UN: Development cutting poverty but gaps remain

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Associated Press

Posted on September 19, 2013 at 3:03 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Developing countries have won greater access to technology, broader markets for their exports and gained some debt relief over the last year, a new U.N. report said Thursday.

But the report said the world must increase aid and push for a multilateral trade agreement to spur on more progress.

The report was an update on Millennium Development Goal benchmarks set for the year 2015, and is part of a United Nations push to try to reach them in the next months and to set new priorities for the next phase of development. World leaders agreed in 2000 on anti-poverty goals including cutting extreme poverty by half, halting the AIDS pandemic and increasing the number of people with access to clean water and sanitation.

It said the lives of millions had improved as many countries reduced poverty, expanded access to clean water, and brought girls into the primary school system, and that provided hope that more of the targets could be met.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon introduced the report Thursday, saying "We can do better. The best way to prepare for the post-2015 era is to demonstrate that when the international community commits to a global partnership for development, it means it."

The U.N. report said that official foreign aid from governments fell for a second year in 2012, by 4 percent, to $125.9 billion, mainly due to the European fiscal crisis. Bilateral aid to the 49 poorest countries fell 12.8 percent to about $26 billion, it said.

This set a worrisome trend in which the richer countries may not be living up to the U.N. standard of setting aside 0.7 percent of the gross national product for assistance aid, said Olav Kjorven, an assistant secretary-general and director of development policy at the U.N. Development Program: "We see signs of it eroding, of it becoming weaker."

Even with the European crisis, the Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden provide more than 0.7 percent of their budget in aid, the report said.

Developing countries are getting greater access to major markets duty-free. The report said the proportion of developing country exports that were duty-free rose more than 15 percent from 2000 to 2011, reaching 80 percent.

By April 2013, the report said, 35 of 39 of the poorest nations had reached the benchmark for getting debt relief. But the report points out that many Caribbean nations are reaching a budgetary crisis and there are no debt-relief mechanisms in place for them.

In poor countries, medicines are still too expensive, the report said. Lower- and middle-income countries have to pay three- to six-times the international reference price for patented medications, said Shamshad Akhtar, the assistant secretary-general at the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

But under new legal regimes, poorer countries can now manufacture low-cost generic medicines for their national market only, a way of reducing costs, said Pingfan Hong, chief of the U.N. Global Economic Monitoring Unit.

The report found that essential medicines were available in only 57 percent of public and 65 percent of private health facilities in 2012.

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