UN Secretary General Calls for 'Drastic' Measures to Help World's Poor

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for "drastic" measures to shore up banks and extend lines of credit to the world's poor Friday and pledged to support European and American efforts to rethink the global financial architecture.

He also said the era of self-regulation among the biggest banks and other money-lending institutions had ended.

Ban spoke at a closed meeting with top U.N. agency heads, economic advisers and the heads of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund focusing primarily on the global financial crisis which was to continue Saturday. His opening remarks were released by the United Nations.

"The danger is a succession of cascading financial crises," Ban warned. "This demands drastic measures. The IMF and the world's central banks may need to set up substantial standby lines of credit for proactive intervention, so that banks in developing nations, too, have adequate funds to draw on in (an) emergency."

The global credit crisis engulfing the finances of nations from Central Europe to Latin America and emerging markets ranging from Turkey to South Africa "compounds the food crisis, the energy crisis, the crisis of development in Africa," Ban said.

"It could be the final blow that many of the poorest of the world's poor simply cannot survive," he said.

Worries expressed at the closed meeting among the almost 40 U.N. directors of agencies for food, labor, education, health and other areas extended to the U.N.'s goal of reaching international consensus by year's end on a detailed policy to fight global warming, according to U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer.

"There's a general concern that the financial crisis could be used as an excuse to delay action on climate change," he said in an interview. "But what was a very strong sentiment in the room is that the current financial crisis really should be taken as an opportunity to rethink the way in which investments are made. ... Acting on climate change can lead to a green economic revolution."

Even as U.N. leaders convened, stock markets around the world plummeted ahead of the weekend amid growing fears the central banks and finance ministers and their governments cannot stanch deepening losses of jobs and corporate earnings.

"In the near future, that means we may not have enough budget to pay for new, strong infrastructure," Houlin Zhao, deputy secretary-general of the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union, said in an interview.

Despite the financial crisis, Ban reported that nations have now pledged $17.5 billion, up from the previous $16 billion, for U.N. goals that include cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education and halting the HIV/AIDS pandemic, all by 2015.

The U.N. Staff Union called for "strong, swift action" by U.N. leaders on a panel's safety recommendations submitted to them Friday in light of deep anguish that "this year, at least 25 United Nations personnel — 14 civilian, eight military and three police — have been deliberately killed around the world."

Ban, who plans to attend President George W. Bush's Nov. 15 gathering of world leaders in Washington to address the crisis, backs President Nicolas Sarkozy's call as head of the EU for an emergency expanded summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations. Ban offered to host it at the U.N.

He also supports a push by Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to consider ways of updating the international financial and monetary system on a scale of the Bretton Woods conference in New Hampshire in 1944.

Earlier in the week, Ban sought advice from economists Nancy Birdsall, Dani Rodrik, Kenneth Rogoff, Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz on how to limit the depth and length of the economic downturn and ease the burden on developing countries and emerging markets.

"It was generally agreed that the era of self-regulation is over," Ban said through a spokesperson.

"If past history is a guide, prolongation of an economic slowdown can be averted only if states resisted pressures to adopt trade protectionist measures," he added. "It would be unacceptable that the least developed countries and the most vulnerable populations were asked to pay for the consequences of a crisis the making of which was entirely outside of their control."