France steps up poverty pledge

2010-09-21 12:10

New York - The 10-year-old promise to lift the world's poorest is unfulfilled and with world economies clawing back from the worst recession since World War II, the French president and others implored leaders on Monday not to return to their "old bad habits" of ignoring global poverty.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French leader, was the first to accept UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's challenge for nations to deliver more resources to combat global poverty, ignorance and misery.

He pledged to boost France's annual $10bn contribution to the world's poorest people by 20% over the next three years. He urged other leaders to join him.

"We have no right to do less than what we have decided to do," Sarkozy told more than 140 presidents, premiers, princes and a king at the opening of the three-day UN Millennium Development Goals summit. "Let us not fall back into our old bad habits."

Sarkozy spoke as UN member states began their accounting of progress in the decade since promising to end global poverty. Developed nations have fallen well short in keeping pace with a final goal set for 2015.

Moral obligation

The UN acknowledges that even if the main target of reducing extreme poverty by half is achieved in the next five years, nearly 1 billion people still will be living on less than $1.25 a day.

Sarkozy proposed that the world body create a small international tax on financial transactions to fund development aimed at ending poverty and meeting other millennium goals. He said developed nations had a moral obligation to poorer ones.

"The financial crisis is severe in the rich countries, it creates deficits," he said. "But its consequences are far worse for the poor countries." Developed countries must make a special effort in Africa, he said. Too many people there still die of preventable illnesses such as malaria.

"Malaria kills 1 million children in Africa every year," he said. "To be clear, before the end of my speech, 30 children in Africa will have died of malaria. We have no right to hide behind the economic crisis to do less."

Little reduction in child and mother deaths

Recent reports show that the world's poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, have made little progress in eradicating poverty since the UN goals were set forth a decade ago.

Africa, Asia and Latin America have made little headway in reducing mother and child deaths, providing clean water and sanitation, and promoting women's equality.

The commitment of developing countries "is essential during times of global economic crisis," said Jordan's King Abdullah, "not only to raise the world's poorest people but to support and sustain those who are implementing good policies until their progress can be stabilized."

Diplomats from the 192 UN member states have already agreed on a document to be adopted this week by the leaders, spelling out specific actions to accelerate implementation of each of the eight Millennium Development Goals, known as the MDGs, over 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," it says.

The mostly dark-suited delegates sat in rows facing the green marble dais, white plastic ear pieces in place to handle translation of the UN's six official languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian and Arabic.

UN members resolved a decade ago to reduce extreme poverty by half, to ensure that every child finishes primary school and to halt the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

They also vowed to reduce the number of women dying during pregnancy and childbirth by three-quarters, the number of children who die before their 5th birthday by two-thirds, and to halve the number of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation - all by 2015.

Women make up bulk of poverty-stricken

They also set goals to promote equality for women, protect the environment, increase development aid, and open the global trading and financial system.

Peace will also be a critical element in achieving the development goals, Israeli President Shimon Peres said. "Without peace, poverty will remain. Without food, peace will not prevail."

"Still, lawless terrorists spread violence caused by ideological differences, social gaps and sheer fanaticism," he said. "The new millennium must liberate the world from bloodshed, from discrimination, from hunger, from ignorance, from maladies."

Across town at Times Square, a digital billboard began counting the death of one woman every minute during childbirth around the world to highlight the costs of global poverty.

Amnesty International's "Maternal Death Clock" will tally the nearly 3 700 deaths estimated to have occurred during childbirth during the three-day anti-poverty summit.

Amnesty International says about 70% of those living in poverty are women, but efforts in many countries fail to address the widespread discrimination women face in obtaining food, water, sanitation and housing - especially in slums.