UNTIED NATIONS -- UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon has urged a gathering of world leaders not to put their own countries' economic recovery from the global recession ahead of their commitment to helping the world's poor.
At the opening of a three-day summit to review the status of the UN-agreed Millennium Development Goals, Ban told 140 heads of state and government they "should not balance budgets on the backs of the poor."
He urged leaders not to scale back their development assistance pledges, which he called "a lifeline of billions for billions" of people. "Despite the obstacles, despite skepticism, despite the fast approaching deadline, of 2015, the Millennium Development Goals are achievable."
The global recession has thrown into doubt many nations' commitment to help fund the ambitious targets of the Millennium Development Goals, which were set in 2000 by UN member states.
Those targets include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring a primary education for all children, slashing the rate of child and maternal deaths, and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS. All by 2015.
By most accounts, many of the goals have fallen short of their 10-year targets. One that hasn't is the goal of halving world poverty - a success that owes much to India and China's booming economies.
With just five years left, Ban told leaders that time is growing short. "We have more development success stories than ever before," he said. "The transformative impact of the [Millennium Development Goal] is undeniable. This is an achievement that we can be proud of, but we must protect these advances, many of which are still fragile. And the clock is ticking, we have much more to do."
Game Changing Goals
The decision at the turn of the new millennium by leaders of developed countries to confront the desperate conditions billions of people live in was hailed as unprecedented and game changing. Pledges to tackle poverty, disease, inequality, and environmental degradation were backed up with serious financial and political commitments.
But in the decade since, the momentum has slowed. In the devastating wake of the global financial crisis, governments have scaled back their commitments to development aid.
Joseph Deiss, the president of the 65th session of the UN General Assembly, which opens later this week, today urged leaders to recommit to meeting the Millennium Development Goal's targets.
"Today I first call upon each one of you, as an individual, as a head of state or government and as a member of the United Nations, to reaffirm the commitment made at the Millennium Summit and declare that we want to create, today, the conditions that are needed in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015," Deiss said.
Some governments have already responded. France today announced it would increase its annual contribution to the UN's Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria by 20 percent over the next three years.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy urged other nations to follow suit and called for a special focus on Africa, where he said 1 million children die from malaria each year.
The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development chief Rajiv Shah said U.S. President Barack Obama is committed to more than doubling the U.S. development budget, from $25 billion to $52 billion.
But Stuart Patrick, who directs the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations, said even if the White House is willing to write the check, Congress may not be.
"It's one thing for the Obama administration to promise to continue spending along these lines but it's another to guarantee that Congress will actually agree to fund that particularly if there is a change in one or both houses of Congress, things may get much more complicated for the president," Patrick said.
Even if the funding is approved, Patrick said he doesn't have much optimism that it can improve what he says are dim prospects for the Millennium Development Goals. Other countries simply don't have the financial resources they once did to help make the targets a reality.
"These targets are quite ambitious and it would have been difficult to meet them anyway but the global economic crisis that hit in late 2008 has made things far more difficult. So the story line here is that the international community is lagging in meeting these targets," he said.
Ban has said the UN needs $26 billion now and more than $100 billion through 2015 if the targets are to be met.