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Economic Slump Fears

DPA news agency (nda)September 21, 2008

The UN General Assembly will review efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger next week, just as the world economy is slumping and high food prices have stripped the poor of their purchasing power.

A scavenger looks for plastic bottles from a public trash bin with a propaganda of a perfume as background Wednesday Sept. 3, 2008 in Shanghai, China.
The global financial crisis is already hindering UN efforts at helping the world's poorImage: AP

The summit at UN headquarters in New York on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on Thursday takes place at a time the world's biggest donors, like the United States and European nations, are struggling to prop up their failing economies and may no longer be able to assist the UN with big checks.

The UN has asked those donors to increase development assistance by 18 billion dollars a year on top of their commitment to provide annually $50 billion to help poor countries.

The UN said the commitment, made in 2005 by the group of eight industrialized nations (G8), had not been met entirely, which would impede efforts to advance the MDGs, a set of eight goals to be achieved by 2015.

Without additional funds between now and 2010, the goal of ending poverty and hunger by 2015 looks grim. Among the other goals are making available universal primary education for all children, reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, achieving gender equality and ending maternal and child mortality.

Food crisis adds to soaring undernourishment

A malnourished man receives treatment at a Medecins Sans Frontieres clinic in Leer in southern Sudan.
The number of people suffering from malnutrition has risenImage: AP

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome said spiraling food prices since the summer have added 75 million people to the mass of 923 million undernourished people around the world reported last year. Soaring prices in fuel and fertilizer have aggravated living standards in poor regions, with food prices rising 52 percent between 2007 and 2008, FAO said.

The MDGs are an ambitious plan, with uneven achievements since it was launched in 2000. Progress had been made, but not enough to reach the desired levels that would make a difference in poor countries.

Ending poverty and hunger, a major goal in the entire plan, has been largely achieved in China because of its fast growing economy, but has failed in Africa. China has been able to lift more than 400 million people out of poverty.

The World Bank estimated 1.4 billion people are now living in extreme poverty - now measured by the purchasing power of $1.25 a day in 2005 prices.

The poverty rate in East Asia fell from nearly 80 percent to 20 percent over a 25-year period, while it remained constant at 50 percent in sub-Saharan Africa over the same period.

More HIV/AIDS cases but more access to drugs

Esther Babalola, 38-year-old mother of four, waits for a doctor at the HIV/AIDS clinic in Sagamu, southern Nigeria
More HIV/AIDS sufferers are getting the drugs they needImage: AP

In the struggle to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, the UN report said the number of people living with the AIDS virus has increased from 29.5 million in 2001 to 33 million in 2007. But 3 million infected people had access to anti-retroviral treatment in 2007, the highest number so far.

The vast majority of the 33 million AIDS infected people are in sub-Saharan Africa and 60 percent of them are adult women, the report said.

Malaria killed an estimated 1 million people a year worldwide, 80 percent of them are children under five in sub-Saharan Africa. There continue to be between 300 million and 500 million cases of malaria worldwide each year, the UN said.

The goal of providing universal primary education for children has advanced, with the number of children out of school falling from 103 million in 1999 to 73 million in 2006 around the world. Sub-Saharan Africa has brought 71 percent of children into school.

The goal of reducing child mortality has also achieved some success, falling from 93 to 72 deaths per 1,000 children under 5 between 1990 and 2006, the UN said. But 27 sub-Saharan countries made no progress in reducing child deaths during that period.

Childbirth still a great risk

A mother hold her malnourished boy as they wait for treatment at a Medecins Sans Frontieres clinic in Lankien in southern Sudan.
Mothers in sub-Saharan countries lack the necessary careImage: AP

One of the greatest disparities between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world remained in the area of improving maternal health. One of 22 African women risks dying of preventable pregnancy diseases and childbirth while the ratio is 1 in 7,300 women in the developed world.

In Niger, one in 17 women risks dying of pregnancy-related causes, compared with one in 17,400 in Sweden. The report said 1 million African children are left motherless and vulnerable because of maternal death.

Alarmed by the slow progress in some of the targets for achievements by 2015, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for meetings and discussion on the fringes of the General Assembly to step up activities.

"We face nothing less than a development emergency," Ban said of poverty eradication.

"Halfway to the target date of 2015, it is clear that we are not on track to meet the goals, especially in Africa. And the new global challenges - an economic slowdown, high food and fuel prices, and climate change - threaten to reverse the progress we have made."