UN summit promises the world, but can it deliver?

After a UN poverty summit featuring 140 world leaders, three days of speeches, and thousands of news articles, critics had only one thing left to add: cold water.

No sooner had President Barack Obama urged fresh energy in the campaign to haul the planet's so-called "bottom billion" out of extreme poverty by 2015, than aid groups demanded a reality check.

"In the time that President Obama stood at the podium to deliver his UN address, 30 women died in childbirth, and 66 children will have died from malaria," Ray Offenheiser, spokesman with the charity Oxfam, said.

"Those numbers will repeat every hour upon hour until the president's words are turned into action."

The eight Millennium Development Goals, launched in 2000, are an unprecedented attempt at global cooperation to slash child mortality rates, the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, AIDS, and other aspects of extreme hardship.

But with only five years to go until the deadline, the 140 heads of state and government at the UN summit in New York admitted they need to play catch-up.

UN officials estimate that at least 120 billion dollars will have to be found over the next five years to reach the eight ambitious markers. Some believe the real figure is far higher.

Nothing like that much crossed the horizon this week.

European leaders grabbed headlines with a pledge of 1.3 billion dollars, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a 40-billion-dollar health drive in aid of women and children.

But Oxfam called that 40-million-dollar pledge a sleight of hand.

"It's clear that rich countries are putting old promises with a seemingly big price tag in a new shiny UN wrapper, rather than announcing anything new for the world's poorest people," Oxfam spokeswoman Emma Seery said. "Almost half of the cash has already been pledged elsewhere."

At ActionAid, an NGO combating hunger, chief executive Joanna Kerr dismissed the three-day UN summit as "an expensive side-show" and "an avalanche of warm sentiment (that) cleverly concealed the fact that no fully funded plans of action for tackling poverty were actually announced."

Others asked whether governments at the root of misery in the world were the right institutions to implement the Millennium goals, which involve everything from improving health to infrastructure and protecting the environment.

Often the lack of basic services like electricity is caused by "discrimination and other human rights violations," Amnesty International's secretary general, Salil Shetty, said.

"In effect, world leaders are asking us to trust them, an incredible demand when we see the gap between what they are required to do and what they have delivered."

Mo Ibrahim, an entrepreneur turned anti-corruption crusader, said that crooked governments and private businesses pose the biggest threat to chances of successfully reaching the Millennium goals.

"We talk about governance in leaders but we also need to talk about governance in the private sector. That is very important," he said.

Ibrahim noted that the global financial crisis - which has driven a huge hole in funding efforts for the millennium goals - was largely the fault of the private sector.

"The financial crisis here which affected everybody everywhere was the result of bad governance in the private sector," he said. "That's the big elephant in the word."

 

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