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Amid Finance Crisis, UN Aid Summit Raises $16 Billion

Despite a massive financial crisis afflicting rich countries, a one-day UN development conference witnessed a strong outpouring of aid from leaders both public and private to help the world's poorest nations.

A person looks in a trash can with a Chanel No. 5 ad in the background

Poor and wealthy countries are economically linked, said world leaders

Major charitable foundations, government leaders and businesses of all stripes joined forces Thursday to push for progress in ending poverty, hunger and fighting diseases, and warned that the ongoing financial turmoil was no reason to bring those efforts to a halt.

The pledges totalled $16 billion (10.9 billion euros) according to an initial UN estimate, including more than $3 billion to eradicate malaria, $2 billion to tackle an ongoing food crisis and $4.5 billion for educational programs.

Nearly overshadowed by financial crisis

Fighting for money -- and headlines -- in light of the financial turmoil of the last few weeks, officials appeared happy with the outcome of the one-day talks.

The conference was held as the US Congress was stalled in talks over a massive $700-billion bailout of the US financial industry. Leaders in New York were hounded with questions about the crisis at nearly every aid initiative that was launched.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the aid offers "exceeded our most optimistic expectations" and were a sign of "global partnership in action."

Mesquito on a person's arm

Africa has suffered most from malaria

The new pledges were "all the more remarkable because it comes against the backdrop of a global financial crisis," he added.

Nearly 80 world leaders attended the one-day session to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a series of ambitious UN targets aimed at improving the plight of the world's poorest by 2015.

One step closer to eradicating poverty

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has spearheaded efforts to boost global aid, called it "the broadest coalition ever assembled" to combat poverty. He said it would bring the world far closer to achieving the UN's targets.

Many leaders talked up the economic linkages between the world's industrial nations and its poorest in an effort to attract more development aid. Developing countries touted their own ongoing crisis, a surge in food and energy prices that has caused social unrest in dozens of nations.

Nigerian Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe said that globalization meant "either shared prosperity ... or shared misery for the world."

Jeffrey Sachs, an economist from Colombia University, said it was "preposterous" that industrial nations could not afford to give 0.7 percent of their national budgets to development aid, whether in a time of "boom" or "bust."

Among the commitments made Thursday was a more than $3-billion initiative unveiled to eradicate malaria by 2015. The plan aims to save more than 4.2 million lives, mainly in Africa, which has suffered most from the disease.

A $4.5-billion education plan aims to bring 15 million children to school over the next three years and achieve universal primary education by 2015 -- one of seven Millenium Development Goals.

US billionaires open their wallets

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Howard G. Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, whose foundations provide hundreds of millions of dollars to global program fighting poverty and diseases, were present at the UN meetings to answer calls for generosity.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates was a major donor at the conference

Gates said that the MDGs, for all their shortcomings, had been crucial in "raising the visibility of the suffering faced by the world's poorest people" and said he was encouraged by some of the innovative ideas coming out of the process.

The billionaires offered $76 million dollars to the World Food Program to assist some 350,000 farmers in 21 developing countries over the next five years. The United States committed $61 million dollars to a similar program.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that development should be the top priority of all governments. He announced new debt-forgiveness plans and pledged $30 million dollars and 1,000 experts to help poorer countries grow their own food.

The European Union offered an additional $730 million over the next three years to help address a surge in food prices. Other commitments involved addressing climate change and promoting gender equality.

But Brown and others warned that despite some progress being made on education and combatting diseases like AIDS and malaria, many of the UN's targets were still falling flat.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said he had "hardly seen any progress at all" on cutting maternal mortality rates. Norway, Britain, the World Bank and World Health Organization created a health taskforce to free up $2.4 billion by 2009 and $7 billion by 2015.

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