target on drinking water has a baseline of 2000.

Staff from the Secretariats of the UN (Secretary General’s Office and UNDG), IMF, OECD-DAC, and the World Bank met in New York on 21 June 2001 to discuss aligning the  goals [ie the 1990-baseline IDGs and 2000-baseline Declaration].   In subsequent correspondence they reached agreement on a presentation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)...

It was agreed that there should be a standard baseline year of 1990 against which to measure progress (with an exception of using 2000 for the safe water goal as that was agreed in a recent UN conference).”


Page 4.  It is a .pdf document which may need the extension .pdf to be added.

It is also at:

http://millenniumdeclaration.org/mdgwaterbaseline.pdf .

It is puzzling that Jan Vandemoortele and Mark Malloch-Brown, who have each stated they are or been described as co-authors of the MDG framework, have not mentioned this in their accounts, and nor has Michael Doyle, the co-chair with Dr Vandemoortele of the inter-agency group setting the MDG targets.   Several participants – Eric Swanson at the World Bank, Brian Hammond at the OECD who was the contact given for the Secretariat's note stating that the baseline was 2000, Michael Doyle and Jan Vandemoortele – have contributed to accounts by others, sometimes by interview.  I am unaware of any participant or organisation having given the reason for the absence of the 1990 baseline in the official MDG list, apart from the OECD document of September 2001.

On 29 March 2001 the chairman of the relevant OECD committee had written to heads of UN agencies.  The text is in the document above.  He proposed:

"agreement on the alignment of the international and millennium development goals and the timing and role of BWA in regular reporting to the General Assembly on development progress."

BWA - "Better world for all" - was the four civil servants' agreement containing the International Development Goals, with a 1990 baseline. 

The following sentence may be worth rereading and some thought.  The OECD Secretariat stated in the document of September 2001, 

"It was agreed that there should be a standard baseline year of 1990 against which to measure progress (with an exception of using 2000 for the safe water goal as that was agreed in a recent UN conference).”

Can you think of any UN conferences which were "recent" in 2001?

Did any of them resolve to achieve mortality reductions from "current rates"?

Were any of them preceded by the Deputy Secretary-General stating that the fact that leaders were making the commitments made a "big difference"?

Did any government reject the Secretary-General's recommendations to the Millennium Summit that they resolve to halve the proportion without safe water "between now and 2015"?

Did any government reject his urging halving the proportion of people on under a dollar a day from  "currently 22 per cent"?

Did Reuters, the New York Times, the Economist and the Guardian not report 2000 baselines for the Millennium Declaration?

Does the OECD/IMF/World Bank/UN staff argument for restricting the 2000 baseline to the water target make sense?

UN statements on water safety:

"this week a joint UNICEF/WHO report announced that the world has met the MDG target of halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe [!] drinking water."

Secretary-General's remarks at press conference on Millennium Development Goals
Secretary General's Off-the-Cuff Remarks
New York, 8 March 2012


"The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the framework that has been a key part of efforts to build a better world for the past 15 years [!]

– challenged the global community to reduce by half the proportion of the population without safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Throughout this

period, the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) has monitored progress.

As the MDG era comes to a close, this report shows how far we have come. For example, in a major global achievement, the target for safe [!] drinking water was met in 2010, well ahead of the MDG deadline of 2015. ..."

Jan Eliasson

Deputy UN Secretary-General

Progress on sanitation and drinking water – 2015 update and MDG assessment

UNICEF and World Health Organisation


BBC, March 2012:

Unanswered complaint 6 February 2014 to BBC Editorial Complaints Unit

Invited comments on provisional response 1300394

"More or Less of 10 March 2012...Unidentified speaker, apparently a

World Service newsreader or a person reading from a World Service news


The United Nations says the first Millennium Development

Goal, halving the number of people who have no access to clean water,

has been reached before the target date of 2015.

[More or Less commenting on the misleading news report:]

...the Millennium Development Goals were agreed by 

all the countries of the United Nations and the big aid agencies in

the year 2000."

More or Less makes a major error. The MDG targets agreed by

consensus in 2002 are in fact easier than the pledges in the

Millennium Declaration of 2000. The latter is a UN General

Assembly resolution. A major difference is that the resolution's

pledges were not backdated, and are therefore to, for example halve

the proportion of people in 2000 on under "$1 ", not the 1990 level.".…

[The programme contradicted itself by saying it had scrutinised

the goal while confusing it with the more ambitious UN pledge. ] "

28 May 2014 to the Editorial Complaints Unit:

"The BBC has often conflated easier MDG targets agreed in 2002 with

more ambitious (if in some ways more limited) Millennium Declaration

promises of 2000, and I know of no evidence that any BBC output has

noted the difference.


Contrary to a common myth, the Declaration contains no reference at

all to 1990. That is why I find no references to 1990 baselines in

BBC stories from 2000 about the Summit and Declaration. I find no

references from 2000 in BBC articles to the phrase "Millennium

Development Goals" either. The phrase was used in 2001 by the

Secretary-General in his "Road Map" document in relation to the

"proposed" goals, targets and indicators.

Declaration: Mortality rates reduced from "current rates":


MDG4: Mortality rates reduced from 1990 rates:


[Note:  The complainant was in error.  The MDG target says nothing about 1990.   However, the official reports on progress do.]

This confusion appears to be widespread in BBC reports and analysis.

The BBC could play a useful role in correcting the misinformation and

thus enabling people to hold governments to account. ...

I expect many people tell the BBC their complaints are important. I

stated in my comments of 6 February on your provisional response that

More or Less here made a major error. The number of child deaths

2000-15 is likely to be over 90 million. The rate went down between

the two baselines of 1990 and 2000. You may not be surprised to hear

that the difference between steady progress on the Declaration

commitment and steady progress on the MDG target over the period

2000-15 amounts to several million child deaths.

I do not know if ECU staff, or editorial staff, have fully taken in

what I wrote. As I say, I propose that in the interests of fairness,

not least to the people to whom the promises of 2000 were made, the

ECU consider this complaint along with the others.

I propose that a staff member let me know within perhaps a week the

ECU's considered view as to what this particular complaint is, so that

there is no misunderstanding.

The BBC, after many complaints that it had given a wrong impression that the 1990 targets were what was pledged by world leaders in 2000, published this material for children:

"It was the start of a new millennium, which marks a thousand years. Global leaders agreed that we should all do more to fight poverty, so that the new millennium would be better than the last.

189 countries agreed to work together to achieve eight [!] big goals by 2015 - called the Millennium Development Goals. [!]
"Simple things like safe drinking water and a clean home are crucial...

In 2000, world leaders agreed to try and reduce the number [!] of people suffering in this way by half.

This [!] target has been met."

Have we achieved the Millennium Development Goals? - CBBC Newsround

12 July 2015

This clearly implies that the leaders agreed "Millennium Development Goals" to be achieved by 2015. There are no official statistics on water safety. Neither what leaders agreed "at the start of a new millennium" nor the MDG official list has the 1990 baseline of the easier "met" target.


Subj: FW: Sanitation goal
Date: 3 September 2002
From: lewallep@who.int
To: villare@who.int
CC: Matt Berkley

Dear Dr Villar,
The following message has been sent to me following a telephone conversation this morning. As the expert dealing with poverty reduction and health, you may wish to take up the issue with [Mr] Berkley.
Thank you.
 Pierre Lewalle
Global Programme on Evidence for Health Policy
World Health Organization

....From: Matt Berkley
Sent: 03 September 2002 10:05
To: lewallep
Subject: Sanitation goal

Dear Mr Lewalle

Thank you for giving attention to this issue.

Sanitation goal and survival rates

As I said, I am raising some concerns about poverty reduction as a goal, since basically what is measured in this case has not told us whether poor people's income/consumption on average rose or fell.    I am very happy to send you more details on this point, which is relevant to official terminology about progress on poverty.

As with the poverty reduction goal, the sanitation goal has the problem that if in a country more of the worst-off die, the statistic makes more progress while the people do worse.    If a government increases survival rates of the worst-off, the statistic will make slower progress while the people do better.      In both cases, I should add "other things being equal", but no-one knows whether other things are equal or not, or whether they will be or not in the future.   

What we do know is that survival rates vary greatly between countries, and over time.    The impact of AIDS should be considered here.    

Subj: Need for balanced progress on Millennium Goals
Date: 03/09/02
To: gredmond@unicef.org
File: C:\WINDOWS\Desktop\FAX.doc (23552 bytes) DL Time (32000 bps): < 1 minute
Dear Dr Redmond

Here is the fax I sent today to Nadia Younes.

Many thanks.

To:          Sir Richard Jolly
Care of:     Ms Nadia Younes,
Executive Director,
External Relations and Governing Bodies
        United Nations, Johannesburg
        Fax no. 00 27 11 508 0890
        Tel.  00 27 083 383 3864

From:        Mr Matt Berkley
        Oxford, UK

... Fundamental problems with poverty statistics
and implications for the final declaration

1. The sanitation goal

The goal of halving the proportion of people without water could be reached more quickly in a country where people without water die early. 

In the age of AIDS, this may be an important issue.   In a country where the poorest survive longer, statistical progress on the goal may be slower.   Therefore, I would suggest that AMCOW needs an additional mandate:  to take account, when assessing progress, of trends in death rates among those without water.    If these are unavailable then death rate data on the poorest might give a useful indication.  Otherwise the sanitation goal may provide less incentive to governments to improve the nutritional status of people without water.

2.  Other goals

Similar logical considerations apply to the poverty reduction goal and the education goal. 

...the proportion of underfed adults and children can be influenced in the “wrong” direction by death rates;  ...
the poorest fifth’s share of national income has the same problem...


Is this a human rights violation?

Millennium Declaration:
by the year 2015...

dollar a day…
o have reduced maternal mortality by three quarters, and
under-five child mortality by two thirds, of their
current rates"

"Targets (from the Millennium Declaration)…
Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day…
Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger...
Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate...
Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio…"
"targets come from the Millennium Declaration"

Official list of Millennium Development Goals 2003

Current list effective from 2008


Note: The World Bank figures do not even support the above interpretation of progress on the Millennium Declaration pledge using a relevant baseline.

The leaders' pledges are not for "developing regions". The latter is easier due to population growth rates.

See "hunger" chart using UN undernourishment figures above for a parallel example. It clearly shows the trend from around 1990 is steeper using the non-existent "developing regions" "pledge".

Official list of MDG indicators does not mention "developing regions" targets either.

The World Bank figures may include a made-up number, "imputed income", for living in your own home, and a made-up number for the value of what you produce and eat yourselves.

The value of different accommodation in villages, cities, in different times and different countries is subjective.


"Let us resolve therefore: - To halve, by the time this century is 15 years old, the proportion of the world’s people (currently 22 per cent) whose income is less than one dollar a day."

Secretary-General, Millennium Report 2000

"The world has reduced extreme poverty by half...in developing regions....to 22 per cent"

UN MDG Report 2014


"target of halving...extreme poverty, and so lifting more than 1 billion people out of it."

Secretary-General, Millennium Report 2000

"The world has reduced extreme poverty by half...people living in extreme poverty by 700 million"

UN MDG Report 2014


Organisations which have failed to correct their errors about the Millenium Declaration baseline after they were pointed out include:

BBC, New York Times, Financial Times, Reuters, Lancet, Economist.

BBC Head of Editorial Complaints fails to respond for a year

The BBC has broadcast and published a wide range of misleading material over many years concerning the Millennium Declaration and relevant targets and statistics.

On 3 March 2012 the World Service broadcast an edition of "More or Less" to poorer countries.  It claimed that the World Bank used a "basket of essential goods" since "a couple of decades ago" to judge poverty. This is not true. The truth is that the World Bank is on the other side of the debate. Other people criticise it for not using a basket of essential goods.

On 9 March 2012 the BBC published a web page, which was the BBC Editor's Choice for poverty. This contained the same error, claiming that the World Bank used a
"basket of food".

A listener complained.  The BBC ignored the complaint and two reminders.

The complainant gave up on the official complaints procedure and contacted the presenter.  The BBC removed one example of one word, "essential", from that web page. But they left it in the podcast and the Spanish page, and left the "basket of food" and other misleading material. They left the page as "last updated 9 March 2012" when the truth is that it was last updated in November. They then said the same thing again in a new page..

On 10 March 2012 the BBC again broadcast More or Less to poorer countries. They gave an impression that world leaders agreed an easier "MDG" baseline for the Declaration's targets. The 1990 baseline is not in the Declaration.

World leaders did not agree eight goals, or MDGs, in 2000. Also, there is no 1990 baseline for the water target in the official MDG list.

The World Service Trust, now BBC Media Action, has said it aims to help media be more accurate and accountable in poor countries.

In 2004 they produced an "MDG website" making the false claim that the Declaration has the generally easier 1990 baseline.

Unsurprisingly, a BBC programme team in 2013 – Health Check – linked to it in 2013.

The Head of Editorial Complaints was informed of the basic error on 6 February 2014.

The information is in a document which his department was bound to consider by the BBC complaints procedure.

He failed to answer despite further complaints and explanations.   Meanwhile the BBC has broadcast and published more false information about the baseline.


Contrary to the BBC claims:

The Millennium Declaration in fact contains no reference to the generally easier "1990" baseline, or "proportions in developing regions".

The phrase "Millennium Development Goals" was not used at all in 2000.

The Declaration does not contain eight goals or 18 targets.

The global commitment is in fact broader than "development", covering for example human rights.

How can citizens take part in the democratic process if they don't know what governments are committed to?


Is this a human rights violation?

September 2000:

"We, heads of State and Governmentresolve...by the year 2015...dollar a day...hunger...water…
to have reduced maternal mortality by three quarters, and under-five child mortality by two thirds, of their current rates"

      Millennium Declaration

December 2000:

"Reduce...extreme poverty by half between
1990 and 2015. …
child mortality rates by two-thirds between
1990 and 2015. ...
maternal mortality ratios by three-fourths between
1990 and 2015...
The goals are included in the recent United Nations Millennium Declaration"

    Senior statisticians from World Bank, OECD, IMF
    IMF External Relations Department publication, December 2000

2001: "under-five mortality decreased from 94 to 81 ...between 1990 and 2000"
Secretary-General, Report on Implementation of the Millennium

2002: "...Declaration’s goals.
Our hopes of reaching those goals…
...goals set out in the Millennium Declaration express the resolve of the world’s political leaders…
...the world has committed itself to reducing child mortality by two