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Eight Ways to Change the World: Photos of the Millennium Goals
Emily Gertz, 7 Sep 05

photo by Dieter TelemansAll 191 member states of the United Nations have pledged to meet the Millennium Development Goals -- an ambitious program to end extreme hunger and poverty, heal the world's most pressing health crises, conserve and improve the natural environment, promote the equality and economic welfare of women, and give the globe's children the education they need and deserve -- all by 2015.

Panos Pictures, the Guardian and several NGOs have created an online photo exhibition to bring the Millennium Development Goals to life. Photographers in developing nations documented the hard work, sparse possessions, and depleted environments of many of the world's poorest people.

These photographs are respectful and revealing. Often, the people photographed simply gaze into the camera. The image makers often allow their "subjects" to assert his or her basic humanity and active efforts to live well. As a group, the photos underscore how achieving the Millennium Goals would elevate the lives of millions of individuals.

How does the old truism "a picture is worth a thousand words" hold up? In the media-saturated minds of many of the globe's better-off, do photos still convey the reality of poverty better than raw facts about infant mortality or economic deprivation? It sure seems like it -- especially in the past 10 days, when poor and displaced Americans have been shown in the world's press in numbers probably never seen before -- or at least not since the 1930s, when the Dust Bowl created this continent's last mass migration of environmental refugees.

The images from America's Gulf Coast have enraged millions, galvanizing national and global recognition of U.S. poverty and some hard talk about changing it -- at least so far. (Compare this uproar to the near-absence of info in many channels about the fates of thousands still hurting from December's Boxing Day tsunami -- which happened a short 9 months ago.)

Can Americans embrace the Millennium Development Goals as readily at home as some (such as the controversial Jeffrey Sachs, who writes an introduction to the Panos/Guardian exhibit) have on behalf of developing nations? As Alex wrote here at the beginning of the week, economic security, physical security and environment are inextricably linked in this century. The geography of poverty transcends national boundaries -- and so does the possibility that we can do better.

(Image by Dieter Telemans for Eight Ways to Change the World)
(thanks, Hans!)

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The new Human Development Index for 2005 has just been published today. Things don't look good. The MDGs face a bleak future, and it may take 100 years instead of 15 to achieve them.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 7 Sep 05

Yes, we may be missing our window to end tragic poverty, but these photos are amazing. I'm all for cultural activism. If the global South had a face for more in the global North, we might be closer to meeting the MDGs...

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 7 Sep 05

Yes, the photos are very beautiful. I hope Worldchanging continues to present this kind of initiatives, like the photoblog about Ethiopia, which was amazing too.
Thanks a lot.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 7 Sep 05

100 years instead of 15? huh?

It looks to me like we will meet or exceed most of the goals. Am I missing something?

Posted by: Joe Deely on 7 Sep 05

Hi Joe, "100 years" was a bit of a hyperbole, but still, most of the MDG's wont be met.

There's a nice overview at the Beeb, today. Since 1993, 54 countries have seen their per capita GDP decline. Horrible, but true.

Life "worse for world's poorest":

Global inequality on the rise:

The number one goal is halving extreme poverty. That one is already impossible to achieve.

About the lack of commitment to environmental protection (crushing goal 7 and goal 1)

WRI prez: "But if we don't make the key linkages between poverty, the environment and good governance, it will be impossible to achieve the poverty target.

"Seventy-five percent of the world's poor are rural poor, who depend directly on natural systems for their livelihood."

I'm pessimistic.

Posted by: Lorenzo on 7 Sep 05


You stated:
"The number one goal is halving extreme poverty. That one is already impossible to achieve."

I agree with your first sentence... this is and should be the number one goal. Other goals are also important and measurable... reducing child mortality, comabting malaria, etc.. However, some of the Millenium goals are less measurable and therefore will be harder to attain.

As for poverty.. I still am very confused by your position. The links you passed on are rewrites of the UN press release, which in my opinion was extremly distorting.

Here is a link that actually has factual information about the progress towards meeting these goals.

This link describes the progress in Asia...

to see more details go to:

As you can see in the spreadsheet, poverty in Asia has dropped from 34.3% in 1990 to 19.3% in 2003. The Millenium goal is to halve the poverty rate. Asia was almost there in 2003! With the large economic growth in China and India in 2004 and 2005, I am guessing that they have already met their goal.... 10 years ahead of schedule.

If you look at the projections of poverty in 2015 they range from 2.9 to 9.3%. So in the worst case scenario poverty will have been cut from 34.3% in Asia to 9.3%... far exceding the goals.

The obvious comeback to my statements above is... what about Africa? I agree. Africa is an area that has not improved much since 1990 and some countries have gone backwards. Much work needs to be done there.

However, the Millenium goal is to halve poverty worldwide and we will easily meet this goal. In fact I am guessing that it will be met around 2008/2009.

So my question is? If the goal are WORLDWIDE goals why is the UN focusing only on the countries that are falling backwards instead of focusing on the goal itself.

Posted by: Joe Deely on 8 Sep 05

With rapidly growing populations, a % decrease in the poor doesn't necessarily decrease the number of poor. Worldwide, despite a happy improvement in the ratio, the absolute number of people below the poverty line has stayed constant for a decade.

Just as important is the poverty gap. Many people who etch out a bare subsistance level are falling further below the poverty line, particularly if development efforts are taking off in modern or cashcrop sectors, then inequality is growing & the poorest people often experience declining real incomes. This could explain the focus on countries that are going backwards - it requires a much bigger effort to close the gap and it's much more difficult to do.

Also the poverty line is a level of absolute human misery that jeapardises their health, so there are many people above this line who still live in abject poverty & vulnerable conditions that could drop them below the line.

ANd btw, the US is way behind in substantial payment obligations to the UN. It's hard enough for the UN to act given political pressures on it, harder when the govts that bring the pressure to bear don't pay their dues!

Posted by: Dried Flower on 9 Sep 05



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