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Faced with the looming failure of most of their anti-poverty goals as the deadline approaches, nearly 150 world leaders will hold an extraordinary summit in New York next week to try to salvage their ambitious plan.

The summit at the United Nations is aimed at rescuing the Millennium Development Goals, a bold set of targets for slashing poverty worldwide by 2015. A decade after the UN set those targets, it's increasingly clear that none of the goals will be achieved by the deadline – especially in Africa, where the gap on some goals is as daunting as ever.

The leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, will be joined by business tycoons and political activists in a three-day summit next week to pledge a renewed effort in the fight against poverty and disease.

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The summit is reported be on track to produce $26-billion in promised new funds. But after decades of broken commitments to the poor, much more than rhetoric and promises will be needed this time, critics say.

"Unless an urgent rescue package is developed to accelerate fulfilment of all the [Millennium Development Goals], we are likely to witness the greatest collective failure in history," says a new report by Oxfam, the international development agency.

The global financial crisis that began in 2008 has pushed the millennium goals "desperately off course," the report says. But even before the crisis, it adds, progress was far too slow.

While there has been movement toward some of the education and health goals, African hunger and malnutrition are nearly as extreme as ever. About 32 per cent of Africans today are undernourished – virtually the same percentage as in 1990 – according to a report this week by an Africa commission appointed by former British prime minister Tony Blair.

On maternal and child health, Africa has also failed to make much progress. The death rate for women in childbirth was 920 per 100,000 births in 1990, and this number scarcely changed over the next 15 years, reaching 900 per 100,000 births in 2005. Child mortality has improved only slightly in many African countries in the same period. One-seventh of African children are still dying before the age of five.

All of this was further complicated by the global economic slowdown last year, which caused an estimated 64 million people to fall into extreme poverty. For the first time in history, the number of people living in hunger increased to more than a billion last year. And if China is excluded, the number of people living in extreme poverty has increased in the past three years, reversing the progress of previous years.

The global slowdown has also damaged the flow of aid to Africa and other poor regions. More than half of all donor countries cut their aid to poor countries last year, and foreign aid to Africa is 40 per cent lower than the amount promised by donor countries in 2005.

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Last week, diplomats agreed on a draft of a 31-page document that will be adopted at the summit in New York next week. According to a draft agreement released by the UN on Monday, the world leaders will say that they are "deeply concerned" about how the poorest countries were hurt by the global economic crisis last year. "It has reversed development gains in many developing countries and threatened to seriously undermine the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015," the draft reportedly says.

Despite the setbacks caused by the crisis, the millennium goals can still be met if there is "renewed commitment" and "intensified collective action" by all of the UN member states, the draft says.

The draft has failed to impress some anti-poverty activists, who are pushing for more aggressive action. "This document lacks the adrenalin boost to accelerate the MDGs," said Emma Seery, a spokeswoman for Oxfam. The world leaders should treat their meeting as an "emergency summit," she said.

Under the millennium goals, the rate of extreme poverty and hunger was to be halved by 2015, child mortality would be cut by two-thirds, the rate of maternal mortality would be reduced by three-quarters, the prevalence of malaria and AIDS would be reduced, and primary school education would be universal.

With a report from Campbell Clark in Ottawa

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