A new report says the global poverty rate is likely to be halved by 2015, the goal set by the Millennium Development Goals.  But, it says this is no reason to cheer as the figures mask large disparities among regions.  Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The United Nations says the world has made good progress in reducing extreme poverty.  But, it says this achievement now is being undercut by higher prices, particularly of food and oil.   It says the global economic slowdown is also cutting into this achievement.

The World Bank puts the number of poor around the world at 1.4 billion.  It says this is larger than previously thought.  But, it notes new estimates confirm that between 1990 and 2005, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 1.8 to 1.4 billion. 

It says this indicates the 1990 global poverty rate is likely to be halved by 2015, which would put the world on track to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

However, the UN report says these figures mask large disparities among regions.  It says poverty is declining most in Eastern Asia, particularly China.  Other regions are seeing only a modest fall in poverty rates.  And, UN officials say the number of poor has increased in sub-Saharan Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The U.N. Special Investigator on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter says the prevailing higher food prices are expected to push many people into poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

"One hundred and five more million people will be falling into extreme poverty according to the World Bank estimates as a direct consequence of these increases ... The peak is behind us and the prices have been declining since early July ... But, the prospects are that we will remain with comparatively higher prices in the future," De Schutter said.  

De Schutter says high food prices are a result of population growth, changing dietary habits and the increased demand for production of crops for fuel.  He says climate change will have a disproportionate impact on the poor, especially in Africa, which already suffers from food shortages.

He says there is a need to increase food production to meet the needs of the planet.  But, he says there are many different ways to do this.

"Some will do very little, if anything at all for the 900 million people who are hungry today," De Schutter said.  "These 900 million people for the most part-they are not hungry because there is not enough food.  They are hungry because they do not have money to buy the food, which is available on the markets.  They are competing with populations whose purchasing power is much higher than theirs."

The UN report notes substantial gains in a number of other areas.  For instance, it says 90 percent primary school enrollment has been achieved in all but two out of 10 regions in the world. 

It says deaths from measles have been cut by one third, more than one and a half billion people have access to clean drinking water and access to essential medicines are spreading to the poorest countries. 

But, the report says big problems remain.   It says more than half a million mothers in developing countries still die in childbirth or from pregnancy complications every year.  It says about one-quarter of developing world children are undernourished, and almost half of the developing world still lacks good sanitation.