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UN: Poverty Declines in Asia, Increases in Africa


A newly released United Nations report documents unprecedented gains against poverty in Asia. But the improvement in Asia is offset by worsening conditions in southern Africa.

The 2005 Millennium Development Goals report says the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide has gone down by 130 million in the past 15 years. The decrease came, despite an overall population growth of more than 800 million in areas where poverty is worst.

The biggest improvement came in eastern, southern and southeastern Asia. In those regions, the number of people living on less than $1 a day declined by 230,000. Latin America and the Caribbean also improved.

But that good news was offset by a rise of nearly 100 million new poor in other areas, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Introducing the report, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the report presents a mixed scorecard on the 15-year goals he set in 2000 for reducing by half the estimated one billion people living in poverty.

"There has been a massive, unprecedented reduction in poverty worldwide since 1990, led by Asia," he said. "But at the same time, the very poorest are getting poorer in sub-Saharan Africa. That means, if current trends persist, many of the poorest countries will not be able to meet many, or perhaps any, of the millennium development goals."

Mr. Annan praised the European Union initiative to raise foreign aid budgets to 0.7 percent of national income, saying increases could provide a significant boost to efforts to eradicate poverty.

He made no mention of the United States, the largest individual aid donor. U.N. officials have implicitly criticized the United States for failing to allocate a larger share of its budget to development aid.

But Undersecretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Jose Antonio Ocampo of Colombia acknowledged recent increases in U.S. aid allocations.

"The U.S. has been increasing aid in recent years in a substantial way," he said. "It's still behind the objective, and has not made commitments to reach the 0.7 percent U.N. target, but it has been making progress. Given the size of the U.S., those are substantial amounts."

Mr. Ocampo noted an overall increase in assistance from developing countries over the past few years. But he said it is still far short of the record levels of past decades, when aid donations reached the 0.7 percent level.