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The UN's Millennium Development Goals in Danger


As more than 150 world leaders gather this week at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, officials are discussing the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty and child deaths, combating HIV and improving primary education, all by 2015. But a recent U.N. report on human development says the project is already in danger of failure.

At the start of the 21st century, world leaders saw the economic engine of globalization as a means for lifting millions out of poverty. At the United Nations, officials developed an ambitious 15-year plan with priorities aimed at improving the lives of the world's poor.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan spoke of plans for the next 15 years and pledged, "We need to decide our priorities. And we must adapt our United Nations so that in the future, those priorities are reflected in clear and prompt decisions leading to real change in people's lives. That my friend is what the people expect of us -- let us not disappoint them."

Just five years later Kevin Watkins, the author of the organization's human development report, says those goals are already in jeopardy. "This report is sending a very clear signal that most of the Millennium Development Goals will be missed in most countries if we continue on the current trend."

The millennium goals include cutting in half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty, reducing child mortality by two thirds, and halting the spread of AIDS.

U.N. officials say more funding and significant organizational changes are needed to get the initiative back on track, but even if reforms are passed, the effort faces an uphill battle because of the rapidly expanding population in the world's poorest places.

Ninety-nine percent of world population growth today is in developing countries, and Carl Haub of the Population Reference Bureau says that impedes efforts to raise living standards. "It's very difficult for governments and leaders in developing countries to try to improve things when the population itself is growing so quickly. Everyday there's more and more people, more people who need health care, younger people who need education. This number just keeps getting larger and larger and larger."

The human development report examines the consequences of global poverty, but it also warns of the growing gap between the rich and poor within countries.

The gap is starkest in poorer countries, such as India, where a tiny minority owns much of the wealth.

But the income gap is also growing in more prosperous countries such as the United States. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina appeared to disproportionately affect the poor and focused new attention on American poverty.

Private aid groups such as the Red Cross have substantially contributed to helping the world's poor, especially after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but experts say governments ultimately are responsible for reducing poverty.

However, at the United Nations meeting in New York this week, leaders were unable to agree on any substantial reforms for re-energizing efforts to meet the Millennium Development initiatives.