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UN Meetings Highlight African Needs

This week, the U.N. General Assembly holds its annual debate. On the sidelines, world leaders will discuss some of the planet's most pressing problems - among them, poverty and development in Africa. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer reports African issues will be highlighted during two important meetings.

Africa has vast potential, but a report from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the continent's development needs and challenges warns its human and natural resources are not being fully utilized.

Africa remains one of the poorest regions in the world, with about two-fifths of its population living on less than one dollar a day. The continent is home to 75 percent of the people infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide and 90 percent of the annual deaths caused by malaria.

The global food and fuel crises, the effects of climate change, and persistent extreme poverty continue to pose serious challenges to Africa.

On Monday, Secretary-General Ban hosts a high-level meeting aimed at addressing Africa's development needs. More than 100 delegations will participate, including nearly 50 heads of state and government.

Cheick Sidi Diarra is a top U.N. official for Africa. He says all commitments made by Africa and its development partners will be discussed and reviewed at the summit, which will also provide African leaders a forum for voicing their concerns about the future of their region and strategies on how to move forward.

"This will likely lead to an upgrade of priorities and to streamlining of actions. The ultimate objective is to set the right priorities towards the attainment of Millennium Development Goals," Diarra said.

U.N. member states and international organizations adopted the eight Millennium Development Goals in 2000 to provide a framework for reducing extreme poverty, hunger, disease and child mortality. The goals, which include improving education, maternal health and promoting gender equality, are supposed to be reached by the year 2015.

The U.N. has voiced concern that progress on achieving these goals is off-track on the continent. The secretary-general and the president of the General Assembly will convene a second meeting next Thursday to address these gaps.

"Most African and international commitments remain only partially realized," Diarra said. "At this juncture, meeting Africa's development needs and challenges will require resolution and leadership to turn existing African and international commitments into results, and vision into action."

Following Thursday's high-level meeting on the Millennium Development Goals, the secretary-general will also host a dinner to discuss the global food crisis, which has also severely impacted the African continent.