The United Nations agreed a set of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, with a view to tackling global poverty.
They include improving living standards in key areas such as education, employment and health care by 2015.
Now, half-way to that deadline, the UN has produced a report showing how progress in meeting the goals has varied between regions - although it argues that even in the poorest area, sub-Saharan Africa, some progress has been made.
Some of its key findings are listed below.
GOAL 1: ERADICATE EXTREME POVERTY
Target: Halve the number of people living on less than $1 a day by 2015.
The number of people living on less than $1 a day fell to 980 million in 2004, down from 1.25 billion in 1990. The UN says its target of halving the population living at this level will be reached if progress continues. But progress has not been evenly spread. Some regions of Asia, such as China, have experienced particularly rapid economic growth which has helped push up the figures - while regions such as sub-Saharan Africa have made less progress. Russia and other transition countries experienced a rapid growth in extreme poverty in the early 1990s, and improvements in these areas have only been seen more recently.
GOAL 2: ACHIEVE UNIVERSAL PRIMARY EDUCATION
Target: By 2015, all children to be able to complete a course of primary schooling.
In the developing regions, 88% of children were reported to be enrolled in primary education in 2004/5, up from 80% in 1990/91 and only 12% short of the UN's target of universal primary education. Sub-Saharan Africa still trails behind other regions, with only 70% of children attending school. The UN says the number of children not attending school is unacceptably high and the true figure is likely to be higher as the statistics do not reveal how many children attend regularly; nor are figures available for countries in areas of conflict where school attendance is also likely to be low.
GOAL 3: PROMOTE GENDER EQUALITY AND EMPOWER WOMEN
Target: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education no later than 2015.
One of the key indicators of how successful the UN has been in achieving this target, is how many women have secure and paid employment in areas other than agriculture.
The increase in women's participation in paid, non-agricultural employment has remained slow, because many have little or no education. Some of the biggest increases have been in the areas where fewest women have paid employment, such as Southern Asia, where 18% of women are now employed in non-agricultural work, up from 13% in 1990, but trailing behind 47% in the developed regions. In Northern Africa, only one in five employees is female, a situation that has remained unchanged for 15 years. Worldwide, women still account for 60% of unpaid family workers - many doing agricultural jobs.
GOAL 4: REDUCE CHILD MORTALITY
Target: Between 1990 and 2005, reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds.
Estimates for 2005 suggest 10.1 million children died before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes. The UN says "accelerated improvements" are needed - most urgently in sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia, countries in Central Asia and in Oceania. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest child mortality rate at 166 per 1,000, with Aids likely to be a major contributing factor. Changes in child mortality vary widely according to socio-economic status - with the biggest improvements noted among the wealthiest households, in urban areas and where mothers had received some education. One major public health success has been the measles immunization programme. Deaths from measles have fallen by more than 60% between 2000 and 2005.
GOAL 5: IMPROVE MATERNAL HEALTH
Target: Reduce the maternal mortality rate by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015.
Maternal mortality rates remain "unacceptably high" across the developing world, according to the UN. In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman's risk of dying from complications during childbirth in her lifetime is 1 in 16, compared with 1 in 3,800 in the developed world. Many of these deaths could be prevented by access to skilled healthcare staff. In surveys of 57 developing countries, 81% of women in urban areas received maternal health care, compared to 49% in rural areas. Preventing unplanned pregnancies could avert about a quarter of maternal deaths -and the education of women is the key to this.
GOAL 6: COMBAT HIV/AIDS, MALARIA AND OTHER DISEASES
Target: Have halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/Aids.
The prevalence of HIV in the developing world has begun to level off - but deaths from Aids are still increasing in sub-Saharan Africa. By the end of 2006, 39.5 million people across the world were living with HIV, many in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease is spreading fastest in Eastern Asia and the CIS, where the use of non-sterile injecting drug equipment is the key method of transmission. Access to Aids treatment is improving but remains patchy, particularly in Africa. However, the spread of the disease has highlighted the need to intensify prevention efforts if the UN is to achieve its target of halting and reversing its spread.
Efforts to combat malaria and tuberculosis are making progress, although sub-Saharan Africa is lagging behind in both.
GOAL 7: ENSURE ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
Target: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without access to drinking water and basic sanitation.
Half the developing world's population still does not have access to basic sanitation. The UN says "extraordinary efforts" are needed if another 1.6 billion people are to have access to sanitation and at the current rate of progress, it is likely to miss the target by 600 million people. Only Eastern, South-Eastern and Western Asia, Northern Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean are on track. In sub-Saharan Africa, the absolute number of people without access to sanitation has actually increased.
Another environmental priority, protecting the world's biodiversity, is said to require "unprecedented efforts" if the UN is to succeed in reducing the number of species being lost.
GOAL 8: DEVELOP A GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP FOR DEVELOPMENT
Target: Address the needs of the least developed countries, landlocked countries and small island developing states.
In 2005, aid rose to a record $106.8 billion owing to large debt relief operations, most notably for Iraq and Nigeria. It has since dropped back, with official aid for 2006 showing the first decline since 1997. Aid is expected to continue to fall in 2007 as debt relief declines further; however, other forms of aid should start to increase if donors meet their pledges. Aid to the least developed countries has, in effect, stalled since 2003 - despite the G8 agreement at the 2005 Gleneagles summit to double aid to Africa by 2010.
Improved access to Western markets would also help developing countries, but talks on a new world trade deal aimed at giving developing countries more favourable trading terms have stalled.