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France steps up anti-poverty pledge

Sarkozy speaks at opening of U.N. conference

By Anita Snow Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS – The 10-year-old promise to lift the world’s poorest is unfulfilled and with world economies clawing back from the worst recession since World War II, the French president and others implored leaders on Monday not to return to their “old bad habits” of ignoring global poverty.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French leader, was the first to accept U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s challenge for nations to deliver more resources to combat global poverty, ignorance and misery. He pledged to boost France’s annual $10 billion contribution to the world’s poorest people by 20 percent over the next three years. He urged other leaders to join him.

“We have no right to do less than what we have decided to do,” Sarkozy told more than 140 presidents, premiers, princes and a king at the opening of the three-day U.N. Millennium Development Goals summit. “Let us not fall back into our old bad habits.”

Sarkozy spoke as U.N. member states began their accounting of progress in the decade since promising to end global poverty. Developed nations have fallen well short in keeping pace with a final goal set for 2015. The U.N. acknowledges that even if the main target of reducing extreme poverty by half is achieved in the next five years, nearly 1 billion people still will be living on less than $1.25 a day.

“The financial crisis is severe in the rich countries, it creates deficits,” Sarkozy said. “But its consequences are far worse for the poor countries.” Developed countries must make a special effort in Africa, he said. Too many people there still die of preventable illnesses such as malaria.

“Malaria kills 1 million children in Africa every year,” he said. “To be clear, before the end of my speech, 30 children in Africa will have died of malaria. We have no right to hide behind the economic crisis to do less.”

Recent reports show that the world’s poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, have made little progress in eradicating poverty since the U.N. goals were set forth a decade ago. Africa, Asia and Latin America have made little headway in reducing mother and child deaths, providing clean water and sanitation, and promoting women’s equality.

Diplomats from the 192 U.N. member states have already agreed on a document to be adopted this week by the leaders, spelling out specific actions to accelerate implementation of each of the eight Millennium Development Goals over the next five years.

“We are convinced that the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved, including in the poorest countries, with renewed commitment, effective implementation, and intensified collective action by all member states,” it says.

U.N. members resolved a decade ago to reduce extreme poverty by half, to ensure that every child finishes primary school and to halt the HIV/AIDS pandemic. They also vowed to reduce the number of women dying during pregnancy and childbirth by three-quarters, the number of children who die before their 5th birthday by two-thirds, and to halve the number of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation – all by 2015.

They also set goals to promote equality for women, protect the environment, increase development aid, and open the global trading and financial system.

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