WASHINGTON - This week's U.N. summit of world leaders was to have renewed the world body and lift hopes for a fairer and safer planet. But advocacy groups and Secretary-General Kofi Annan alike decried the outcome as far short of action needed to rein in poverty, disease, and weapons of mass destruction.
When the speechifying by some 150 kings, presidents, and premiers began on Wednesday, Annan praised U.N. member states for reaching agreement on the responsibility to protect civilians from genocide, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing.
However, their second failure in a year to reach agreement to stop the spread of nuclear weapons was ''a disgrace,'' he added.
Leaders have dashed hopes and squandered opportunities, and empty promises cost lives.
Kumi Naidoo of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty coalition
''Let us be frank with each other, and the peoples of the United Nations. We have not yet achieved the sweeping and fundamental reform that I and many others believe is required,'' Annan said.
Activists took a similarly dim view of the summit, billed the largest in U.N. history and called to mark the institution's 60th anniversary.
''Leaders have dashed hopes and squandered opportunities, and empty promises cost lives,'' said Kumi Naidoo of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty coalition.
At issue were the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a package of anti-poverty targets agreed by world leaders in 2000.
The first of the goals--getting girls into primary school by 2005--already has been missed yet governments failed to acknowledge this, much less account for lack of progress on a raft of other targets to be met between now and 2015, advocacy groups said in a joint statement.
Antipoverty activists and international agencies alike had pressed wealthy nations to honor their 35-year-old promise to spend 0.7 percent of national income on foreign aid and set out a timetable for reaching that level.
Instead, rich governments this week stated that they aspired to spend 0.35 percent of national income by 2010--''half as much as they promised, forty years too late,'' coalition members said.
Creditors had agreed--most recently in July, at the Group of Eight (G8) dominant nations' summit in Gleneagles, Scotland--to cancel their claims against 18 of the world's poorest and most heavily indebted countries. But the governments retreated at the U.N. this week, agreeing only to grant partial relief to the 18 countries, campaigners including global charity Oxfam International added.
Even so, U.N. officials highlighted initiatives they said rescued the summit from outright failure. These included the establishment of a new human rights body, a peace-building commission to help nations emerging from war, and an obligation to intervene when civilians face genocide and war crimes.
UK-based Christian Aid said it supported those moves but warned that the nascent institutions could prove toothless.
The organization assailed U.N. member states for offering ''no hope'' to poor countries looking to wean themselves off aid by boosting trade. While insisting that poor countries open themselves to foreign goods and capital, the U.N. Summit declaration commits the wealthy only to ''work towards'' increasing poor countries' access to their markets.
This, Christian Aid said, is ''a promise made so often over the years that it is entirely meaningless'' and represents ''a tragic missed opportunity to send a signal to the World Trade Organization's ministerial conference in December that the world is ready for trade justice.''
It further denounced an opt-out clause in the summit declaration that allows the United States, Japan, and other countries who have not formally signed up to the 0.7 percent aid target, to avoid signing up to the pledge in future.
''This makes it less likely that the massive resource gap that exists for financing the MDGs will ever be closed,'' Christian Aid said.
Few Americans support increasing U.S. aid to poor countries, the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) said Friday. But a recent poll found the majority would agree to spend more to meet the Millennium Development Goals--on condition that other wealthy nations follow suit.
''Estimates of the cost have varied from $39 billion per year (to focus on extreme poverty alone), to around $60 billion (to pursue all the goals interdependently), or into the $80 billion range (assuming major errors in estimates and execution). Allocated, this equals approximately $15, $30, or $50 per taxpaying household in the U.S.,'' PIPA said.
''Even when Americans were asked to assume that the costs would be as much as '$50 a year per taxpaying household,' 70 percent said they would favor it,'' it added, so long as ''other countries were willing to give this much.''
The poll was conducted in June, however, before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Congress has approved some $62 billion in recovery spending so far.
At this week's U.N. Summit, U.S. Agency for International Development chief Andrew Natsios told diplomats to lower their expectations of future U.S. Aid because of the cost of cleaning up after Katrina.
Officials also said aid funds likely would be aligned more closely with U.S. homeland security and foreign policy objectives.
The United States pledges around 0.15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid.
More than 100 countries--including some of the world's poorest nations--have sent post-Katrina humanitarian aid to the United States.
South Africa-based ActionAid International on Thursday cautiously welcomed a French proposal for a new European Union (EU) airline ''poverty tax'' to help fund development efforts.
''Current aid levels are grossly inadequate, so any new money is welcome,'' said Louise Hilditch, ActionAid's policy director.
''But the current proposal makes only a small dent in unmet financial needs. It will provide no more than five percent of the estimated finances needed to meet the Millennium Development Goals,'' Hilditch added.
She further warned that the tax could ''distract attention from the urgent necessity for all donor countries to reach the aid target of 0.7 percent by 2010 at the latest--some forty years after it was first agreed.''
''Had these promises been kept, there would be much less need for a discussion about an airline tax,'' Hilditch concluded.
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