Extreme poverty the focus at U.N. summit
Fewer people live in poverty now than in the 1990s, the UN wants to cut this number in half by 2015.
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What that's likely to mean, they add, is that the low-hanging fruit on the poverty reduction tree may have already been picked.Skip to next paragraph
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"The big challenge now is that, by and large, the parts of humanity still falling through the cracks, whether it's in Africa or Asia or Latin America, are the hardest to reach: the ethnic and linguistic minorities, the most remote of rural populations, the populations in conflict-affected countries," says Charles MacCormack, president of Save the Children and a longtime specialist in international development.
Some development specialists worry that a focus on overall progress on the millennium goals will obscure a glaring failure to advance on a few key indicators, most notably on maternal health and reducing maternal mortality rates.
"We are saying that [the goal of improving maternal health] is the goal where the least progress has been made ... and no one is disagreeing that that's the case," says Susannah Sirkin, deputy director for international policy at Physicians for Human Rights, an organization that advocates health as a human right.
Indeed, the 2008 report on the Millennium Development Goals declares that in 2005 more than 500,000 women died during pregnancy, and acknowledges that "little progress has been made in saving mothers' lives."
Noting that 99 percent of these fatalities occur in the developing world – and that almost all of them are preventable – Ms. Sirkin says the obvious conclusion is that they are the result of continuing discrimination against women. "We want maternal health to be recognized as an essential human right," she adds, "because rights imply obligations on the part of governments."
In calling the development-goals summit, Ban is following a model he initiated last year when he used the annual September opening of the UN General Assembly to hold a summit on global warming.
This year Ban says he is not looking so much for new commitments in development aid as for fulfillment of commitments already made. He also wants to remind the governments of developing countries, in particular in Africa, of the essential role that policy and efficient governance play in advancing development.
US officials say the American position going into the summit is that the US is meeting all of its commitments, having more than doubled its foreign assistance since 2002. They say that US foreign assistance is already focused on Africa, which is where the biggest challenges remain for even approaching the millennium goals by 2015.