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Clinton Global Initiative Kicks Off Annual Meeting

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, September 19, 2011.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton kicked off the seventh annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) forum on Tuesday in New York City.

The event, which is expected to draw more than 50 heads of state, business leaders, humanitarians and celebrities, is focused on addressing some the world's most daunting global problems, including unemployment, malnutrition, high mortality, environmental degradation, and the threat of overpopulation.

Clinton said that despite serious economic problems in the U.S., Americans cannot afford to ignore problems abroad.

“There is nothing inconsistent with having a serious approach to solving our own economic challenges, and still doing what we should responsibly do for development and economic opportunity in the rest of the world," the former president said.

Tuesday's gathering featured about 30 forums on topics ranging from global shortages of health workers, disaster preparedness, African food security, and development in post-conflict zones.

During a forum that called for an end to child marriage, South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed what he called a ghastly practice that affects an estimated 25,000 girls a day or 10 million girls each year.

"I am making a very personal appeal to religious leaders, to traditional leaders, to male leaders," he said, denouncing a tradition in many societies in which girls as young a nine are forced to marry considerably older men. "If you aren’t on the right side, then we are in trouble."

A sampling of this year's practical solutions encouraged by the CGI: Clean cooking stoves in poor villages to prevent the asphyxiation of millions from open fires in homes; calcium supplements to prevent maternal death caused by preeclampsia in childbirth; recovery of plastic waste in oceans; hand-crank emergency radios for poor and isolated regions; and salt iodization to combat goiter.

A similar range of forums is scheduled for the next two days, and President Barack Obama is expected to address the gathering on Wednesday.