UN's Ban urges world to think big on global crises

The world needs "to think big" to solve the global financial crisis while helping reduce poverty, the UN secretary-general said yesterday.

Ban Ki-moon, speaking after an informal retreat with leaders attending a UN development financing conference in the Qatari capital, said it was important to avoid focusing only on financial problems and chided leaders of rich nations for not attending in greater numbers.

"We need to think big," he said at a news conference. "The financial crisis is not the only crisis we face, we also confront a development emergency and accelerating climate change.

"We need a fully global stimulus plan that meets the needs of emerging economies and developing countries. Rescue packages must be closely coordinated and we must protect the poor and most vulnerable, not only the rich and powerful."

Expectations for the conference have been dampened by the absence of Western leaders, preoccupied with the global financial turmoil.

The crisis, which has prompted vast government bailouts in Europe and the United States and raised the spectre of a deep global recession, seems to have dampened appetite for providing aid, angering developing countries and aid agencies.

"Of course, we hoped that the more high level delegations would be represented, that might have been much better," Ban said, adding that the Group of 20 rich nations and key developing states was represented by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the presidency of the European Union.

Sarkozy is the only Western leader attending the conference, and the heads of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are both absent.

Aside from the Qatari ruler, other attendees at the retreat included the Korean prime minister and leaders from Benin, Bulgaria, Costa Rica and Croatia.

The UN chief said the group did not discuss an actual sum for financing development, but said any figure would be minuscule compared to the trillions spent on bailing out financial institutions.

"If we talk only on the food crisis - it is our estimate that we may need at least $30- to $35- billion annually for the coming three years," he said. "The vast sums committed to bailing out banks and private companies dwarf ODA (overseas development aid).

"Surely we can find the much more modest amount needed to sustain more than a billion lives."

This month, the United Nations and its partners asked for a record $7 billion for humanitarian assistance projects in 2009.

The Doha meeting - which runs from November 29 to December 2 and is unrelated to the World Trade Organisation's Doha round - was set up to discuss ways to finance development through trade, aid and debt relief.