UNITED NATIONS — Leaders from Africa, Asia and Latin America lamented Sunday that there has been scant progress in meeting the pledges set five years ago to reduce poverty and disease.
A grim U.N. report recently said that about 40 percent of the world's people still struggle to survive on less than $2 a day.
Prospects for meeting U.N. development goals that include cutting extreme poverty by half by 2015 dominated the final document issued at the end of last week's U.N. summit that attracted a record 151 world leaders. In the first two days of the General Assembly's follow-up ministerial meeting, the plight of the world's poor remained in the spotlight.
Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo warned on Sunday that "poverty and exclusion conspire against peace, security and democracy."
Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa expressed hope that the goals set after the Millennium Summit in 2000 — and the commitments made last week by world leaders to achieve them — "will not remain mere empty words."
Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga said "it is unconscionable" to let 6 million children die from malnutrition before their 5th birthday and to have more than 50 percent of Africa's people suffer from diseases caused by contaminated drinking water.
Reflecting a widespread demand, Ludwig Scotty, president of the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, called on wealthy nations "to match their rhetoric with action" by giving more money for development assistance and forgiving foreign debts.
On the sidelines, top diplomats from the United States, Britain, France and Germany met to discuss Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rejection of a European offer of economic incentives in return for Tehran halting its uranium enrichment program.
To prove that Iran has no intention to build nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad offered foreign countries and companies a role in Iran's nuclear fuel production program. But British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in a BBC interview Sunday called his speech "disappointing and unhelpful."
The possibility of referring Iran's nuclear ambitions to the U.N. Security Council was certain to be raised at a meeting Monday today of the executive board of the U.N. nuclear agency in Vienna, Austria.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan held private meetings Sunday with the leaders of Israel and India and the Palestinian and Sudanese foreign ministers, and Britain hosted a luncheon for Caribbean leaders.
On Saturday night, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf addressed the American Jewish Congress, saying his country could establish full diplomatic ties with Israel if it grants Palestinian statehood. He got a standing ovation, further evidence of thawing relations between Israel and the Arab world after the Israelis ended their 38-year Gaza occupation.
Underlying many global problems is the widening gap between rich and poor in many parts of the world — and the inability of the poorest to escape the poverty trap.
The 2005 U.N. Human Development Report, released Sept. 7, said more than 1 billion people still survive on less than $1 a day, and 2.5 billion live on less than $2 a day — about 40 percent of the world's 6.2 billion population.
The 35-page document adopted Friday by world leaders includes 16 pages on development, including a commitment by all governments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, which also call for universal primary education and halting the AIDS pandemic by 2015.
But the final declaration dropped a call for countries that haven't done so — including the United States — "to make concrete efforts" to earmark 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product to development assistance.
"Our second millennium faces the reality of growing poverty in two-thirds of the planet," Ecuador's President Alfredo Palacio said Sunday. "Water is becoming scarce, holes deplete the ozone layer and along with biodiversity, the Amazon is being destroyed. Entire nations are condemned to wander as disinherited immigrants, mortal illnesses hover over humanity, and terrorism lurks."