U.N. Gathering Shines a Global Spotlight on Helping World's Poor
United Nations (AP) - Ten years after world leaders set the most ambitious goals ever to tackle global poverty, they are meeting again to try to spur action to meet the targets by the 2015 deadline -- which the U.N. says will be difficult, if not impossible, in some cases.
More than 140 presidents, prime ministers and kings are coming to the three-day summit opening Monday, which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called "extraordinary" and "encouraging."
For centuries, the plight of the world's poor had been ignored but at the dawn of the new millennium, leaders pledged to start tackling poverty, disease, ignorance and inequality.
They vowed to reduce extreme poverty by half, ensure that every child has a primary school education, halt and reverse the HIV/AIDS pandemic, reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters and child mortality by two-thirds, and halve the number of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation -- all by 2015. They also set goals to promote equality for women, protect the environment, increase development aid, and open the global trading and financial system.
In advance of this week's summit, diplomats from the 192 U.N. member states agreed on the document to be adopted by the leaders which spells out specific actions to accelerate implementation of each of the eight Millennium Development Goals, known as the MDGs, in the next five years.
"We are convinced that the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved, including in the poorest countries, with renewed commitment, effective implementation, and intensified collective action by all member states and other relevant stakeholders at both domestic and international levels," it says.
Many recent reports show that the world's poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, have made little progress in eradicating poverty. And in Africa, Asia and Latin America there also has been a lack of progress in reducing mother and child deaths, providing clean water and sanitation, and promoting women's equality.
"Many countries are falling short, especially in Africa," Ban warned, and "inequities are growing within and among countries," a problem compounded by the global economic crisis.
"I know there are skepticisms, but my role as secretary-general is to fight against this skepticism and make this action plan deliver," Ban said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There will be some hurdles. Nobody said it is an easy plan, but I think that it can be done."
Amnesty International, which says world leaders have failed more than a billion of the world's poorest people, will be unveiling a Maternal Death Clock in Times Square in the heart of New York on Monday to count maternal deaths around the globe while world leaders are meeting.
Maternal mortality remains unacceptably high and the clock will begin at 5,317,280, the number of women Amnesty says have died since the MDGs were adopted in September 2000. It predicted about 3,700 more will die during the summit, which ends Wednesday.
On the plus side, the Overseas Development Institute, a British think tank, said Ghana outperformed all other countries in reducing hunger by nearly three-quarters, from 34 percent in 1990 to 9 percent in 2004. Vietnam reduced the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day from nearly 66 percent to 20 percent in just 14 years. Ten African countries, including Ethiopia, Egypt, and post-conflict Angola, have halved their absolute poverty levels, Benin ranked in the top 10 in education improvements, and Angola and Niger significantly reduced child deaths.
On the minus side, Amnesty International said an estimated 70 percent of those living in poverty are women, but efforts in many countries fail to address the widespread discrimination women face in accessing food, water, sanitation and housing -- especially in slums. It accused Kenya of ignoring the needs of women living in slums and Nigeria of evicting slum dwellers and driving them deeper into poverty.
Even if the main goal of reducing extreme poverty by half is achieved, the U.N. said nearly one billion people will still be living on less than $1.25 a day.
Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University who is the secretary-general's special adviser on the MDGs, said the MDGs are "halfway houses."
Sachs said the U.N. should adopt a new goal to eradicate poverty and his target is 2025.
Ban urged his new high-level panel on global sustainability on Sunday to look even further, to 2050, and draft "a bold but practical blueprint" to provide a dignified life for the nine billion people expected to inhabit planet Earth while preserving natural resources and ecosystems.