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Leaders unite against poverty

UNITED NATIONS, September 25 – World leaders will join hands at the United Nations with top figures from the private sector, foundations and civil society on Thursday to breathe new life into the flagging battle against global poverty.

The poverty summit, taking place amid heightened concern about the impact of the global financial crisis, is hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Nicaragua’s Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, the current president of the 192-nation UN General Assembly.

It features a plenary session at UN headquarters along with 40 partner events around New York focusing on malaria control, education, water and sanitation for all, gender equality and food security.

Among those taking part are British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, World Health Organization head Margaret Chan, World Bank President Robert Zoellick, and U2 singer and global anti-poverty campaigner Bono.

Ban said the aim was to galvanize world support to ensure that eight poverty reduction goals agreed by world leaders in 2000 are met by all countries by 2015.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating diseases such as HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental sustainability and creating global partnerships for development.

One of the highlights of Thursday’s summit is the launch of a Global Malaria Action plan, under which heads of state, chief executive officers and other dignitaries are to announce billions of dollars in new funding commitments for malaria control and research.

Despite some progress, "we’re still significantly off track on a number of MDGs," British International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander told reporters Wednesday, citing "the 75 million kids without no classroom and teachers to teach them, more 55 percent of them young girls."

In other setbacks, more than 500,000 mothers in developing countries die in childbirth or from pregnancy complications every year and almost half of the developing world population still lacks sanitation facilities.

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"I hope the meeting would mark an occasion whereby words of commitments can be turned into plans for action," Alexander said.

"We will be keen to see at the conclusion of the summit practical actions being taken by a number of different states to make sure that we step up our commitments at this point, half way through 2015."

On Monday, a high-level meeting on Africa’s development ended with call for rich countries to honour their pledge to double their annual aid to the continent, which is trailing the rest of the world in achieving the MDGs.

"We are concerned that, at the current rate, the commitment of doubling aid to Africa by 2010 as articulated at the (2005) G8 summit in Gleneagles (Scotland) will not be reached," a statement at the end of the meeting said.

"We call for the fulfilment of all official development assistance-related commitments, including the commitments made by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 percent of gross national income for official development assistance by 2015."

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said rich countries were behind in their aid commitments and needed to increase the level by 12 percent by 2010.

Alexander said that despite the financial crisis and high energy and food prices, it was in everybody’s interest to ensure the MDGs are met.

He singled out the need to take action to address problems in the global food market.

"We need to see a significant uplift in agricultural productivity," particularly in Africa, to feed the world’s growing population, he said.

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