UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pressed debt-ridden donor countries on Monday not to cut aid to the poor despite their budgetary woes.
“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 progress in meeting U.N. poverty goals by 2015.
During their speeches, leaders pledged to step up efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- agreed 10 years ago -- but offered little in the way of new resources.
Among those addressing the summit are U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
The United Nations agrees the world will meet the goals to halve global poverty and hunger by 2015 but is behind on other goals which cover improving child education, child mortality and maternal health; combating diseases including AIDS, and promoting gender equality and environmental sustainability.
The rise in incomes in emerging economic powers such as China is largely the reason for progress in reducing poverty while population growth has set back efforts in Africa and India.
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 urged the world to consider other ways 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 to raise money to combat poverty, an idea that has largely been rejected by the International Monetary Fund and by many Group of 20 major developed and developing economies.
The World Bank announced it would increase spending on education by $750 million over the next five years.
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 behind on their aid pledges, donors are keen to see new strategies that ensure aid is properly used by learning from past development mistakes.
British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell called for a plan to track progress in meeting the poverty goals over the remaining five years of the MDGs.
Mitchell argued for more transparency, better donor coordination and a special focus on helping 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 (USAID) chief Rajiv Shah told Reuters ahead of the summit the United States would press for a new development approach that highlighted economic growth, accountability and tackling corruption.
With U.S. congressional elections on November 2 focusing on the economy and job losses, Washington is pressed to show Americans that their tax dollars are being put to good use.
U.N. officials acknowledged donors were under budget pressures. “That makes it all the more important that government are able to show their legislatures and their publics that they are getting value for the money they’re spending,” said Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said aid would not work unless countries were allowed to develop their own poverty programs that were tailored to local conditions.
“Of course we need more money. More money matters. But aid money will not deliver concrete results unless we pay more attention to the essential idea of local ownership.”
Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn, Patrick Worsnip, Arshad Mohammed and Edith Honan; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman