UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - World leaders recommitted themselves to reducing global poverty, pledging an estimated $16 billion in aid, but France said rich countries were strapped by a spreading crisis in financial markets.
While some of the money had been previously announced, there were new commitments for malaria and education, including $168 million by Microsoft founder Bill Gates for research to develop malaria vaccines.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said if verified, the $16 billion figure “would be all the more remarkable because it comes against the backdrop of financial crisis.”
The meeting of governments, the private sector and development agencies sought to assess progress of universally agreed Millennium Development Goals to halve global poverty by 2015 and identify next steps.
“The last few days have re-injected momentum which must sweep on, collecting more support as it swells,” activist and rock star Bono told Reuters. “Even in these tough times, this historic promise has never been more important to keep.”
As the financial turmoil weighed on the meeting, Ban said a partnership between governments, the private sector and charitable groups “is the way of the future.”
Ban said the global food crisis was far from over. He said updated figures show 75 million more people now faced hunger, lifting the total figure to well above 900 million.
Earlier, he pressed countries to be generous.
“The current financial crisis threatens the well-being of billions of people, none more so than the poorest of the poor,” Ban said. “This compounds the damage being caused by much higher prices for food and fuel.”
But French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said it was “sort of unfair” to talk about poverty goals when Western countries were battling a credit crisis.
Asked if France would announce new funding commitments for countries to reach the poverty goals, Kouchner told reporters: “No, for the time being we are really restricted.
“That’s why this is so difficult to face at the same time this crisis, with the so limited growth, and promising to the people to get more money for development. This is not true,” he said. “We are lying.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, however, appealed to rich countries not to use the financial crisis as an excuse for not helping the poor.
“This would be the worst time to turn back,” he said.
While there has been progress in developing countries in Asia and Latin America, the United Nations has said not a single African country is on track to reach all of the targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals.
Ban said this week the fight against poverty can be won if rich countries provide some $72 billion a year.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick said he worried the financial crisis could quickly spread to developing nations, already reeling from higher food and fuel prices.
Developing country leaders expressed concern that the anti-poverty goals were beyond their reach, and urged wealthy nations to act firmly to ensure the crisis did not spread.
“We believe that the world’s leading countries should act more responsibly in order to mitigate the consequences of the global financial, food and energy crises,” Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon told the U.N. General Assembly.
Still, Ban said success in reducing malaria in Africa showed that with well-targeted funding efforts could pay off.
“We are close to containing this scourge,” Ban said. “What we are doing with malaria, we should do with education, maternal health, climate and agriculture.”
Additional reporting by Claudia Parsons and Patrick Worsnip, Editing by Doina Chiacu