The rich world is running dangerously short of time to redeem its promises on helping the poor, the United Nations says.
Despite three years of concerted effort, some countries have recently begun to get poorer.
On present trends, some African countries will not vanquish poverty until 2165, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
Releasing its Human Development Report 2003, the UNDP says poverty is not inevitable. In the last 30 years, life expectancy in poor countries has risen by eight years, and illiteracy has been halved.
But it says progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is patchy, with success still uncertain.
Are rich countries doing enough to help developing nations? Have the Millennium promises been forgotten? What can be done to narrow the gap between rich and poor?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
Having studied economics and ethics I understand the complexities involved in solving world poverty, but as a human being I also know about greed. It is greed in us in the west which allows us to live in luxury whilst millions die of poverty in circumstances beyond their control. Perhaps it's time we stopped making excuses and started considering others and what is right in the decisions we make - being less materialistic and more generous.
Yes the gap is widening, with the middle class being squeezed. Bush economics (or lack of) and his tax cuts are designed to shift the burden of government to the middle class and give the wealthy a free ride.
Carter, Austin, Texas
Citizens in the developed world have demanded, and received, protections against many forms of corporate abuse. Now corporations can seek cheap labour in countries with no such protections, thereby victimizing the citizens of the Third World and undercutting the citizens in the developed world. The trick is to balance capitalism, which drives the economy and with the rights of people, who make up the society. Good governance is able to meet both needs.
Paula, Boston, USA
It's down to the governments of countries to make sure their people have a decent living standard. Many of the governments of the poorer nations are rifled with corruption and any financial aid sent to them from richer countries is sometimes used for amoral means. We should be putting pressure on the UN to sort out these governments. It's easy to blame capitalism and major corporations for the plight of the poor, but is McDonalds really responsible for the starving in Third World nations?
Dan Factor, London, England
The very concept of a free market economy is to optimise the profits of the multinational corporations without any hindrance. How can one expect that the rich will help the poor while they maintain their own subsidies and protectionism?
Srinivasan Toft, Humlebæk, Denmark
This gap will always exist as a utopian world simply cannot exist. There are too many people and not enough resources on this planet.
I am 44 years of age and when I started out you could join a company at the bottom and work your way through. Today you join at the bottom and in most cases you stay there. Also with the current fashion of employing overseas workers cheaper, if you work for 20 years to build up your house, family etc, it is easily lost and you are back to square one.
Steve R, Slough, UK
A working, single mother today can live in a heated house with indoor plumbing and electricity. Those were luxuries only at the turn of the century. And what has brought about this increase in the standard of living? Free markets, democracy and the rule of law, precisely what the Third World lacks today.
Alex, Montreal, Canada
The divide is getting wider and will continue to do so as long as we adhere to the framework of our current economic system and capitalism.
Andrew Hammond, UK
Mismanagement of the developing world is partly to blame. Some of the blame lies on the shoulders of big multinationals operating in poor nations. The Western governments prefer not to reign in these culprits since they are the ones who ensure the availability of cheap commodities in the west. The human cost involved in producing cheap clothes, diamonds, chocolates etc are conveniently swept under the carpet.
Ranil, Sri Lanka/ USA
The developed world can only partly be blamed (trade barriers for example) for the poverty that is seemingly entrenched in the Third World. Corruption, war and a lack of democracy are the major factors that create poverty. Giving billions in aid will only benefit those in power. Real political reform is what is needed rather than giving money to those who will only use it for political influence and on their military instead of the development that would help to alleviate the suffering of millions.
Kevin Hitchon, Sydney, Australia
Yes, the divide is growing and so is the hatred which gives rise to fundamentalism. What the poorer countries need is opportunity. The opportunity platform can only be sustained if firstly the poorer countries establish the capacity to utilize development aid effectively and secondly and most importantly, learn to reinvest in themselves
And third, develop regional cooperation between countries (Africa - NEPAD)
Cape Town, South Africa
This is certainly true. I believe this is so because of the 'interest' based economies of the world. The rich let their money grow at the banks, and therefore they do not invest in the creation of goods or services. The rich get richer that way.
While the poor borrow money from these banks and over a period of time, the interests on the loan double and triple until those who have borrowed end up poorer than they were in the first place.
The only solution to this is 'Islamic banking'.
Jibran Syed, Karachi, Pakistan
Simple mathematics: The world's resources are finite. If one part of the world (the smaller) takes more and more, less will be left for the rest. To narrow the gap, the northern hemisphere needs to give up on its living standards and this will never happen.
Of course the gap between rich and poor is getting wider. It always has since people have been on the planet. Although it does not require money to make money (good ideas help) it sure makes life easier. In today's global economy, the rich move their money to where it makes more money. This is why there were economic crisis in Asia in the late 90s; large sums of money were moved out of those countries on short notice. Why? Because the rich thought that their money would do better in other markets.
Jan de Groot, Netherlands
I think the fact that the problem of poverty is recognised by many people is a good thing, and I do strongly believe that people in the First World have got to be the voice for the hungry and deprived who don't have a voice. Public pressure can work, if the First World pressured their governments to tackle world poverty more I think the gap between the rich and poor nations will narrow.
South Africa, living in London
As a South American citizen, I note that over the last 30 years, the IMF policy and those of our governments too have produced produces recession after recession. The Argentinean debt reached $180bn but the income of the population did not increase enough in the last 20 years.
Pedro Ghiguly, V. Gesell, Argentina
I believe that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Corrupt leaders in Third World countries are the real cause.
Peter, West Australia
This is yet another anti-globalisation myth. The poor today even in developing nations are better off and have a greater chance of social mobility than they ever have before. The problem with the UN is that it is focusing on everything but the real issues: Democracy - since almost half its member states are dictatorships and open markets (since the main obstacle to that is Europe) and free movement of people (since it is controlled primarily by white people and the idea of free movement of people wrangles them). So the UN will continue to bleat, the EU to obstruct while globalisation and market forces continue to press on as the only hope of saving the worlds poor while everyone else remains in denial and inaction.
Amoroso Gombe, Kenya
The governments of the world's richest countries spend billions of dollars every year to fight poverty throughout the world. But it's ludicrous to think that sympathy for human suffering motivates aid. Rich countries use money to manipulate poor countries and gain significant political advantages (for example, Pakistan was well rewarded by the US for its help in the war on terror). Influencing developing countries is relatively cheap. Last year, the UK spent 0.30% of its gross national product on foreign aid, and the US spent just 0.12%. Both figures are well below the 0.70% target set by the UN.
Mike, Urbana, IL, USA
Although it is admirable for so-called rich countries to try and help other less well off countries - we must not do this to our own detriment ie must we destroy our own farming communities in order to make theirs better? Must we export our scarce jobs (eg call centres) and leave our own looking for work? There is a fine balance here, we didn't get to where we are by giving more than taking - this must be maintained.
Robert, London, UK
If everybody had the standard of living of the average American, for example, the planet would need to be ten times its current size in order to feed us all and keep us supplied with oil.
No wonder the West is less than keen to bridge the gap. Who wants to suffer a reduced standard of living just in order to achieve a more equitable distribution of resources? Surely unacceptable in a capitalist society.
Guy Chapman, Reading, UK
The obvious way to help Third World countries is to end the triple whammy of subsidising Western agriculture, restricting Third World imports, and dumping the West's surpluses on Third World markets. Unfortunately, though Western farmers are relatively few in number, they are an extremely vociferous lot if they feel threatened. Finding politicians with the guts to tackle them is not easy.
Jon E, France
The divide between the rich and the poor is really getting wider, with the level of poverty and corruption getting out of hand. Look at a country like Nigeria, the leaders are not accountable to the masses. The masses are not accountable to the leaders so how do you think poverty can be reduced in the continent?
Hope Anigboro, Nigeria
There is a monopoly on money in the US that is corrupting the entire democratic process and just economic system. Anti-trust laws are virtually ignored, and this is sending any and all progress of our great nation back into the depths of fear and imperialism. This is a real sign of weakness, greed, and inevitably, a failed society.
John Booth, Raleigh, NC
It's all relative really. In most rich countries, the rich(est) are getting richer... while the rest are just getting poorer and poorer.
What's worse is the apathy that has crept in both classes. The rich don't seem to care what happens to the rest, and the "rest" don't seem to care what happens to the rest either.
Citizens of countries like mine need to realise that it's not our God given right to be richer than everyone else. Whether we like it or not, the west is rich at the expense of the poor. We need to readjust our efforts from trying to make ourselves richer and richer to trying to help the rest of the world catch up a bit.
Katherine, London, UK
In my opinion, the poverty gap between the haves and have nots will continue to increase while we continue to embrace some of the basic principles of capitalism, and yet ignore the important questions raised by socialism and communism about the true meaning of the word "equality".
As unsettling it is to focus attention on the poverty in Africa, I don't think we should forget for a moment that poverty is increasing too in the developed countries.
Stable democratic government is essential for these countries. We can pump in as much money as we want, but while they are run by corrupt regimes the money will just not get through to those who need it. All that will happen is that our consciences will be soothed.
It's no coincidence that most poor countries have corrupt or inefficient governments. Throwing money at the problem will not solve the problem. The simple fact is that industrial countries have been spending billions and billion on aid, yet the problem still exists and in many places is worse.
Mike Daly, Hackettstown, NJ - USA
Only one thing will alleviate poverty in the Third World and that is population control. Poor countries such as Ethiopia have doubled their populations in the last 20 years and inevitably there are not enough resources to support such an incredible growth in numbers.