Islamic bank to raise $10 bln for needy Africans

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UNITED NATIONS, Nov 28 (Reuters) The Islamic Development Bank, based in Saudi Arabia, has announced it will raise at least 10 billion dollars over 10 years to combat extreme poverty in Africa and elsewhere among developing nations.

Amadou Boubacar Cisse of Niger, vice president of operations for the bank, told a news conference the new Poverty Alleviation Fund was in addition to some 3 billion dollars currently spent on projects for basic social services in needy countries among its 56 bank members.

The aim is to help meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and approved by world leaders in 2000. They include cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education, and stemming the AIDS pandemic, all by 2015, among others.

But Cisse said not all members, such as Gabon or Cameroon, had a majority Muslim population and the bank's projects would not impose Islamic strictures on such targets as girls' education.

''The girls in the Muslim (areas) are more backward, the ratio is the lowest'' for education, Cisse said. ''But it is for our member countries to decide.'' He said Saudi Arabia had pledged 1 billion dollars and Kuwait 300 million dollars to launch the fund, which is expected to start operations in mid-2007. The bank currently has provided financing for projects in Senegal, Niger, Mali and Uganda, among others, Cisse said.

The bank's announcement coincided with an all-day conference among governments, business leaders, foundation heads and advocacy groups, organised by UN General Assembly President Haya Rashed al Khalifa of Bahrain to take stock of the Millennium Development Goals.

Kemal Dervis, head of the UN Development Program, said no region was on track to meet all seven of the goals by 2015.

North Africa, he said, was likely to achieve most of the goals -- except for the promotion of women's rights and improving maternal health. Eastern Asia, he said, was on track but not for goals on universal education, reducing child mortality or combating contagious diseases.

Latin America, and the former Soviet republics, Dervis said, were likely to meet almost all of the goals. But sub-Saharan Africa, southern and western Asia would achieve few of them.

Dervis told the General Assembly that while the world has experienced rapid economic growth, the gap between the 10 richest countries and the 10 poorest accelerated to a 50 to 1 ratio in 2005.

''Income distribution affects the effectiveness of growth in being able to lift people out of poverty,'' Dervis said.

Reuters DH VP0710

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