UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pressed rich nations on Monday not to divert aid from the poor in the face of a sputtering global economic recovery, while donors insisted that aid must not be wasted.
“We should not balance budgets on the backs of the poor,” Ban told 140 leaders at the start of a three-day summit to review efforts to meet U.N. poverty goals by 2015.
In their speeches, leaders pledged to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- agreed a decade ago -- by 2015 but failed to commit new resources for the world’s poorest countries.
The United Nations believes the world is likely to halve poverty and hunger by 2015 but is behind on the other goals, which cover improving child education, child mortality and maternal health; combating diseases including AIDS, and promoting gender equality and environmental sustainability.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose government cut development aid in the face of a fiscal crisis and high unemployment, said countries were grappling with difficult decisions as they try to revive economic growth.
He said the world should consider alternatives to fund programs that tackle poverty, hunger and climate changes.
“We need to make more effort to look for alternative financing sources ... that aren’t as vulnerable as the budgets of developed countries when faced with crises like the one we’re seeing today,” he added.
Both he and French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for some form of tax on financial transactions as a way of raising money to aid the world’s poorest, an idea that has largely been rejected by the International Monetary Fund and by many in the Group of 20 major developed and developing economies.
The World Bank said it would increase spending on education by $750 million over the next five years, although aid groups said this was not enough.
Amid the high-minded talk about poverty and budgets, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigme Thinley offered a whimsical proposal to add happiness as the ninth goal.
“Since happiness is the ultimate desire of every citizen it must be the purpose of development to create enabling conditions for happiness,” he said.
With rich nations already behind on their aid pledges, donors are keen to see new strategies that ensure aid is not wasted on programs that have little impact on the poor.
British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell called for a plan that will track progress in meeting the poverty goals over the remaining five years of the MDGs.
Mitchell argued for more transparency, better coordination and a special focus on helping pregnant women and infants.
“We want a proper agenda for action over each of the next five years, not a load of blah-blah and big sums of money being thrown about, although big sums of money are important,” he told reporters.
U.S. Agency for International Development chief Rajiv Shah told Reuters ahead of the summit the United States would press for new strategies that highlight economic growth, accountability and tackling corruption.
With U.S. congressional elections on November 2 focusing on voter frustrations over the economy and unemployment, Washington is pressed to show Americans that their tax dollars are being put to good use in helping poor countries.
Among those addressing the summit are German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, a fierce critic of Washington and global capitalism, said global poverty could not be tackled as long as some countries were allowed to benefit more from the global trading system.
“I must tell you the truth early on ... an unfair distribution of wealth creates poverty and the current political and economic framework in the world does not create any solution to put an end to poverty,” he told the summit.
IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned leaders that the world will fail to slash poverty unless both rich and poor countries implement policies that restore global growth.
He urged advanced economies to keep 2005 pledges to boost aid to Africa and to increase trade with developing countries as a way of aiding the poor without burdening budgets.
Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn, Patrick Worsnip, Arshad Mohammed and Helen Popper; Editing by Bill Trott and Philip Barbara