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The economic downturn has resulted in developed countries failing to meet their aid pledges, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, calling on world leaders to renew their commitment to a global partnership to promote development.

Although official development assistance is at an all-time high, the world is still $20 billion short on pledges made for this year, Mr. Ban told reporters in New York as he launched the 2010 report by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Gap Task Force.

The Secretary-General set up the body – comprising more than 20 United Nations agencies, the World Bank and others – in 2007 to assess progress on MDG 8: the global partnership for development.

Facing a shortage of $16 billion in aid, Africa accounts for 80 per cent of that gap, Mr. Ban pointed out today.

“It is particularly distressing that the place of greatest need is also the place that accounts for the lion's share of the shortfall,” he said.

Also speaking at the press conference was Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), who voiced concern over the effect that the recent shift towards slashing government spending will have on aid commitments.

He singled out Belgium and the United Kingdom for praise for keeping up their assistance pledges, calling on other developed nations to follow their lead.

The new report cautions that economic recovery is “still very fragile and uneven,” hampered by the continuing job crisis and mounting public debt.

It found that the global development partnership “stands at a critical juncture” since there are only five years left till the 2015 deadline for the MDGs and that other commitments made by groups of countries – including at the so-called Doha round of negotiations on reducing international trade barriers – have little chance of being achieved by this year.

“The global economic crisis and the looming threat of climate change have consequences that render the need for such strengthened partnership even greater,” the publication underscored.

The Secretary-General said today that the report's findings should motivate world leaders, who will gather next week at UN Headquarters in New York to measure progress made so far towards achieving the MDGs.

“But while the gaps are serious, let us not be daunted by them,” he said. “Despite setbacks, shortfalls and obstacles, we have the tools and the resources to achieve the goals by 2015.”

Investment in the Goals is an investment in global economic growth, and recovery hinges on progress made in developing countries, Mr. Ban said.

“We must not balance our budgets on the backs of the poor,” he stressed.

Nations must prioritize human rights in their strategies to achieve the MDGs, a group of UN independent experts said today in a joint statement.

Realizing the Goals, they said, “should be an important step on the longer, and continuous, road towards the full and effective realization of human rights for all.”

The statement by the heads of UN rights treaty bodies underscored that realizing human rights is a goal in and of itself, distinct from the target of spurring global economic growth.