United Nations and development officials say sub-Saharan Africa will not be able to meet U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing extreme poverty and improving health by 2015 without immediate action. From U.N. headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon chaired the inaugural meeting of the Africa Steering Group Friday. The meeting brought together leaders from top development agencies including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, as well as the African Development Bank to address why Africa is failing to make progress.

Halfway to the 2015 deadline, Secretary-General Ban says he is worried.

"We are concerned that many African countries are off track," he said.  "Particularly for the countries in sub-Saharan regions. That is the only region in the world where not even a single country is on track. We must help those countries so they will get on track. We need to have balanced development by the time we reach 2015."

African Union Commissioner for Economic Affairs Maxwell Mkwezalamba, says one way of achieving that is for international donors to make good on pledges made at earlier conferences to increase assistance to Africa to 50 billion dollars annually.

"International support has not been as forthcoming as promised, and this has been one of our major concerns. You look at the commitments made since Monterey [Mexico] in 2002 and Glen Eagles [G-8] summit in 2005, and we find that there is not much that has come to Africa. This indeed is something that needs to be addressed if Africa is to attain MDGs by target date of 2015," he said.

The Steering Group says it is vital for African governments to know how much aid they can count on so they can allocate it to such millennium development goals as eradicating hunger and poverty, reducing child mortality, and combating HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases.

European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel says the type of assistance is also very important.

"We have a special focus for aid-for-trade," he explained.  "There cannot be sustainable development in the developing countries without a very strong support of trade. Because trade can of course bring prosperity and jobs, and also give to the states the means they need in order to bring the basic services to the people and to help the people."

While the Steering Group finds Africa's lack of progress alarming, it says it can be turned around in time to meet the 2015 target.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick points to the progress Mozambique has made in lowering infant mortality rates, enrolling more children in primary school and increasing public spending on health, education, agriculture and infrastructure projects.

"One can see very clearly that with the right leadership, the right programs and the right support you can really be quite successful, as Mozambique has been," he noted.

While sub-Saharan Africa has had the least success in meeting these goals, the United Nations says Asia has seen the fastest progress. Latin America, the Middle East, and North Africa have had mixed results.