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Poverty, Conflicts, Center Stage at UN Annual Meeting

The United Nations General Assembly Hall in at UN Headquarters in New York City
The United Nations General Assembly Hall in at UN Headquarters in New York City

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Margaret Besheer

The international community gathers for its annual meeting at the United Nations next week. World leaders will take to the podium in the General Assembly to discuss issues of concern to their countries, regions and the world. The Millennium Development Goals also will take center stage at a special summit.  A lot of the substance of the gathering will take place in smaller, private sessions away from the television cameras.

The U.N. General Assembly's annual debate gets under way on September 23.  Leaders and representatives from all 192 member states are expected to address the gathering. In a long-established tradition, Brazil's president will open the debate, followed by the U.S. president as the leader of the host nation.

This year's debate will be preceded by a three-day summit on the Millennium Development Goals. Some 140 presidents and prime ministers are expected to attend.

The goals are meant to reduce extreme poverty, hunger and disease by 2015. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that with the target date just five years off, many countries are in danger of not meeting the goals, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.  But he said recently that with the right strategies countries can close those gaps.

"But if we have the right mix of political priority and resources, together, combined, then we can achieve it," said Secretary-General Ban.  "And if the developing countries have more focused priority policies and enhancing good governance and investing even limited resources toward the areas like education and job creation, maternal and children's health, and with international assistance, this can be achievable."

Maternal health and reducing child mortality are particular concerns. Action plans for implementing all of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are expected to be adopted at the summit. Mr. Ban said a simple yet crucial message runs through the document.

"The goals can be achieved. The MDGs are difficult and ambitious, but doable," added Mr. Ban.

Apart from the speeches, the annual meeting in New York gives leaders the opportunity to meet one-on-one and in small groups, where much of the substance happens.

Political instability and violence in Somalia and other parts of Africa, the recent devastating floods in Pakistan, and the fight against international terrorism are just a few of the  topics world leaders are expected to discuss.

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