The UN has warned that flood victims in Pakistan, seen here, are at imminent risk of waterborne diseases including malaria, a target of one of the Millenium Development Goals. ((Athar Hussain/Reuters))

World leaders gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Monday for the Millennium Development Goals summit, two days aimed at measuring their success in eradicating global poverty.

The summit focuses on the Millennium Development Goals, a series of "quantified, time-bound targets for addressing extreme poverty, hunger and disease, and for promoting gender equality, education and environmental sustainability," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote in a pre-summit report.


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks during the summit at the UN headquarters in New York on Monday. ((Eric Thayer/Reuters))

"We must achieve the Millennium Development Goals," Joseph Deiss, General Assembly president, said in opening the summit. "We want to achieve them. And we can achieve them."

The goals were agreed to in 2000 by 189 of the UN's member states, who committed to achieving them by 2015.

At the summit, nearly 140 heads of state and government, along with leaders of non-profit organizations and the private sector, will meet to review progress, identify gaps and commit to concrete steps in order to achieve the goals on time.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday pledged to boost aid to the world's poorest by 20 per cent over the next three years. He issued a plea for other developed nations to join him, imploring them not to fall back into "old bad habits" of ignoring the global poverty as the world economy begins climbing out of the severe economic downturn.

"We have no right to do less than what we have decided to do," Sarkozy told the assembled leaders. He also said the world body should join in creating a small international tax on financial transactions that would go toward ending poverty and meeting other millennium goals.

Goals are 'achievable': Ban

For centuries the plight of the world's poor had been ignored, but with the turn of the new millennium, leaders pledged to begin tackling poverty, disease, ignorance and inequality.

They vowed to reduce extreme poverty by half, ensure that every child has a primary school education, halt and reverse the HIV/AIDS pandemic, reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters and child mortality by two-thirds.

Goals additionally called for cutting by half the number of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation — all by 2015. They also set goals to promote equality for women, protect the environment, increase development aid, and open the global trading and financial system.

Progress has been made already on some goals, the report said. Many countries have achieved success in fighting poverty, improving school enrolment and child health. There have also been major achievements in expanding access to clean water, strengthening control of malaria and tuberculosis, and providing increased access to HIV treatment.

But Ban called the advances "fragile" and declared "the clock is ticking, with much more to do."

He urged the leaders to deliver the needed resources "above all by exercising political leadership."

"Despite the obstacles, despite the skepticism, despite the fast-approaching deadline of 2015, the Millennium Development Goals are achievable," the secretary general said.

With files from The Associated Press