Money, Money, Money at the UN -- Will $40 Billion Rescue Pregnant Mothers and Their Infants?

Wall Street starts a worldwide recession and donors are contributing less money than ever to the ambitious UN plan to slash poverty. But the world body nonetheless believes it can garner a startling $40 billion in new money.
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(update)UNITED NATIONS -- Wall Street starts a worldwide recession and donors are contributing less money than ever to the ambitious UN plan to slash poverty in half by 2015. But the world body believes it can garner a startling $40 billion to rescue pregnant women and their infants.

The announcement of the expected cash was unveiled on Wednesday, the last day of a three-day high-level meeting of presidents, prime and foreign ministers on the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They include cutting by 75 percent maternal mortality and by two-thirds the death of young children under five years of age.

Of all the goals, these are no where near the target of reductions by 2015 despite a drop in maternal mortality of 34 percent to 350,000. Infant mortality was reduced to 8.1 million from 12 million a year. The lack of modern birth control methods is a huge problem. An estimated 215 million women in the developing world want to delay or avoid pregnancy but have no access to contraception or fear the side effects or their families object.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has distributed a Global Strategy for Women's and Children' Health aimed at the world's 49 poorest countries that would prevent deaths of more than 15 million children, including 3 million newborns; prevent 33 million unwanted pregnancies and prevent 740,000 women dying from pregnancy complications. It would also protect another 120 million children from pneumonia. Some estimates however say these nations need twice as much money.

Whether all on the list of pledges will materialize is always a question at UN conferences. But from the list looks remarkable: CARE commits $1.8 billion over the next five years the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed $1.5 billion, Ted Turner's UN Foundation announced $400 million and Johnson & Johnson, more than $200 million.

Among governments France's President Nicholas Sarkozy promised to increase commitments to fight AIDS by $1.4 billion over the next three years, 20 percent of its current commitment. Norway also pledged a 20 percent increase to $225 million. Britain will increase funds for malaria and maternal health from $225 a year to nearly $800 million by 2014. Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Wednesday pledged $3.5 billion over five years for education at all levels.

The United States will not pledge new money aside from the $63 billion committed for health to 2014, most of it to combat AIDS. 2014. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton , announced a new alliance on maternal health between USAID, Britain, Australia and the Gates Foundation, which will focus on maternal and neonatal mortality and help 100 million more women gain access to family planning.

There is also a long list of pledges from developing nations -- Nepal, Rwanda, Indonesia, Nigeria among others -- on improvements for health care and how much of their national budget would be devoted to maternal health. The programs are estimated at $8.6 billion.

Obama promises new approachPresident Obama, speaking to a full house to warm applause, said his administration has changed the way it allocates foreign aid to make sure the funds are spent on long-term improvement and that governments spend it responsibility . He said the first-ever US Global Development Policy, negotiated between the White House and the State Department, would change the way aid is defined and warned delegates corruption would not be tolerated. ."We need to be big-hearted and hard-headed," Obama he said, on his first of three days at United Nations events . "In our global economy, progress in even the poorest countries can advance the prosperity and security of people far beyond their borders, including my fellow Americans."

No doubt the financial crisis has had an impact. Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank Group, told the conference that success "has been uneven and the triple-blow of food, fuel and financial crisis since 2008 has slowed down and even reversed many countries in the world."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that good governance and accountability was as important as aid while developing countries, particularly Bolivia, thought too many strings were attached to aid, particularly in loans or credits from the International Monetary Fund.

France, especially its foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said government money would never be sufficient and renewed a call for a "small international tax" on financial transactions. Spain's Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero backed the proposal. But the United States is far from accepting such a tax.

There were some absurdities among the many speeches. Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe said the impoverishment of his country was due to "punitive sanctions" rather than his policies which had brought the country to the brink of starvation. North Korea, which desperately needs medical and food aid, said it had met all eight anti-poverty goals.

A note of caution was sounded by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who initiated the MDGs in 2000, in a Huffington Post blog: "Achieving the MDGs is only the first step. For even if we succeed and meet all eight goals by 2015, almost a billion people will continue to live below the poverty line, hundreds of millions will remain hungry and millions will continue to die from preventable diseases or unnecessary complications. We will certainly need to take the MDGs to the next level after the initial deadline."

Another perceptive warning came from the World Bank's Zoellick , who said that the MDG goals had to be seen in context because they all overlapped:

"It is not enough to build health clinics if there are no roads for mothers to gain access to them. It is not enough to train teachers or provide textbooks, if children have to struggle with homework at night in the dark. People do not live their lives in health sectors, or education sectors, or infrastructure sectors, arranged in tidy compartments. People live in families, villages, communities, countries, where all the issues of everyday life merge."

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