Wednesday, September 22, 2010

UN summit ends with calls for aid

08:51 AEST Thu Sep 23 2010

US President Barack Obama called on Wednesday for greater urgency in the fight against the world's social ills as a UN poverty summit ended with tens of billions of dollars of pledges but lingering pessimism about the impact. Obama unveiled a new "big-hearted but also hard-headed" US aid policy to push the world's poorest countries toward prosperity.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched a $US40 billion ($A41.98 billion) drive to save the lives of millions of women and children. Britain, China and Japan also promised more help.
But many leaders still accused wealthy nations of failing to keep their promises on assistance. Aid groups said millions would still die unnecessarily in the final five years of UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) initiative launched in 2000.

Obama and the UN chief highlighted advances made to reduce poverty and disease, spread education and increase opportunities for women since the Millennium summit in 2000 set eight key development targets. But the US leader said progress "has not come nearly fast enough."
"Not for the hundreds of thousands of women who lose their lives every year simply giving birth. Not for the millions of children who die from the agony of malnutrition," Obama said. Obama said the United States would now concentrate on countries that invest in their future and boost democracy, good governance and free trade. "Consider the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades. That's not development, that's dependence, and it's a cycle we need to break," he said.
"We need to be big-hearted but also hard-headed in our approach to development."

The UN chief said governments, philanthropists and private groups pledged $US40 billion ($A41.98 billion) in initiatives to boost the health of women and children. Ban estimated that his Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health could save 16 million lives by 2015.

Of the eight key development targets set a decade ago, cutting deaths of women during pregnancy and childbirth and those of children younger than five have seen the least progress. Countries from Afghanistan to Zambia - and also including Australia, Britain, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia and the United States - contributed to the drive.

Japan's Prime Minister Naota Kan promised $US5 billion ($A5.25 billion) over five years to help meet the UN's health goals and $US3.5 billion ($A3.67 billion) to help universal primary education. British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg vowed that his country's aid would reach 0.7 per cent of gross national income by 2013 and be enshrined in a law. Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the "gaps" left in the final five years of the MDG campaign.

Doubts were expressed inside and outside the summit chamber.
Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, said rich nations were behind many of the obstacles stopping nations from moving toward prosperity. He told leaders that some major countries "have replaced their firm and measurable commitments of assistance with platitudes and empty rhetoric."

China's Premier Wen Jiabao reminded world powers of their promises to devote 0.7 per cent of gross national income to assistance. So far only five countries have met the commitment.
"Assistance should be selfless and have no strings attached," Wen said.

Aid groups expressed strong doubts about the summit outcome.
ActionAid's chief executive Joanna Kerr called the UN summit "an expensive side-show". "UN summits will continue failing to deliver so long as leaders keep making empty promises on too many issues." Oxfam spokesman Ray Offenheiser welcomed the new US policy which would "support developing countries' efforts to end extreme poverty. "But let's not forget - 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. Those numbers will repeat every hour upon hour until the president's words are turned into action."