By Lesley Wroughton and Helen Popper
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon pressed debt-ridden donor countries Monday notto cut aid to the poor despite their budgetary woes.
"We should not balance budgets on the backs of the poor,"Ban told 140 leaders at the start of a three-day summit toreview progress in meeting U.N. poverty goals by 2015.
During their speeches, leaders pledged to step up effortsto meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- agreed 10years ago -- but offered little in the way of new resources.
Among those addressing the summit are U.S. President BarackObama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier WenJiabao.
The United Nations agrees the world will meet the goals tohalve global poverty and hunger by 2015 but is behind on othergoals which cover improving child education, child mortalityand maternal health; combating diseases including AIDS, andpromoting gender equality and environmental sustainability.
The rise in incomes in emerging economic powers such asChina is largely the reason for progress in reducing povertywhile population growth has set back efforts in Africa andIndia.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whosegovernment cut development aid in the face of a fiscal crisisand high unemployment, said countries were grappling withdifficult decisions as they try to revive economic growth.
He urged the world to consider other ways to fund programsthat tackle poverty, hunger and climate changes.
"We need to make more effort to look for alternativefinancing sources ... that aren't as vulnerable as the budgetsof developed countries when faced with crises like the onewe're seeing today," he added.
Both he and French President Nicolas Sarkozy called forsome form of tax on financial transactions to raise money tocombat poverty, an idea that has largely been rejected by theInternational Monetary Fund and by many Group of 20 majordeveloped and developing economies.
The World Bank announced it would increase spending oneducation by $750 million over the next five years.
ACTIONS TO MAKE AID EFFECTIVE
Amid the high-minded talk about poverty and budgets,Bhutan's Prime Minister Jigme Thinley offered a whimsicalproposal to add happiness as the ninth goal.
"Since happiness is the ultimate desire of every citizen itmust be the purpose of development to create enablingconditions for happiness," he said.
With rich nations behind on their aid pledges, donors arekeen to see new strategies that ensure aid is properly used bylearning from past development mistakes.
British International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchellcalled for a plan to track progress in meeting the povertygoals over the remaining five years of the MDGs.
Mitchell argued for more transparency, better donorcoordination and a special focus on helping women and infants.
"We want a proper agenda for action over each of the nextfive years, not a load of blah-blah and big sums of money beingthrown about, although big sums of money are important," hetold reporters.
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chiefRajiv Shah told Reuters ahead of the summit the United Stateswould press for a new development approach that highlightedeconomic growth, accountability and tackling corruption.
With U.S. congressional elections on Nov. 2 focusing on theeconomy and job losses, Washington is pressed to show Americansthat their tax dollars are being put to good use.
U.N. officials acknowledged donors were under budgetpressures. "That makes it all the more important thatgovernment are able to show their legislatures and theirpublics that they are getting value for the money they'respending," said Anthony Lake, UNICEF's executive director.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said aid would notwork unless countries were allowed to develop their own povertyprograms that were tailored to local conditions.
"Of course we need more money. More money matters. But aidmoney will not deliver concrete results unless we pay moreattention to the essential idea of local ownership." (Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn, Patrick Worsnip,Arshad Mohammed and Edith Honan; Editing by Bill Trott andCynthia Osterman)