U.N. Summit Focuses on Fighting Global Poverty by 2015
UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened a summit Monday with a plea to the assembled presidents, prime ministers and kings to use their power to meet U.N. goals to help the world's poorest by 2015.
Ten years after world leaders set the most ambitious goals ever to tackle global poverty, they are gathered again to spur action to meet the deadline -- which the U.N. says will be difficult, if not impossible, in some cases.
General Assembly President Joseph Deiss opened the summit saying: "We must achieve the Millennium Development Goals. We want to achieve them. And we can achieve them."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy made an impassioned plea to developed countries join with France in raising its contribution to meet the millennium goals.
France, he said, would increase its contribution by 20 percent over the next three years.
"We have no right to do less than what we have decided to do," Sarkozy told the assembled leaders. He also said the world body should join in creating a small international tax on financial transactions that would go toward ending poverty and meeting other millennium goals.
Leaders have 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. Goals additionally called for cutting by half 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.
"We brought new urgency to an age-old mission," the secretary-general told the assembled leaders. "And now, we have real results. New thinking and path-breaking public-private partnerships.
Dramatic increases in school enrollment. Expanded access to clean water. Better control of disease. The spread of technology -- from mobile to green."
But Ban call the advances "fragile" and declared "the clock is ticking, with much more to do."
He urged the leaders to deliver the needed resources "above all by exercising political leadership."
"Despite the obstacles, despite the skepticism, despite the fast-approaching deadline of 2015, the Millennium Development Goals are achievable," the secretary-general said.
More than 140 world leaders were expected at the summit and security was exceedingly tight, as even U.N. staff and permanent correspondents were subjected full screening to enter and move around the international complex. U.N. missions have often been the target of terrorist attacks worldwide. The international organization's operation in Baghdad was one of the first hit in a deadly bombing as the insurgency there gained strength in late 2003.
Many heavily armed U.S. Coast Guard and New York police craft patrolled the East River along side the U.N. complex. Frogmen were aboard interceptor boats mounted with .50 caliber machine guns.
The three-day summit on the goals, known as the MDGs, will be followed by the annual ministerial meeting of the General Assembly so leaders will be presenting positions not only on global anti-poverty plans but also on global issues.
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.
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.