World Leaders At U.N. Fear For Aid Efforts

Top world leaders gather at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for the 63rd annual General Assembly meeting.
By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 22 -- Foreign leaders arriving here for Tuesday's opening of the U.N. General Assembly session voiced alarm that the U.S. financial crisis threatens to spread to other countries and torpedo international efforts to fight poverty.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy canceled a media event Monday so he could assess the extent of the problems at a meeting with Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown planned to meet with Wall Street titans at an event organized by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I).

"This is going to feature largely in his talks with other ministers," said Mark Malloch Brown, Britain's minister of state for Africa, Asia and the United Nations. "We've got to recognize that our goals are being jeopardized by the events of recent weeks."

Malloch Brown said that while Britain and other countries must increase public spending in the months ahead to shore up market stability, they should not sacrifice "low-cost" investments in programs for the poor -- from mosquito bed nets that help prevent malaria to investments in primary education.

"We need to prevent our development efforts from being swept away by the tide of financial markets" Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany's economic and development minister, said at a U.N. meeting on African development.

The German official joined other U.N. members in calling for greater regulation of global financial markets. They also called for companies and countries that have enjoyed a windfall from rising fuel and food prices to invest money in helping the world's poor. "The current crisis is related to the lack of transparency in financial markets," she said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon planned to use this year's diplomatic meeting to draw attention to the plight of the world's poorest and to ask wealthy governments to increase overseas assistance. On Thursday, Ban will prod world leaders and foreign ministers to accelerate international efforts to meet a series of benchmarks -- known as the Millennium Development Goals -- aimed at slashing the poverty levels in the world's poorest countries by 2015.

Ban told reporters last week that he feared the current financial crisis would have "a serious negative impact" on the commitment of wealthy countries to provide funding to reach those goals. In a report released last week, Ban said that most wealthy nations have failed to meet their commitments to increase funding and that not a single African country is on schedule to reach the millennium goals.

In a speech Monday at a U.N. meeting on African development, Ban said that donor countries will need to raise $72 billion alone each year in aid for development programs in Africa.

"This price tag may look daunting. But it is affordable and falls within existing budgets. Just consider the fact that the OECD countries spent an estimated $267 billion last year on agricultural subsidies," he said, referring to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

As foreign leaders sought to gauge the impact of the financial crisis, some U.N. critics mocked the Bush adminstration's decision to bail out some of the icons of American capitalism.

"These same proponents of extreme liberalism change their tune at the first sign that their economic might could be at risk and that their citizens could suffer the pain they inflict on others," said the Rev. Miguel d'Escoto Brockman, a former Nicaraguan revolutionary who serves this year as president of the U.N. General Assembly.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company