Harper calls on UN to get serious about improving child, maternal health

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged world leaders to set aside their anti-poverty rhetoric and focus instead on getting concrete results Tuesday as he confirmed Canada’s plan to boost the coffers of an international fund battling disease in the developing world.

EW YORK — Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged world leaders to set aside their anti-poverty rhetoric and focus instead on getting concrete results Tuesday as he confirmed Canada’s plan to boost the coffers of an international fund battling disease in the developing world.

It’s a “sad reality” that despite the stated goals of the United Nations to dramatically reduce poverty around the world, hundreds of thousands of mothers die in pregnancy each year, while nearly five million children die before the age of five, Harper told the UN’s Millennium Development Goals summit.

The goals were established 10 years ago as an ambitious effort to end global poverty — a project that’s expected to fall well short of its targets.

“It will be critical that our words here today ultimately translate into simple realities like food on the table, improved health and a better life for children around the world,” Harper said in a brief speech inside the UN’s cavernous main chamber.

“Our discussions should be less about new agreements than accountability for existing ones. Less about lofty promises than real results. Less about narrow self-interest in sovereignty’s name, than an expanded view of mutual interest in which there is room for all to grow and prosper.”

Harper urged the UN’s member countries to embrace the Muskoka Initiative for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, established at the G8 Summit earlier this year in Huntsville, Ont. The goal, he said, is to “mobilize” more than $10 billion over five years, and to pay close attention to the impact the money makes.

Canada, he said, has a strong record of providing food aid, financial assistance and economic help to the developing world. As proof, he promised more money over the next three years for a UN fund that battles diseases like AIDS and malaria.

Though he didn’t utter the dollar figures during his speech, a news release pegged the new figure at $540 million, compared with $440 million for the previous three years.

“Accountability for results will be an integral part of the plan,” Harper said.

“Our rigorous accountability framework will make it possible to measure progress, monitor results and ensure that funds intended for aid really contribute to a reduction in the mortality of mothers and children on a lasting basis.”

Harper’s speech came after Canadian diplomats, including Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, walked out on a speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — now common practice whenever the Iranian president takes the podium at the UN, to express silent disdain for Iran’s human rights record and controversial nuclear program.

“Past speeches by the Iranian president in UN fora have contained elements of Holocaust denial, anti-Semitism and condemnation of Israel,” Cannon said in a statement.

“Canada believes that this type of behaviour violates the UN’s spirit of international co-operation, and we have chosen not to engage with President Ahmedinejad in this forum.”

Despite the exodus, the Iranian leader told the assembly that capitalism is facing defeat and is calling for an overhaul of the “undemocratic and unjust” global decision-making bodies.

He called on world leaders, thinkers and global reformers “to spare no effort” to make practical plans for a new world order. Ahmedinejad also proposed the UN christen the current decade the Decade for Joint Global Governance.

Harper’s not finished at the UN. He’s scheduled to return Thursday in an appearance before the General Assembly that’s aimed at winning Canada a spot on the Security Council. Portugal and Germany are also vying for the two-year temporary spot on the council.

— With files from Mike Blanchfield in Ottawa

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