Page last updated at 16:37 GMT, Monday, 10 May 2010 17:37 UK
Meeting Millennium Development Goals

Class in Bangladesh slum
Bangladesh has made good progress on primary education targets

Are developing countries on track to meet the 2015 deadline for implementing the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? The BBC's Alastair Lawson travelled to Bangladesh to assess how much progress is being made in improving the lives of the most vulnerable children and women.

Forty per cent of Bangladesh's population of more than 150 million live on less than $1 a day - in many respects the country is a microcosm of the challenges the UN faces as it struggles to achieve the MDG targets.

Its population of children aged between five and 17 is estimated by the UN to be about 42 million.

The country is home to 14 UN agencies and most of the world's leading aid organisations. As Bangladesh is a functioning democracy, those agencies can for the most part operate free of political interference.

'Remarkable progress'

If the country is to meet the MDG targets, the UN says it faces a daunting financial challenge - a recent report estimates the cost to be in the region of $104.18bn between now and 2015.

Children outside a Dhaka slum
There are 16.4 million Bangladeshi children aged between six and 10

The UN report said Bangladesh needed to spend $66 per head in 2005 rising to $102 per head in 2015.

The World Bank in Dhaka says that will be difficult to achieve and will require significant improvements in the country's tax collection system.

But there is plenty of positive and negative data when assessing Bangladesh's progress towards the MDGs.

On the positive side, it has achieved almost universal gender parity in primary education. The country's primary education system is regarded as one of the best among developing countries in the world.

Similarly, the UN says that Bangladesh has made "remarkable progress" in reducing the under-five mortality rate over the last two decades.

The infant mortality rate - defined as mortality between zero to one year old - has also "decreased impressively".

But on the negative side it says that a "significant number" of children are still severely malnourished.

Bad news

On maternal health, progress has also been made.

Child in a Dhaka slum
Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty
Achieve universal primary education
Promote gender equality and empower women
Reduce child mortality
Improve maternal health
Combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development

The maternal mortality ratio has been reduced from 574 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1991 to 320 per 100,000 live births in 2001.

In 2006 it was estimated to be 290 per 100,000 live births, but that figure may rise because of recent floods and cyclones.

"The country is more or less on track to meet the MDG target of 143 per 100,000 live births by 2015," a UN report says.

Yet even here, there is bad news buried within the good.

Approximately 85% of deliveries take place in the home, the UN report says, many without medically trained providers.

It was exactly these kind of depressing statistics that prompted more than 100 presidents, prime ministers and leaders of the world's nations in September 2000 unanimously to agree upon the MDGs.

These goals focused predominantly on providing nutrition, energy, water, education, health care and environmental protection for one half of the world's one billion poorest citizens by 2015.

Most of the eight MDGs directly or indirectly affect children. Goal two is to achieve universal primary education and goal three is to reduce child mortality.

The aim of this series is to find out whether the plethora of aid agencies in Bangladesh - nearly all of whom have signed up to the MDGs - are making any difference to the lives of the poorest people in the capital, Dhaka.

It consists of four case studies from the city's slums:

  • A 10-year-old girl who works in a sweatshop
  • A nine-year-old boy who hawks cigarettes on the streets of Dhaka
  • A nine-year-old girl who is receiving an education
  • A mother about to give birth

The overall picture that emerges is of a country where "remarkable progress" has indeed been made. But it also shows a country where much still needs to be done.

"Child mortality has come down over the years so good progress has been made. But the challenges are enormous," says UN Bangladesh head Renata Lok Dessallien.

"This is a country of over 150 million people, 40% of whom are still below the poverty line.

"It will cost a lot to bring them up to a decent standard of living. The government has done a lot, but there is a lot more that still needs to be done."

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