U.N. unveils plan to help women, children

UNITED NATIONS Thu Sep 23, 2010 1:49am IST

Kufu Mohamed cries outside his tukul as his mother Amima arrives home with the body of his four-year-old sister Michu who died of malnutrition near Sheshemene, southern Ethiopia, June 8, 2008. REUTERS/Radu Sigheti/Files

Kufu Mohamed cries outside his tukul as his mother Amima arrives home with the body of his four-year-old sister Michu who died of malnutrition near Sheshemene, southern Ethiopia, June 8, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Radu Sigheti/Files

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Looking to bolster the global fight against poverty, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday launched a $40 billion plan aimed at saving the lives of 16 million women and children over the next five years.

The plan seeks to make headway on maternal and child health, the slowest-moving elements of the Millennium Development Goals set by the world body 10 years ago to help the estimated $1 billion people living under $1.25 a day.

"These realities are simply unacceptable," Ban told a gathering attended by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and several African leaders including Rwandan President Paul Kagame. "The 21st century must be and will be different."

His announcement came on the last day of a U.N. summit in which 140 countries are set to renew their commitment to meet the goals and agree to intensify efforts to achieve them.

The United Nations agrees that the goals of halving poverty and hunger are within reach, but more is needed to meet those that cover education and maternal health, reducing child mortality, combating major diseases, promoting gender equality and protecting the environment.

It argues that investing in the health of women and children reduces poverty and stimulates economic growth. In addition to saving lives, the strategy seeks to prevent 33 million unwanted pregnancies by 2015, the year in which the development goals are set to be completed, it said.

A U.N. statement said more than $40 billion had been pledged by governments, foundations, businesses and non-governmental organizations. The figure covers both domestic investment and aid to other countries.

"It's the first time we've seen across-the-board agreement on how we approach women's and children's health," Robert Orr, a senior aide to Ban, told Reuters, adding that the plan would be endorsed by the 192 U.N. member states.

'LEARNED TO BE SKEPTICAL'

Emma Seery, spokeswoman for the development group Oxfam, said an additional $88 billion was needed to meet child and maternal health goals and anything less was not enough.

"We have learned to be skeptical of big announcements at summits," Seery said in a statement. "What really counts is where the money is coming from, which means leaders going home and putting that money into national budgets."

Joanna Kerr, chief executive of the anti-poverty group ActionAid, called the three-day summit an "expensive side-show that offered everything to everyone and nothing to no one."

"An avalanche of warm sentiment cleverly concealed the fact that no fully funded plans of action for tackling poverty were actually announced," Kerr said.

U.N. officials said nearly $27 billion was new money being announced by governments -- indicating the rest had already been committed since plans for a global strategy for women's and children's health were first disclosed in April. Some $8.6 billion was coming from low-income countries, they said.

Orr said that if 16 million lives are to be saved, the total sum needed would be as high as $169 billion. He said the $40 billion launch is expected to attract further pledges in coming years.

The U.N. statement called the global strategy "a road map that identifies the finance and policy changes needed as well as critical interventions that can and do improve health and save lives."

"Mothers and children must be at the very center of development," World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in an e-mailed statement. "Yet in too many countries they are an afterthought."

The summit has seen support by leaders from rich and poor countries to achieve the development goals and a recognition that the global financial and economic crisis has complicated the poverty-fighting agenda.

Ban has called on rich donors not to cut aid as they struggle to balance their budgets and stave off further job losses fueling frustration among voters at home.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

(For more news visit Reuters India)

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