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World leaders to stick to UN poverty goals

world Updated: Sep 16, 2010 11:17 IST

World leaders will stick to promises to slash global poverty by 2015 at a United Nations summit in New York next week, but budget cutbacks in rich nations will keep them from setting ambitious new goals.

Ten years after more than 150 leaders signed off on the UN Millennium Development Goals, their successors will gather on Sept 20-22 to take stock of the targets, which aim to drastically reduce poverty and hunger worldwide by 2015.

A new World Bank study shows that one of the major goals -- halving global poverty by 2015 -- is likely to be met. Much of the progress reflects rising wealth in emerging China and India, but that prosperity has reached little of Africa, where 38 percent of the population is likely to live below the poverty line in 2015.

There has been far less progress toward meeting the goals of reducing hunger and malnutrition, improving gender equality, access to health care and education, tackling climate change and helping mothers and their newborns, the report said. With the global economic recovery still fragile and rich nations cutting aid budgets to help reduce their debt, questions have arisen over whether the goals are realistic.

For the poor, the global financial and economic crisis was exacerbated by soaring prices for food and fuel and job losses that have led to a decline in the remittances overseas workers return to their homelands.

In a Reuters interview, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon defended the draft UN declaration for global action to meet the poverty goals after aid agencies said it lacked specifics.

"You need to be realistic," he said. "This outcome document is the maximum and best we could expect at this time ... We need to always base our policies and priorities by considering the realities on the ground," he said.

The summit, which will be addressed by leaders including US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, precedes the annual UN General Assembly. During the General Assembly session other events will include a meeting of six big-power foreign ministers on Iran's nuclear program. There will be also be high-level talks on Pakistan, Myanmar, Somalia and Yemen, and a meeting to break a 12-year-old deadlock in disarmament talks.

KEEPING FOCUS ON THE POOR

While major world developments are likely to capture the headlines, Ban said he wants countries to remember their commitments to the poor even if times are tough. "Our challenge is to put our resources where they will have the greatest impact," he told reporters.

World Bank Managing Director and former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said to revise the goals now was equal to admitting the world did not care about the poor.

"The goals should absolutely remain as they are and we need to redouble our efforts," she told Reuters. "Countries were set back by the financial crisis which impacted growth rates and increased the number of poor, but that is not a reason to reset the goals."

Hugh Bredenkamp, deputy director of the strategy, policy and review department at the International Monetary Fund, said that with global growth prospects seen weak over the next five years, one way to help the poor would be for both rich and poorer nations to adopt policies that boost growth.

The IMF and World Bank project 71 million more people will be pushed into poverty by 2020 than would have been the case without the crisis.

"It is not realistic to expect commitment to scale up aid beyond what has already been committed," Bredenkamp said, noting that rich donors were already behind on 2005 pledges to doubling aid to Africa.

"They need to look at ways to help poor countries accelerate their development and growth in ways that don't cost more money," he added.

Such ways could include boosting trade with poor countries and helping build countries' institutional capacity to use aid better and more effectively, he said.

NEW AID ARCHITECTURE

The 10-year anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) also comes amid changes in global aid architecture and policy improvements in developing countries that are now attracting investors.

A rise in the number of philanthropic foundations and global funds has contributed to the shift in aid patterns, which has also been bolstered by China's growing presence in Africa and Brazil's increasing reputation as one of the world's biggest providers of help to the poor.

Mark Suzman, director of policy and advocacy at the Gates Foundation's Global Development Program, said while there were shortfalls in meeting the MDG goals it was important to learn from the successes and apply them on a broader scale.

"The conversation now has to be about recognizing and identifying what has worked, in which countries has it worked and why," he said, noting that Ethiopia, Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal were a few examples of where there had been successes. Given the fiscal constraints that donors and aid recipients are facing, Suzman said it will be critical to better coordinate aid interventions in countries.