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Women and girls suffer most in Millennium Goal failure

As world leaders progress check targets to reduce poverty, the chances of meeting any of them by 2015 look slim and those most let down are women and girls.

The targets, or Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focus on poverty, education, women's rights, child mortality, maternal health, the spread of HIV, the environment and aid were set in 2005.

"These Millennium Development Goals are a promise of world leaders," said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, last night, on the eve of the three-day New York summit.

"They're a blueprint to help those most vulnerable and poorest people, to lift them out of poverty. This promise must be met," he told Associated Press news agency.

But recent reports show little progress towards wiping out poverty in the world’s poorest countries. Ban warned that the global recession is making matters worse and that while aid to developing countries is at an all-time high, it is still £13 billion short on commitments for this year, of which £10 billion was bound for Africa.

Progress has been especially slow for women, who bear the brunt of poverty and its effects. According to research by the children’s development organisation Plan International. Girls are still far more likely to die before their fifth birthdays than boys – mostly from diseases that can be prevented such as malaria and TB. Plan says that the way the MDGs are rated ignores the plight of girls, so the particular impact of poverty on them goes unmentioned.

"We need to strengthen our focus in some areas, particularly nutrition, maternal health and sanitation,” said The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef)’s Richard Morgan. “It would be great to meet the MDGs statistically. What would be even better is if, as a result, we pull a large number of people out of poverty and misery, and save large numbers of lives in the process."

Progress always starts with the people who are easiest to reach,” said Unicef health adviser, Rudolf Knippenberg, suggesting like many that the United Nations goals had mostly not been met because they focused more on averages than on the neediest people.

The best way to pursue the goals is to start with the most difficult people,” Mr. Knippenberg told The New York Times. “You have to take the lower 50 to 60 per cent of the population. The groups reached last are the groups with the highest number of deaths.” 

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