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Last Updated: Monday, 12 September 2005, 07:06 GMT 08:06 UK
Poverty and the World Summit
By Richard Black
Environment Correspondent, BBC News website

Malnourished child in Niger
The UN has pledged to tackle poverty and hunger by 2015
The initial aim of the UN World Summit was to review progress on attacking world poverty and meeting the Millennium Development Goals, the pivotal targets on issues such as education, health and hunger agreed five years ago at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000.

And discussion of these issues there will be, though the agenda has evolved considerably since then.

Who are the biggest donors and who are the biggest recipients?

Security, terrorism and United Nations reform will now feature strongly in a meeting which is scheduled to bring 191 countries together, 175 of them represented by heads of state or heads of government.

The aim is to reach consensus on a wide-ranging document encompassing all of these issues.

There is a strong chance, however, that this will not be possible, with parts of the wording left open, important issues left unresolved, or mismatches between commitments made and resources pledged.

Goals expanded

The agenda for the summit was largely determined by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in a report released in March this year entitled In Larger Freedom.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. AP PhotoOsamu Honda
Kofi Annan wanted a wider agenda for reform
Mr Annan listed four principal aims which would form the framework of discussions:

  • freedom from want
  • freedom from fear
  • freedom to live in dignity
  • strengthening the United Nations
Precisely how, when and why the purposes of the Summit were adapted from a simple review of the Millennium Goals to this larger, all-encompassing concept is not entirely clear.

But it appears that a number of influential governments wanted to ensure that issues relating to security, civil strife and terrorism were high on the agenda.

Mr Annan, meanwhile, had his own set of priorities which he wanted to put on the map, such as reforming the UN.

Tough talking

Whatever the precise nature of the machinations, a discussion document emerged; and earlier this year, the indications were that an agreement might be possible.

And optimism increased when the G8 group of leading industrial nations pledged to double aid to Africa by 2010 at the July summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

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Then, on 1 August, President Bush appointed John Bolton as his UN Ambassador. Shortly afterwards, the US produced a set of revisions, creating a document drastically different from that which had gone before.

References to the Millennium Goals were removed in favour of a more general wording on assistance programmes and targets; pledges to resource the United Nations according to its needs were taken out.

A number of other countries also cited reservations about elements of the proposed text.

Since then, a frantic series of last-minute negotiations have been taking place to try to agree a common text.

With just days to go, a small group including the key members of the Security Council and seven other nations have been meeting to thrash out differences, with Kofi Annan warning that negotiations are likely to go down to the wire.

There have been some concessions by the US, such as restoring a reference to the Millennium Development Goals, but there are still major disagreements.

And some issues that were central to UN reform - such as expansion of the size and composition of the Security Council - look like being sidetracked altogether.

Mr Annan's management of the UN has also been under scrutiny from the inquiry into the Iraq oil-for-food programme, which presented its third interim report a week before the World Summit's opening.

Focus on the Goals

Schooling  in Zambia; a key aim of the Millennium Goals is to boost education in Africa.  BBC
Halve the number of people living on less than $1 a day
Halve the number of people without safe drinking water
Enable all children to complete primary school
Halt and reverse the spread of Aids and malaria
For many participants and observers, though, the focus remains on the Millennium Development Goals and progress, or lack of it, towards meeting them.

The broad picture is that on a global basis, progress on many of the goals is quite good.

But with some exceptions, sub-Saharan Africa appears to be moving backwards rather than forwards.

The UN World Summit has the potential to add impetus to development initiatives, by providing a forum where action can be agreed and where different ideas can be synthesised into a coherent whole.

The fear among development activists, though, is that this opportunity may be compromised by all the other issues fighting for space on the New York table.


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