Amid Economic Crisis, United Nations Trying to Keep Focus on Food, Poverty, Climate Crises

Key U.N. adviser describes effort to make sure global financial meltdown does not hurt aid efforts.

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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been running several high-level strategy meetings over how to ensure that the global financial meltdown does not derail efforts to address parallel "crises" in hunger and rising food prices, energy costs, extreme poverty, and climate change, says a key adviser.

Jeffrey Sachs, special adviser to Ban on the antipoverty Millennium Development Goals and an economist who directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University, says that the financial crisis "is front and center in the secretary general's attention," with particular focus on coordination efforts aimed at positioning the U.N. system—including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank—so that it "can help to moderate a very deep crisis."

Of particular concern to Ban and his advisers is ensuring that the wealthier donor countries hurt by the financial and economic turmoil do not neglect other global problems in their quest to ease the economic pain being felt by their domestic publics.

Sachs says that the U.N. was seeking "an interconnected and holistic way [of addressing those issues] so we don't throw all our attention only to one problem—say, the financial markets—and then end up with an aborted recovery and an even more unstable world because we've taken our eye off the other challenges."

Sachs adds that there needs to be special care to ensure that aid to poor countries "doesn't dry up." In many cases, including in the United States, current aid falls short of the millennium development aim set in 2000 for developed countries to spend 0.7 percent of their gross national product on such aid.

Ban is also said to want to continue mobilizing emergency funding for food needs and to stick with an effort to complete climate-change negotiations in time for an international summit meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009.

He is expected to raise his concerns at the G-20 summit meeting on the financial crisis that President Bush called for November 15.

"It's all a very tough timetable with a massive overhang, a massive shadow hanging over us with the economic crisis. That's what the secretary general is trying to do," says Sachs.