JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) – Time is running out for world leaders to keep their promises to roll back poverty and millions of people will die needlessly over the next decade without drastic changes, the U.N. warned in a major report Wednesday.

The stark findings were presented to the 191 U.N. member nations a week before they meet in New York for a summit to review progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. The targets set in 2000 include halving extreme poverty, reducing child deaths by two-thirds and achieving universal primary education by 2015.

The goals are “a promissory note, written by 189 governments to the world’s poor people,” said Kevin Watkins, chief author of the 2005 Human Development Report. “That note falls due in less than 10 years time, and without the required investment and political will, it will come back stamped ‘insufficient funds.”‘

Failure to reverse the trend at next week’s meeting would not only be a moral indictment of world leaders but also would threaten the world’s shared security, he said.

Progress is being made overall, the document shows. Life expectancy has increased by two years in developing countries, and more than 130 million people have been lifted out of poverty since the U.N. Development Fund’s first report in 1990. There are 2 million fewer child deaths annually and 30 million more children in school.

But many countries are falling behind, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV/AIDS pandemic has inflicted the single greatest reversal in human development.

Eighteen countries – 12 in Africa and six in central-eastern Europe – registered lower scores on the UNDP’s human development index than in 1990.

The index ranks 177 countries based on income, life expectancy and education figures from 2003. Norway tops the list, while Niger is last. The United States ranked 10th.

South Africa, which has more people living with the HIV virus that causes AIDS than any other country, has dropped 35 places on the development index since 1990.

Life expectancy in Botswana has fallen by 20 years since the 1970s to just 36. A Zambian has less chance of reaching 30 than a person born in England at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in 1840.

Despite growing global prosperity, more than 1 billion people still survive on less than $1 a day, 10.7 million children die before their fifth birthday and 115 million are not in school.

In many instances the gap between rich and poor is widening, the report said. One-fifth of humanity live in countries where many think nothing of spending $2 on a cappuccino. Another fifth survive on less than $1 a day.

In many countries that are making progress, it is only the wealthiest who are benefiting. The gap between child mortality rates among rich and poor is increasing in countries like Ghana, Zambia and Uganda.

In India, the death rate in children under 5 is 50 percent higher for girls than boys.

Such disparities present one of the greatest barriers to progress, Watkins said. At the current rate, 115 countries with a combined population of almost 2.1 billion are off track by more than a generation on at least one millennium goal.

Reducing the number of children who die before 5 is projected to take until 2045. That translates into 41 million more child deaths over the next decade than if the target were met.

Missing the target on reducing poverty would mean 380 million more people surviving on less than $1 a day, the report said.

Governments of developing countries must take responsibility for reversing these trends by tackling inequalities, respecting human rights, encouraging investment and rooting out corruption, the report said. But their success will depend on wealthy nations making major changes in aid, trade and security policies.

This year saw the eight richest nations devote unprecedented attention to poverty at their summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, including a pledge to double aid to $50 billion by 2015.

But aid levels are still far from keeping pace with growing incomes in the wealthiest countries, the report said. Much of the help is poorly coordinated and comes with too many strings attached – including the purchase of goods and services from donor countries, which reduces the value of aid by almost $2 billion in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

Improving aid will be meaningless without giving poor countries a fairer share of world trade, the report said. Donor countries spend $1 billion a year aiding agriculture in developing countries and $1 billion a day on subsidizing their own farmers.

Twenty-two of the 32 countries in the lowest development category have experienced armed conflicts since 1990. The cost in lives is huge, but it is the associated hunger and disease that kills the most people, not bullets.

The report urged greater efforts to control the deadly small arms trade, support for regional peacekeeping initiatives and post-conflict reconstruction to avoid a return to war.

“As a global community, we have the means to eradicate poverty,” the report said. “If ever there was a moment for decisive political leadership to advance the shared interests of humanity, that moment is now.”

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