$16 Billion Pledged To Aid World's Poor

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 26, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 25 -- Faced with a global financial crisis, foreign governments still mustered more than $16 billion in commitments to fund programs to eradicate poverty, fight infectious diseases and put millions of children through primary school, the United Nations announced Thursday.

But some foreign leaders and private groups cautioned that governments frequently fail to follow through on their promises and that much of the money pledged this week may be repackaged promises made in years past.

Still, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon characterized Thursday's poverty summit -- which brought more than 90 world leaders together with celebrities, business executives and philanthropists -- as a "very successful day."

The event, he said, "has exceeded our most optimistic expectations."

Ban convened the summit to build momentum for the international effort to meet a series of targets known as the Millennium Development Goals. They target hunger, malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases and include providing universal access to education for children by the year 2015.

Ban was joined at a closing news conference by Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who helped plan the event, along with former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

Thursday's meeting unfolded as the Bush administration and Congress worked frantically to stem the financial crisis centered on Wall Street, just miles away from the U.N.'s midtown headquarters.

France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said the call for aid could not have come at a worse time and predicted that many governments are unlikely to make good on cash pledges to fight poverty. "We are lying," he told American reporters at a breakfast Thursday.

Asked if his government would pledge more aid today, Kouchner said, "No. For the time being, we are really restricted" in what can be given. He said it is extremely difficult to inject more money into development at a time when wealthy donors are facing the prospects of limited economic growth.

But Brown, who spent much of his day discussing the crisis with Wall Street executives, countered that: "This would be the worst time to turn back."

"Our greatest enemy is not war or inequality or any single ideology or a financial crisis, it is indifference," he said.

In 2002, governments agreed to commit 0.7 percent of their gross national income to meet the Millennium Development Goals. But only a handful of Northern European countries, including Denmark, Sweden and Norway, have lived up to those obligations.

Last year, donors spent about $103.7 billion in foreign assistance. Ban has asked states to give an additional $18 billion a year, including more than $6 billion a year for Africa.

Anti-poverty activists said that funding has been grossly inadequate to meet the Millennium Development Goals. But they said that Thursday's summit drew fresh attention and money to the problem.

"Given the financial environment, this is not bad at all," said Alison Woodhead, spokeswoman for the aid organization Oxfam International. "The summit has proven that there is a renewed appetite for the fight against poverty."

Woodhead said, however, that the world's failure to confront the global food crisis marred Thursday's event.

Ban said governments, foundations and businesses this week pledged more than $4.5 billion for education and about $3 billion for the fight against malaria.

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