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Poverty Summit: U.N. Chief Looks Beyond 2015 Deadline While NGOs Slam 'Collective Failure'

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - As more than 140 world leaders began a three-day anti-poverty summit meeting Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon looked far beyond the 2015 deadline for sustainable development the world is desperately in need of.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon kicked off a summit on Monday urging world leaders to commit to the ambitious Millenium Development targets -- now deeply behind schedule -- to cut poverty, millions of avoidable deaths and improve equality. (AFPTV/UNTV) By the year 2050, he told delegates, the world's population will have grown by nearly 50 percent.

"We will have nine billion people by that time, and we will need to cut global greenhouse emissions by 50 percent if we are to keep climate change in check," he said.

"I call this the 50-50-50 challenge," Ban added, summarising his fears of environmental degradation, in variations of 50s.

The challenges of the 21st century, he said, are far beyond the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and require vision and fresh thinking.

The three-day summit meeting began with a predictable gloom- and-doom scenario for the U.N.'s development goals, which are ambling towards a 2015 deadline. The political message coming out of the opening day was a clear warning: if the situation today is distressing, it could be infinitely worse in five years time unless there is a new strategy.

By 2015, as World Bank President Robert Zoellick put it, 1.2 million more children under five may die, 350,000 more students may not complete primary school, and about 100 million more people may remain without access to safe water.

"These are not just challenges for a summit week," he said. "These are challenges every day" - when a mother goes without food for the sake of her child; when a girl is pulled out of school for the sake of her brother; and when a grandmother takes in her grandchild with HIV/AIDs because she is quite simply the only left alive in the family.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay complained that MDGs often neglect large segments of the world's population. Many commitments world leaders have made in the past "regrettably remain only paper promises", she added.

Although one of the development goals is to help reduce by 50 percent the number of people living in extreme hunger, there will still be over 400 million people living in hunger, she said.

And some groups of people, such as children, minorities and others who suffer from racial or other forms of discrimination, are increasingly being left behind, said Pillay.

Agreeing with that scenario, the London-based Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says the MDGs have marginalised the world's minority groups and indigenous peoples who are among the most in need.

Asked who should be blamed for the current state of affairs, MRG's Carl Soderbergh told IPS that all actors, including developing countries, international agencies and donor governments, should take the blame.

"This will vary from country to country, but we have seen widespread lack of consultation with minority and indigenous communities," he said.

Moreover, there are programmes that do not reach the marginalised areas that are often home to those communities, and a lack of detailed follow-up, including sufficiently disaggregated data collection.

Besides this, said Soderbergh, "Too little is generally being done to combat discrimination and exclusion."

The gloomy scenario on poverty was also accentuated by Meredith Alexander of ActionAid who pointed out that "tomorrow almost a billion people won't have enough to eat".

Their chance of a better future rests on the U.N. summit, she said. "If they can find the political will to act, they could throw a life line to the world's hungry, who with the right support can feed themselves."

As an example, she said that smallholder farmers in Malawi were given help to buy seeds and tools.

As a result, the number of people reliant on food handouts fell dramatically, from 4.5 million to just 150,000 in just five years.

"Lack of food really is a matter of life and death. Hunger will contribute to the deaths of 100,000 mothers this year alone," she said.

The eyes of the world will be on New York to see if leaders will rise to the challenge and offer solutions equal to the size of this very real problem, Alexander said.

The MDGs are not without their success stories, mostly coming out of countries such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa. Still, the relatively limited successes of the MDGs are being overshadowed by the inherent failures, says a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including Water Aid, Action for Global Health, Action Contre La Faim International, and End Water Poverty.

"A decade of global efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has shown us the best and worst of the international community - and their commitments to support developing countries to eradicate poverty, hunger and disease," the groups said in a statement.

On the one hand, the MDGs have helped galvanise a decade of activism in which extreme poverty has been reduced, levels of child deaths have steadily declined, and enrolment in primary education has steadily risen.

On the other hand, says the coalition, there has been a "collective failure to keep in full our promises to the world's poor, exacerbated by recent global crises."

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