Asian ministers fret over millennium goals

JAKARTA, Wednesday 4 August 2010 (AFP) - Ministers from Asian countries expressed "grave concern" Wednesday about persistent high levels of infant and maternal mortality and pledged to reinvigorate efforts to achieve UN development goals.

Delegates including ministers and civil society representatives from 25 countries ranging from Iceland to New Zealand have met for two days in Indonesia to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The conference in Jakarta comes ahead of next month's world summit on the millennium targets at the United Nations in New York. The goals cover indicators like poverty, health and education by 2015.

"There has been progress in some areas of the MDGs but there are also areas where progress has been slow and may only expect to meet these targets after 2015," the ministers said in a joint statement at the end of the meeting.

"We therefore commit to reinvigorate our efforts... We resolve to address the extreme poverty of the 900 million people that reside in Asia and the Pacific, in order to create a just and prosperous region."

They expressed "grave concern... over the slow progress being made on reducing new born, child and maternal mortality," without providing any figures about where these problems were the most acute.

UN officials at the meeting said South Asia was lagging behind the East in poverty and hunger reduction. Poverty is measured by earnings of less than 1.25 dollars a day.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang said that while East and Southeast Asia had already met the target of halving extreme poverty, countries like India and Nepal still had a long way to go.

He said the prevalence of hunger in some parts of South Asia had actually increased slightly between 2002 and 2007.

A UN background briefing prepared for the conference said 11 Asian countries with poverty rates above five percent were "likely to miss the income-poverty target." These included Bangladesh, Georgia, India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan.

Given the global economic uncertainty, many countries had tightened spending on programmes designed to improve millennium goal indicators.

Achieving the goals in all the indicators across the region would mean additional spending until 2015 of 636 billion dollars.

MySinchew 2010.08.04